With most campus events moving online, many student affairs offices are creating social media accounts to continue to build community with their students.
However, creating a social media account for your office can often feel like opening Pandora’s box; it may be accompanied by ethical dilemmas, off-hours decision making, and new responsibilities added to the plates of professionals are already super busy.
So, I consulted Liam Rice, the assistant director of residence life at Emmanuel College to understand how he manages common conflicts that arise on social media. Liam oversees Emmanuel Residence Life’s Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok accounts — all of which he’s grown exponentially.
Read on, as we set the scene for five common social media dilemmas and how a social media coordinator has addressed them.
Dilemma #1: To report or to not report?
Picture this: You’re scrolling through your office of Residence Life’s Instagram accounts and see that many students have interacted with your MTV Cribs room decoration contest. However, you notice a candle in one student’s post, which goes against the housing contract students sign.
Or, what if you notice a hate symbol or slur word written on a student’s wall? Or what if you see 10 students gathered in a small room, which violates COVID-19 protocol? How do you decide what violations to report and when to look the other way?
Here are some tips Liam shared with me on responding to such dilemmas:
- Address the issue privately. Liam’s key point is to ask yourself, “Would I address this situation if it happened in person?” If yes, send the student a private message for small violations and/or report up as you normally would for larger incidents. Remember, your crisis management training and protocols still apply to online spaces.
- Take things off social media. For minor concerns that do not require a conduct hearing, invite the student to chat with you over video conference, phone, or in your office. Doing so will hopefully prevent misunderstandings or a student screenshotting your words to share with friends.
- Avoid snooping. Don’t go searching for conduct violations but don’t turn a blind eye if you are directly messaged or tagged in a concerning post either. As your account’s purpose is likely to build community, you don’t want students to feel as if they are being monitored online by your accounts. Instead, it’s fine to privately respond back to the student by saying “it looks great but let’s talk about this potential violation.”
- Be proactive, not reactive. Come up with a plan with your supervisor and conduct staff on how to best handle online violations. Talk to your supervisor when the steps to proceed are unclear.
Dilemma #2: Misdirected concerns
Imagine: Your institution has come under fire after a professor’s Twitter account was hacked and several derogatory tweets went viral. Unfortunately, many students believe that these were the professor’s real opinions. The vice president of communications has already shared a statement but upset students continue to barrage the social media account you run.
Should you address these comments or wait it out? How do you go about rebuilding a community while acknowledging current events that affect students’ lives?
To address this dilemma:
- Keep the purpose of your account in mind. Remember that your account is not the official institution’s account. Be mindful of keeping the messaging consistent and not sharing extra details beyond university-approved communications. However, you can still have conversations with students about difficult events through discussions and programming.
- Chat privately. It is best to respond to students’ concerns privately — ideally face to face. To do so, message the student “Hello, I’d love to chat with you over Zoom or in person.” Then, also reply to the comment with “I just DM’d you” so that other students can see that you are responding to their concerns.
- Provide a space to chat rather than blacking the concern out. Avoiding conflict or continuing to post without acknowledging an incident can do more harm than good. You should schedule (and personally attend) emergency meetings in order to be able to pass along important information to concerned students.
Especially during uncertain times and crises, students need to know that you are there for them. Create a welcoming space for them to continue to grow and learn, both on and offline.
Dilemma #3: The overworked social media coordinator
Nearly everyone uses social media nowadays; how hard could it be to run an office’s account?
Imagine that you currently manage your office’s Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and Facebook accounts which at times can feel overwhelming and detract from your other responsibilities. You are trying to think of how to address this problem and ways you can enhance your social media savviness.
To address this dilemma:
- Have everyone in your department trained on social media. As Liam puts it, “even if you’re not running it, you need to get it.” This should involve teaching your team how to send in social media requests, the ideal timing and length for posting, and more. Social media coordinators often act as unofficial event planners, public relations reps, and graphic designers. It’s important for your colleagues to understand and appreciate all the work involved.
- Invest financial resources into your social media efforts. Providing your social media coordinator with professional development opportunities, access to conferences, MOOCs, and other helpful account management tools such as Hootsuite, Mailchimp, and Buffer, will help them stay up to date on the latest trends and feel better supported in their work.
- Set boundaries. Be mindful of your audience and when they interact with your social media accounts most. Set boundaries with your supervisor by discussing when you should be expected to reply to comments and who will be monitoring the accounts when you are away. Liam recommends having a secondary person, similar to having someone on call, who is available to respond to online crises. Remember to turn off notifications on your days off!
- Celebrate the positives. Social media can be a great space for interacting and building community with students. So, screenshot things that are going well and share them with your team!
Dilemma #4: Privacy problems
You run the office of residence life’s Instagram account. You overhear students saying that you post some great stuff on the residence life account but they don’t want to follow it because you don’t ‘follow back’.
- Determine boundaries with your supervisor. Liam’s philosophy is to follow back current students who have the institution’s name and their graduation year listed in their bios. Liam does this to prevent the “one-way street” of engagement that can happen if you don’t follow back. After all, how can you expect to engage with students in these online spaces if you refuse to engage back? However, some institutions may have strict rules on following students via professional social media accounts, citing the importance of maintaining your office’s professional personas.
- Know your own context collapse. Many individuals present themselves in slightly different lights depending on the social media platform. Similarly, as an office account manager, be mindful of what your department wants to present itself as on each account and what types of posts you should share. As the Dolly Parton challenge conveys, different platforms are appropriate for different types of media. For example, an office may post fun photos on an Instagram story but more in-depth articles on their LinkedIn page.
Dilemma #5: Calling it quits
Managing your office of orientation’s Facebook group has been a highly engaging part of your job. It’s been a great way to connect with students and families between new student orientation and the start of the semester.
However, you’ve noticed that Facebook group participation has been dismally low recently. An assessment sent out at the end of this year’s orientation showed that students’ families are still using Facebook but the students themselves have largely migrated to other sites.
How do you know when it’s time to call it quits on a social media account and focus on building community on another platform?
To address this dilemma:
- Evaluate your audience. Take an introspective look at your office’s goals. If there is indeed value in continuing to engage certain groups — such as families or alumni — then continue to do so. But if not, consider evaluating where your targeted audience has migrated to and how you can better utilize those more popular platforms.
- Look to improve. Seek out resources — such as MOOCs, conferences, and webinars — to help you improve your social media strategies. Look for advice on when to post, where your students are present, and what kind of content works best.
- Analyze the sunk cost. A sunk cost is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. For social media, this involves the time and money invested in an account. Although it may be tough to say goodbye to a project go that you invested so much time in, if the value of engagement is less than current costs, it’s not worth your time to keep going. Use social media analysis tools to calculate the number of engagements and new followers.
By addressing these pitfalls, you’ll support positive boundaries between students and staff on your office’s social media accounts. In return, strengthened communication and boundary-setting can increase engagement, happiness, and even community building online.
For more tips on bringing more pizazz to your office’s social media accounts, check out 28 Innovative Tips For Your Student Affairs Office Social Media Accounts.
What additional advice do you have about setting boundaries with students in virtual spaces? Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence.