Tom Krieglstein posed a question during Thursday’s student affairs chat that I thought was absolutely on the money. His question:
Are we all saying Twitter as #1, because we are on Twitter? What about the rest of the SA ppl not on Twitter?
The topic for the chat revolved around the idea of a social media plan and what that might look like and many people were responding that Twitter was their most used social media tool. Tom’s question landed in the middle of those comments.
My response to Tom? Absolutely. I said in a conversation recently that I think the effect of Twitter is to make the user feel like there are more people present than actually are. A group of even 100 people, tweeting with regularity, in a centered period of time can feel like a ton. Student Affairs chat is a structured chat that involves a group of people coming together at the same time to tweet. It feels like overload. But I genuinely don’t think it’s that many people in the context of student affairs as a profession. And for the most part, the medium of Twitter appeals to a certain personality type. Users of Twitter are most likely extroverted (I’m saying users here not people who try it and quit) and they’re most likely willing to try something new and share information with people they barely know. Even the most shy and guarded individuals on Twitter are more open and expressive than the general population.
But because it feels like a lot of people and it feels like it’s growing, the student affairs chat creates this illusion that it’s huge and representative, and I think it’s false. I haven’t seen a survey (and for the love of God, please don’t create one) about who these people actually are that participate in the student affairs chat, but I feel comfortable saying that they are largely young professionals, largely semi tech-savvy, and largely extroverted. There are absolutely populations (and dare i say, locations) that are not represented as heavily and the few senior level admins often seem to carry the load for the rest that aren’t.
My point is the perception and reality of what the community is are likely disparate.
The student affairs chat community on Twitter is a group of people that use the hashtag as a point of connection to network with other student affairs professionals. That’s it. It’s not another professional association. Getting on Twitter and tagging your questions with the hashtag will not ever be a substitute for doing actual research yourself or talking to the colleagues that you work with every day or are in your grad school classes. It can certainly be supplemental, just like all of your professional networks, but it will never (and should never) be a substitute for old fashioned question asking.
The other issue that Tom’s post made me think of is the elitist discussion. I get where people are coming from, and I don’t blame them for thinking people are elitists. I blame the people telling everyone that they need to get on Twitter and do student affairs chat for creating false and misleading expectations. The enthusiasm is awesome and I think the enthusiasm is a testament to how much this community has meant to a lot of people. But, not everyone needs to be on Twitter! It’s not for everyone! I have a suspicion that student affairs professionals are being encouraged to join Twitter by these evangelists for the student affairs chat and then having expectations that the community doesn’t meet. It’s important to remember that Twitter is a fairly difficult medium to engage in for a lot of people; the studies I’ve looked at say that about 10% of the people that sign up for an account ever get actively engaged.
I tell people that if they’re interested in networking outside of the traditional sphere then they might want to consider Twitter. I teach them about hashtags, not just student affairs chat, and share with them how this might help them to connect. BUT we also have to explain that it is pretty easy to get yourself in trouble or make a mess if you aren’t at least semi-cognizant of other people reading and sharing what you say. I’ve known multiple people who’ve been ratted out to bosses by participants in student affairs chat. It’s a risk-reward thing, and if you don’t think it’s for you, I would still encourage you to find what is for you.
One example we were talking about today was that, for someone who struggles with Twitter, a blog makes tons of sense. A blog is much more controlled, much less likely to be misunderstood and a little easier to control your message. It has some of the features that Twitter doesn’t. I’m not telling anyone to blog (however, one secret – i swear i don’t spend that much time doing this, as you can probably tell by my frequent editing errors), but it might be an alternative.
If you work in student affairs, I would encourage you to think about if social media is something that’s right for you (social media=facebook, blogging, twitter, ustream, youtube, etc). Each of us have certain personality traits that lend itself better to different technologies. Gauge your own comfort with being “out there” on the internets. Consider what your plan is for finding employment and career advancement. And determine what’s right for you.
And for those who are always on Twitter and participating in student affairs chat, remember that this isn’t for everyone. Temper your excitement and be respectful of the differences in us as people. And much like with your students, help our friends to be the best version of them, online and off, rather than what you think they should be. We don’t earn our salary from converts (oh wait, y’all aren’t getting paid for this?)