I was asked by a colleague once whether it’s worth it for high-ranking student affairs leaders such as deans and other senior student affairs officers (SSAO) to be spending their time on social media given all the amount of work they must do. This question is like asking whether any SSAO should even be attending student activities on campus to engage with students, build relationships, or at the least listen (“lurk”) to get a sense of what students are talking about given the amount of work they must do. Can you imagine any SSAO making any effective decision impacting students by spending all their time in their office and not having any contact with them? One would find that concept ludicrous, right?

One only needs to look at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even Yik Yak and Yeti on any given day to see how much college students use social media to express themselves, communicate, and even study together. SSAOs would be wise to spend some of their time just “lurking” to understand what students are talking about. They would see patterns of issues given the time of the year. They would also see the behaviors displayed on social media that should drive the educational programming their campus should be doing. They would see opportunities when they can provide assistance or encouragement to students needing some help. They would also see feedback on programs and services their organizations provide. If SSAOs want real-time and unfiltered feedback, they might want to read students’ reactions on social media from time to time. There are students on social media who are not members of the active and engaged student leaders from whom SSAOs interact and get feedback. Social media provide SSAOs with a wider set of perspectives. even those they may not want to read and see beyond what they typically get from student leaders.

Another important reason why SSAOs should spend some time on social media is. Because of their influential position within their organization, SSAOs can shape their organization’s attitude towards the use of social media and technology. Through their use of social media, SSAOs can message their organizations that social media does have a beneficial role in their jobs and it’s okay to use social media in the workplace. A few years ago, I encountered strong resistance from some people in our student affairs organization about using social media in our workplace. I was frustrated because while I realized the value of social media in communicating with students, I had difficulty convincing my colleagues to accept social media as part of our work. I asked our then Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Dr. Michael Young, to sponsor a divisional social media initiative. As part of that effort, Dr. Young and his office created his Twitter account and a department Facebook page. In addition, he also sent a memo to the division explicitly encouraging the staff to embrace social media as a way to communicate with our students. Dr. Young’s support of social media is documented in this parents newsletter (2012) article about our division’s use of social media. According to Dr. Young,

“We have to try to keep up with our students. We have to continue to evolve so that we can thoughtfully and adequately serve them.” He also said, “Our strength is our ability to communicate with our students where they are and in their language,” explaining that “organizations that are aligned with their interests, instead of the interests of the broader community they serve, will fail.”

In student affairs, we have a saying that “we need to meet where students are.” Our students are on social media. SSAOs failure to engage on social media can mean failure for student affairs organizations to thoughtfully and adequately serve them, as Dr. Young once said.