How to Handle 4 Common Boundary Issues #SAPros Face With Social Media

Whether you send the occasional Snapchat or are an Instagram genius, it’s no secret that social media can present student affairs professionals with many challenges and opportunities.

Although social media keeps friends, colleagues, and acquaintances connected throughout time and space, it can often pose difficult questions about setting boundaries between our personal and professional lives.

It’s vital to think about these potential boundary issues so that when (not if) they arise, you can be best prepared and avoid getting caught off-guard.

So read on as I address four common boundary dilemmas that often  SA Pros often face.

Friend Requests

Nearly every SA pro encounters this dilemma. Although a pending friend request from a student can be anxiety-inducing, remember that students wanting to connect with you is rarely a bad thing.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before making a decision:

Is this platform appropriate for building connections with students?

Different platforms are appropriate for different types of exchanges. For example, Snapchat may feel much more intimate than LinkedIn, and you may convey a different persona on each. Also keep in mind that even if you’re comfortable sharing your Snapchat or TikTok with students, your supervisor may not agree.

Is the content I post on this account suitable for students?

With varying personas between social media platforms, personas can also differ between multiple accounts on a single platform. While you might be fine with students following you on your primary Instagram handle, your more niche account dedicated to posting memes might be a different story. And your personal Facebook account might be fair game, but your side hustle business page may not be okay to promote to students.

Why am I accepting this student’s friend request?

Reflect on the purpose of accepting follow and friend requests. Are you seeking to build community and connect with students in virtual spaces or are you just looking for more followers and likes? Next, turn the question around and ask why students want to connect with you online. You may feel differently about accepting a student leader’s friend request than a student you’ve had multiple conduct meetings with.

What does my supervisor/department say about student social media requests?

Many departments and institutions have rules for their staff regarding social media interactions. Consult your supervisor for advice if you’re unsure of institutional etiquette.

Interoffice Relationships

Your colleagues and supervisors can create additional uncertainty in online spaces. Sure, you may love your work “family” but may not want them seeing more personal aspects of your life. Discussing the division between your work and social media identities can be difficult.

Ask yourself:

What is my office culture like?

Examine the norms of your office. In some workplaces, connecting on social media may be common with some employees even having usernames in their email signatures. In other workplaces, social media sites may be blocked or deemed a waste of time by the majority of staff. Consider unspoken rules about appropriate office communication prior to friending your supervisor and supervisees.

How do I use social media and what does my profile say about me?

Consider what kind of persona you would like to share with your colleagues. Social media has the power to shift morning conversations from “how was your weekend?” to “I saw you went to a ska concert Tuesday night!” If you aren’t prepared to share these parts of your life, you should think twice about accepting a follow request.

What platforms am I okay with sharing?

Social media can be a place to build a professional identity and connect with others. However, beware of your context collapse that may occur if you try to present yourself in too many different lights on one account. Remember that it’s ok to be selective; you can accept requests on Facebook while keeping your Instagram just for non-work friends.

After-hours Messaging

Although many roles in student affairs require odd work hours, setting time for personal activities and self-care is critical for avoiding burnout. 

A conflict can arise when students or even colleagues message or text you after hours. Although you want to be a supportive, responsive professional, setting boundaries is crucial for your own wellbeing.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when making this decision:

Does the situation need to be addressed by me right now?

The answer may sometimes be yes — such as if a student organization you advise is experiencing an emergency or an on-duty RA needs your quick input. But otherwise, it’s ok to defer your response to a meeting the next day or refer the student to someone who is currently working and can assist them immediately.

Do I mind responding to this situation?

Not all after-hours communications can be draining! Depending on the type of message, you may even enjoy responding — like if it’s about an office surprise party, catching up on sports, or just checking in. However, consider the precedent you may be setting and if this type of communication is something you want to encourage again.

How can I set boundaries in the future?

I recommend being upfront about your boundaries and sticking to them with both students and colleagues. If someone accidentally oversteps your boundaries, kindly respond that you will get back to them when you can.

Conduct Violations

After accepting friend requests from student leaders, your feed will probably start filling up with their posts and stories. Problems may arise if you stumble upon concerning behavior or conduct violations, especially on your personal time.

Ask yourself:

Do I address the post?

If the online behavior is something you would address if it happened in-person, then you absolutely should respond in this scenario, too. However, your next steps may vary depending on the level of concern, your relationship with the student, and your institution’s policies. Responses may include messaging the student to find a time to chat, direct messaging them resources, and reporting to your conduct office.

Is there someone on duty who can address this?

If your best judgment is telling you that a student’s post needs to be addressed now, remember your resources — such as on-call residence life staff, mental health counselors, and campus safety — and use them as needed.

What are my other options?

Chat with your supervisor about social media expectations and what they expect you to do should a pressing situation arise online.

By reflecting on personal boundaries, you’ll prevent headaches for yourself and your students down the line.

For more tips on navigating the complex world of social media, look no further than How to Address 5 Tricky Dilemmas You’ll Likely Face with Your Office Social Media Accounts.

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Corinna Kraemer

About the author: Corinna Kraemer is an academic advisor at Goodwin University. She loves painting, running, and hanging out with her cat, Mr. K. She hopes her posts will finally help her dad understand what her career in student affairs is all about. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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