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.
I have been a staff advisor to student organizations for more than a decade, even before social media became popular, and one reality I have to come to accept is that in general, students see me as an authority and an outsider to the student community. There’s an abstract boundary that I am careful to cross. This boundary is even more ambiguous when it comes to social media. While I am friends with some students on facebook, those I came to know through my various involvements on campus, as well as member of groups created by students, I appreciate and respect the idea that it is their social space. I engage in some light conversations and answer questions that are informational in nature (deadlines, campus contacts, etc). From time to time, I see students posting inappropriate materials including racial epithets, homophobic remarks and comments that may lead to negative consequences. I also see students express their opinions, sometimes discontent towards the university, and I choose to respect their space by not injecting myself in the conversation. It is during these times that I realize the value of student leaders whose opinions may be more acceptable than administrators, given the context of their conversations. Typically in these conversations, other students will provide comments to voice alternative perspectives leading to dialogues amongst themselves.
When I “listen” to conversations on facebook, twitter and other social media sites, what is obvious to me is that students seek advice and information amongst themselves from which courses to take, how to get involved and personal issues. Social media has facilitated these opportunities for students to provide and seek instant feedback to a greater group of their contemporaries beyond their closest friends. Gone are the days when students have to depend on university staff to answer their questions. Other students are providing answers based on their own experience and from information they find on the web. This is another area where student leaders who have more knowledge of how the campus works can prove benefits to the university and to the students.
Community building via social media is another area that student leaders could be very beneficial. Consider the possibility of out-of-state and international students who have adjusted to campus life and culture taking on the role of community leaders, answering questions in manners that are familiar to students from their own areas of origins. These would include students who have yet to step on campus. This could be a component of a university’s effort to assist out-of-state and international students via technology.
Using student leaders as social media ambassadors also provide benefit to student leaders themselves. For one, they are gaining skill sets that will be beneficial to their careers. At the minimum, they would learn how to use these social media sites to add to their technology skill set. While this generation of students may have been exposed to internet technology at a young age, it does not necessarily mean they all have innate high level of technical proficiency. Some student may not even have had access to computers growing up as well. As social media ambassadors, they would also learn how to represent themselves, to manage their digital identities, in a way that is beneficial to them. Even if students do have technical proficiency, using social media in a way that is responsible is not always apparent. Social media should then be added to every student leader trainings to provide them with the appropriate technical skills and perspectives to effectively and appropriately engage with other students.
I have had conversations with some colleagues about this idea in the past and the response has not always been positive. Concerns about misconducts and wasting time on the job are two main reasons provided for their objections. While these are certainly possibilities to be concerned about, we should also then be applying these same levels of concerns when it comes to their use of emails, phones, and face-to-face communications. Given proper training, I think student leaders play a beneficial role towards any higher educational institution’s social media efforts towards student engagement and communications.
Some universities have embraced the idea of using student leaders when it comes to social media. Here are just some examples:
- Hopkins Interactive
- Saint Michael’s College
- Ohio State University
- UC Santa Barbara – Gradpost
- UC Santa Barbara – Career Services
What other universities would you add to the list above? In what other ways can universities use student leaders for their social media efforts?