Meg Bernier (@msteverb) is the assistant director of editorial services and social media in the communications office at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.
Who should I be in digital spaces? Should I friend or follow students I know and/or work with? Should I accept students’ requests? Should I make my accounts private so they can’t follow me? What are my boundaries when it comes to social media?
When I presented at a higher education student affairs conference several weeks ago, these were some of the questions I was asked. They are questions that, at one time or another, I’ve also asked myself. I don’t work in student affairs, but as the social media coordinator on my campus, I work with a number of students and meet more every day. Because of this, I had to stop and think about if it was appropriate to keep my personal accounts public for this potential audience to see.
After wrestling with these thoughts, I decided to be completely public in my personal social media use. Here are three reasons why.
I don’t post inappropriate content. We’ve seen the stories about people who share too much on social media and the consequences of doing so. If I’m using social media—public accounts or private ones—the content is still out there, it has my name on it and the consequences remain the same regardless of the type of account.
A big part of who I am is the work I do. The lines blur for me when it comes to social media. When I am reading through tweets and catching up on what people in higher ed are saying , I’m doing it because it’s my job but also because I thoroughly enjoy learning about it, often in my free time. Finding the time to manage multiple accounts to separate these aspects of my life seems disingenuous because it’s not who I am. I don’t turn off work and turn on life or vice versa, so why would I do that on social media? (This also potentially uncovers a work-life balance issue I may need to address, but that’s for another post.)
But my biggest reason for keeping my accounts public is that I see it as a chance to educate. How often are students getting real-world lessons on how to develop their social and digital identities? I want them to see me engage in weekly Twitter chats and live-tweet from conferences. I want them to see how I use social media to network and collaborate with colleagues from all over the country. I want them to see how passionate I am about the work I’m doing with them and for them. This is an opportunity for me to educate them on how to use social media responsibly in a world where this type of education is so scarce, yet so necessary. Who knows? Seeing how much I love my work might inspire one of them to pursue a similar career path. At the very least, they are getting ideas on how they can use social media beyond what the typical college student uses it for.
In the conversations I had with colleagues at the conference, I learned that many institutions have social media rules and guidelines for those who work in student affairs, guidelines which are also welcomed by staff members because they deal enough with students as it is! In the end, it all comes down to what you’re comfortable with. But the next time a student requests to follow you on Twitter or friend you on Facebook, consider how you use those spaces and how much they could learn from you about the work you do by letting them in. You just might inspire the next generation of higher education professionals.
How do you handle your professional and personal digital identities? What are your thoughts on interacting with students on social media platforms?