Juggling Social Media and Student Affairs

Last year I had the privilege of chairing my Department of Residence Life’s Marketing and Technology Committee. As a second year grad student fresh out of an ACUHO-I internship on marketing in Student Affairs, I was eager and excited for what was sure to be a challenging year. I had spent two and a half months learning everything under the sun about marketing plans, crafting messages for publications and press releases, and using social media as a communication tool. I just couldn’t wait to jump in and completely revamp every single thing we were doing. Well, as many of you can probably guess, this ended up being more daunting than I initially planned. There were so many questions left unanswered! Social media is, by nature, organic. With people tweeting, updating statuses, and posting in real time, there just didn’t seem like there was a way to plan or regulate every single message that goes out on our pages. How could we as professionals ensure that our online spaces were truly reflective of the beliefs and mission of our institutions? How could we craft intentional messages for our students, parents, and whoever else may stumble upon our plethora of pages, while still honoring the organic nature that so attracts students to social media in the first place? To answer these questions, I went all the way back to my marketing roots (established a whole three months before hand), did some research on what other schools were doing, and began to formulate an outline for what would best fit our department. We started with Facebook, as that was the social media most used by our students at the time, but the guidelines created could easily be applied to other media.

The first step in creating these guidelines for our staff was to accept the fact that we couldn’t actually regulate everything that went on our pages. Social media is a conversation, not a bulletin board, not a journal article, not a web page. We had to take a deep breath and allow the conversation to happen, just as we would if we were actually face to face with our students. This meant opening ourselves up to the possibility of criticism and negativity. Ultimately we came up with a very workable framework for our department that allowed us to balance social media best practices from the marketing world with our need to create some uniform messaging throughout our department.

Here is the final product:

Departmental Facebook Guidelines

1. General Guidelines

–      Maintain Confidentiality/Privacy- If you would not give out the information in a public forum, do not post it on a social media site. Remember FERPA guidelines.

–      Be Accurate- Make sure that you have all the facts before you post. Cite and link to sources when possible. (Ex. If you post housing info, link to the Housing webpage)

–      Be Authentic and Transparent- When you maintain a social media site with a departmental username, other users do not know you personally. They view what you post as coming from the department. Keep this in mind when posting content.  When addressing user concerns, mistakes, etc., be open and authentic in your responses. Use good customer service.

–      Be Timely and Consistent- regularly monitor your Facebook page. You should check content daily and post once per day (Monday-Friday).

–      Be Thoughtful- Be sure to think about what you are posting. If necessary, create a calendar and plan posts ahead of time. If you have a question about whether something is appropriate or not, ask your supervisor first.

–      Maintain a Respectful Environment- Users are free to discuss topics and disagree with one another, but they should be respectful of one another. Address issues that arise.

2. Account type: Please create a Facebook page instead of a Facebook profile for your area.

There are several reasons why a page is the preferred account type for Residence Life:

–   You can list multiple administrators

–   You can control content more easily- you can hide questionable content, control who “likes” the page, etc.

–   It is easier to pass control from year to year

–   Question and poll functions are useful

You should create one Facebook Page per traditional complex. The exception to this rule is a Living Learning Community, which should have a separate page.

If you currently have more accounts than this, or are using profiles instead of pages, you will have until January 1st to move content over to one page. A plan for doing so will be distributed to you.

3. Facebook Page administrators: The following individuals should be listed as administrators on your Facebook Page- Community Coordinator, Assistant Community Cooordinators, Assistant Director of First Year Experience.

The Assistant Director of the FYE will maintain Facebook Pages during the summer, will add appropriate new professional staff as administrators, and will post relevant welcome weekend information to pages.

Resident Assistants should not be added as administrators on pages. They should have the ability to post to the page from their own profile, but not have administrative access.

4. Who can post: RAs, professional staff, students, other campus organizations that would normally get approval to post flyers in the residence halls.

5. Who cannot post: Outside organizations who are soliciting, individuals using hate speech. If we would not let them place flyers in our buildings, they cannot post on our pages.

6. Mandatory content: Each page should include the following information.

  1. Link to either Upperclass or First Year Experience Facebook page
  2. Link to Residence Life website
  3. “Community Standards” for page- students, on-campus affiliates, off-campus affiliates

7. Negative comments: We must accept that we will sometimes have negative comments on our pages.

–   If the comment is offensive, a screenshot should be taken and it should be deleted by an administrator. There should also be some sort of follow up with that individual, either in person or via Facebook message or email. If the person is not a member of that community, they should be removed from the page.

–   If the comment is not offensive, it should be addressed publicly by an administrator.

–                      Example: Student posts “No one should ever move into XXXXX Hall. The rooms are disgusting

–          Administrator should reply on the page something like: “We’re sorry to hear that your room is not up to par. We are constantly working with Property Management to take care of the issues we are made aware of. We’d love to help! Why don’t you stop by our complex office or call the CC at X-XXXX to talk about your issue”

–          It is also a good idea to follow up personally by sending the student an email or talking with them.

–   It is important to always be transparent when using any type of social media. By addressing issues in the manner above, we show that we are aware of issues and are working on them to the best of our ability. If we delete comments like this, it makes students feel like we are trying to silence their complaints.

8. What to do when you make a mistake:

–   Be transparent and open. If it is misinformation, be sure to post the correct information, noting that you accidentally posted incorrect information previously so that those who saw the previous post will know that it was wrong

–   If you accidentally post something inappropriate, own it. Don’t just delete the post- someone will have seen it. Reply to the post with an apology or explanation, as appropriate.

9. What to post: Remember that with social media, it’s all about having a conversation with students. This is not just a virtual bulletin board. You can post about upcoming events, and info that they need to know, but that should not be the only thing you post. Here are some suggestions:

–          Event and program info

–          Important info students need to know (ex. links to break dining hours, housing sign up info, snow plowing lot closures, RA selection, etc.)

–          Links to news articles, especially if you ask a question to go with them (think Civic Engagement)

–          Links to videos (make sure they are appropriate and relevant)

–          Questions (ex. It’s a great day to outside! What’s your favorite quad activity?)

–          Pictures of programs and your buildings

–          Other interactive activities (ex. Res Hall Cribs- have students post pictures of their rooms, choose a winner)

–          Links to resources

10. When to post: Plan to post every work day, Monday- Friday, once per day. If this does not seem to meet the needs of your community, you can adjust the number of times/days of posting to do so. You will have to feel out which times of day will get the best feedback. Check your page throughout the day to be sure that any feedback you receive is appropriate.

11. Facebook Insights: Facebook provides each page with Insights, a tool that allows you to track the interactions you are having with your audience. Looking this over weekly will help you determine what content users respond to, what times of day get the most feedback, and more. Keep in mind that having a successful page is about more than the number of “likes” you get; it’s about the number of interactions.

The important things to remember when formulating guidelines are to create something that best fits the needs of your operation while incorporating best practices from marketing and communications professionals, and to treat the process like a conversation. If you do that, you will find that you can balance your departmental mission with the organic nature of social media.

–     Beth Poling is a Residence Hall Director at the University of New Hampshire (formally an Assistant Community Coordinator at the University of Maine), and the Publications Coordinator for the NASPA TKC

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