I presented on the topic of social media along with some colleagues at UCSB twice last week, one for the Professional Development Conference for the Division of Student Affairs on Thursday, March 22 and for a whole-day workshop called “Diving Into Social Media at UCSB” on March 23. My presentations focused on overview of social media use in higher education. The Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Michael Young opened both presentations in which he talked about the role social media in how we communicate and serve our students. In his words, “we need to evolve and transform so that we can thoughtfully and adequately serve our students.” He acknowledged that in moving forward with social media as part of our university business, we will make mistakes but that he would rather us move forward and make mistakes than stagnate. Personally, the Vice Chancellor’s declaration of social media as a part of our future was an affirmation of what I had observed a couple of years ago, that social media will be an integral part of how we in student affairs conduct our business.
Truth be told, there was a time when I felt like I could not even utter the words “social media” as those words were met with smirks and rolling eyes by the few skeptics who viewed social media as nothing more than a waste of time, a fad not worth investing, and risks not worthy of any benefits. These reactions reminded me of when I started developing websites in 1996 when I was asked “Why do we need websites for?” I realized when I started promoting social media to be formally adopted in our division that it would need the support of the Vice Chancellor. I used to joke around with a few colleagues that the skeptics who view social media as “stupid” can always talk to the Vice Chancellor about his “stupid” idea.
I joined twitter in August 2010 in part to satisfy my curiosity about this “waste of time” and I have been wasting my time since then. That is if wasting time means creating professional networks, expanding my views of what the future may look like for higher education, including student affairs, and coming to realization that my technology leadership role will have to evolve to keep up with the changing demands of our students.
I’m excited about the future of social media and how we could use it in student affairs. We’re just starting to figure out how to use social media beyond marketing. I’m looking forward to the point when we will start using social media as part of social business. I don’t exactly know how we will evolve to get to that point, or how it will look like a year from now.
I asked VC Young once how he sees social media a year from now and his response was “We’ve got to find ways, across the division, to get to our students and constituents in ways that are effective. I don’t always know what that will look like, but this is my view: if I wait until I fully understand what it looks like, we’ll never get a damn thing done.” I concur.
credit - prdaily.com
Student leaders should play a greater role in any higher educational institution’s social media efforts towards engagement and dialogue with their student communities. This group includes (but not limited to) orientation leaders, peer advisors, student organization officers, campus tour guides and resident assistants. These student leaders can connect with their contemporaries in a way that in some ways are more effective than even the most social media savvy staff, faculty and administrators can. It is not so much that students necessarily know how to use social media more appropriately or with more fluency than those of us in our professional roles, but more so because they understand student culture and they are considered part of the student community. Their participation and opinions will probably be better accepted and more favorably by other students since they are members of the student community. These student leaders should already have the knowledge on campus resources, policies and acceptable community conducts gained through their trainings as part of their positions.
There was this meeting I attended years ago. The committee chair posed the question to the few individuals present as to why attendance had dwindled down to a few. He was trying to figure out why and said he had no clue. I raised my hand to try to tell him what those who stopped attending told me - it’s because he monopolized the meetings. I was ignored. Other members tried to talk but were also either ignored or ideas were dismissed. He kept on talking for the rest of the meeting, proposing his solutions to the group. It became the typical monologue. I stopped attending after that. I wonder if anyone ever told him what some of us were thinking.
I know I’ve been guilty of failing to realize my own shortcomings many times as well. As painful as it is sometimes to hear even things I’d rather not hear, one of the most valuable decisions I have come to make is to welcome and seek feedback. The key for me has been to figure out who I can trust and those who I am willing to listen to, with reservations. I have a boss who is really honest and it’s one of the reasons I respect him. I have some co-workers whom I’ve built good relationships with, good enough that they can tell me even things I’d rather not hear. I have colleagues at other departments I have known for years, my customers, who will do the same. My wife is my biggest supporter and I also appreciate her honesty. All of them have challenged me, forced me to think differently. I learn from all of them. They keep me honest.
I know it’s so much easier to surround myself with those that always agree with me, a “yes” group. I doubt I would be learning us much though. Do you have your own inner circle of feedback?
Image credit: evarykr.com
Google “leadership skills” and you’ll rarely find results that include “ability to connect” as one of the essential skills to be an effective leader. Most often, “communication” is listed as one of those skills. I would argue however that the ability to connect is one of the most essential skills for effective leaders, beyond communicating. We all communicate, but we don’t all have the ability to connect. In my opinion, the most effective leaders can create some sense of connection, even if perceived, with those they are leading.
I look at my mentors, those I consider effective leaders and what I think they all have in common is their ability to create a sense of connection with others. This sense of connection starts with their interest in serving others and not for self-serving motives. They are genuinely focused on the other person, not themselves. They speak in terms the other person understands. They also seem to find common grounds early in their conversations and these could be as simple as asking about a shared activity/interest. They adjust their styles to match the person/group they are speaking with. This is in contrast with those who seem to only have one style no matter their audience. When I have conversations with them, I leave the conversation feeling as if I was the center of their attention. They ask questions, they are engaged in our conversations. I often leave feeling inspired.
Leadership in my opinion is about influence, not control. A leader’s ability to influence others ultimately comes down to how they are perceived by those they lead. Leaders who can establish connections, who can make others feel like they matter and they are understood are the ones who will have the most influence.
image credit – credit – blogcatalog.com.
credit - piedmontwebdev
I suppose it’s so easy to get comfortable when we reach a certain level of success at personal and/or organizational level. It is important to celebrate our accomplishments and all the things that got us to where we are, but there’s a danger in stagnating, being conservative. But the world does not wait for anyone. Specifically in student affairs, our world is changing quickly. Driven by our changing student demographics, economic difficulties and technologies, the way our organizations operate must change, at least try to keep up, or we fail to serve our students.
I spend a lot of time following trends in how higher education and our students use technology, including social media and mobile computing. This comes from the realization that if my organization (a student affairs IT shop) fails to realize the demands and wishes of our constituents, I would not be doing my job as a leader in my organization. Does that mean that we can and will always meet our constituents’ demands and wishes? Of course not. There are always more work to be done relative to our resources. It’s hard enough to provide day-to-day support and “keeping the lights on”, tasks that while our users may not always see are critical. As difficult as it is to change our ways, to go beyond what we can support, the reality is that if we fail to look at what the customers demand of us, our organization is in danger of being replaced with other options. We no longer live in the world when our customers must go through IT for every single technology requests. Cheap or even free cloud based services are now viable solutions. Our customers use their mobile devices to access the web and social networks. As an IT organization, do we take the role of the department that is seen as obstructionist to a point where customers no longer want to work with us or one that is a willing partner to progress?
I feel considerably lucky that we have a person at the top of our organization, Vice Chancellor Dr. Young, who is a champion of change and a true student advocate. He is a visionary who will freely admit that while he may not always know how to get to where we need to get to, he does know when it’s time to change, to take a new direction. An organization’s ability to be open and accepting to change is rooted in its culture and leaders like Dr. Young plays a huge influence on how the culture is shaped. As those working in our organizations, I also think we have personal responsibilities to be open to change. Failure to change has its consequences.