Social media is a hot topic in higher education, and especially in student affairs. It’s a widely discussed topic at every regional and annual conference, with new technologies being introduced every year along with the message, “if you’re not using it, you’re behind.” While I think it is important for us to continue to introduce colleagues to social media, we need to begin putting a greater emphasis on educating about social media and its uses, supporting purposeful interaction, and being intentional with our output.
One of the reasons I enjoyed my job in the Emerging Media and Communication program at UTD was the fact that we worked with our students to educate them about the cultural implications, both positive and negative, which result from the use of social media. Our students are encouraged to critique and objectively review social media programs, noting benefits and flaws. One of our graduate courses required students to use Foursquare during the spring semester, and the result was an exploration in location and physical space that resulted in several “fake” locations on campus, and in the surrounding area. I would see our students checking into “the Man Cave”, “Tito’s pants”, “an unhappy place”, “a happy place”, and “death of the book class”. Even I got involved, and on a regular basis check into “my softly lit off white office” (referencing my choice of lamplight over fluorescents), not the “ATEC building” as Foursquare suggests. When Foursquare decided to crack down on “cheaters”, some of our graduate students (and one professor) received emails questioning the truth of their check-ins. Apparently, Foursquare didn’t approve of the created locations, and didn’t understand how students seemed to be in Dallas, Austin, Los Angeles, and Tokyo all in the same night. Foursquare, you are missing the point. The students were creating locations, checking in to multiple places, and renaming our campus/surrounding area with a nomenclature that was meaningful for them. Using the program this way allowed students the freedom to be creators — not just consumers.
The reality is, our students are already critical of these programs and their uses. If we want to be successful in our use of social media within the student affairs profession, we need to start being just as critical of how we use these tools and the impact it has on our environments.
As we think about best practices in social media, we need to start with a critical reflection of how we use these programs to interact with our friends and family, colleagues, and our students. My guess is you do not interact with each of these groups in the same manner, nor should you. I enjoy Twitter most for the professional connections and resources, while most of my students use it primarily as a way to express thoughts and opinions. I continue to use Foursquare because I am competitive and like the badges, not because I want to meet people/make friends in the area. I like Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, not to harvest cyber crops. Yet, in the social media world, there is room for all these uses. When we tell others how to use a social media tool, we prevent them from being active creators within the community.
If we truly want social media to make an impact in student affairs, we need to remember to be intentional. We need to continue with outreach, but also continue to engage with, and offer education to new users. We need to remember there is a space for professional and personal interactions, and yes, they will often intersect in a virtual environment. Most importantly, we need to objectively and critically review our social media practices, reinvent what isn’t working, and continue to move forward with research and new ideas.