Posing questions on Twitter is a great way to discover things that you didn't know. For example, last week I tweeted out the following question: "Who are your favorite Deans of Students on Twitter?" In a short amount of time, I received a large number of responses. There will definitely be a post in the future that covers that particular question. However, for now, I wanted to share one of the responses that immediately caught my attention:
A lot of Deans of Students are on Twitter and/or Facebook, but I had never heard of any who were using Reddit as a platform for engagement. Reddit is a massively popular site even though it is sometimes seen as being on the "fringe" of the web. Perspective matters though…if you want more info about Reddit, I would suggest reading their comprehensive FAQ. In terms of the tweet from Colgate University, an AMA stands for "ask me anything." Probably the most famous AMA of all time took place last August when Barack Obama took part in a massive Q and A on the site.
Matt Hames, Colgate University's Manager of Media Communications and Beverly Low, the Dean of Students at Colgate, shared some of their thoughts about social media and the Reddit AMAs that Dean Low has facilitated:
What types of social media is Dean Low currently using and why?
Hames: Dean Low uses Twitter @TheDeanLowdown as her primary social media channel. She has LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, but uses LinkedIn for business and Facebook for personal use. The Twitter handle is an open invitation to contact her directly about issues at Colgate.
Why did you decide to use Reddit?
Hames: There is a Colgate sub-reddit that gets a little use. But last semester someone posted to it, and we noticed that many current students engaged with the content. So while Reddit is an anonymous board, we have data to show that it is highly trafficked by current and former students.
A lot of times, administrators seem to hesitate when it comes to being vulnerable online. Dean Low shared all sorts of stuff. Was that difficult? Or just part of her personality when it comes to her digital identity?
Hames: I think the fear of social and digital media comes from the unknown. Reddit is a large, unknown, relatively unexplored board of silliness and juvenile behavior. But that isn’t a generalization for all subreddits, especially IAMA. We showed Dean Low a few more famous IAMA’s and helped her get set up.
Low: It helps that I am an extrovert and very open-minded about new approaches to reaching students - meeting them where they are at. I have nothing to hide and certainly no agenda. The toughest aspect of both AMAs was making sure that I was honest and transparent, but also maintaining a professional tone and supporting and accurately representing my employer, Colgate University, when the questions were Colgate specific.
How did you promote the event?
Hames: We posted about it in /r/Colgate, on Twitter and the Colgate University Facebook page. For the first one, we were nervous about the extremes, too many people asking questions, and/or nobody coming. Our first AMA happened on the day our new website launched. Dean Low tweeted a couple of times from her personal account.
Were there any questions that surprised you? How many students do you think took part?
Low: I was surprised by the openness, borderline bluntness, of some of the questions. I knew it was "ask me anything," but it took me awhile to really accept that people were being so forthcoming and earnest in their questions. In the first Reddit AMA on August 13, I was surprised to be asked my opinion on some Colgate policies from alumni. When I logged back in that evening, there was a question from a self-identified parent asking for "the real deal" on college life - "not what we hear at orientation." That was refreshing and exactly the type of conversation I HOPE to have with parents. No BS. I am transparent to a fault - at times brutally honest with students! I think they are surprised by that.
Were there any themes that floated to the top?
Low: Yes. A few on social media and the transition from high school to college during the August AMA. The September AMA had a different tone - it was a little more . . . hmm . . . confrontational but in a respectful way. There were a couple of questions/comments from current Colgate students and then a random mix of questions. The other theme is that there are always toothpaste comments - asking me if I brush with Colgate. (I honestly answered Crest Pro Health). The September AMA included more requests for my opinion on Greek life and alcohol violations/disciplinary process. One surprise is that I did not receive as many questions/comments about the academic transition to college - but September 5 is still very early in the semester. When we do another AMA, we will focus it on academic concerns.
Did you share the AMA Q/As with people at your campus after the event?
Hames: Internally, we shared both AMA's. We added a link to the first and second on to our monthly alumni newsletter, and there will be a mention about it in the upcoming Colgate Alumni Magazine.
Did the AMA influence anything in terms of communication, policy, activities, etc?
Low: I enjoyed and appreciated the fast pace and what I perceived to be the sincerity of some of the questions. I invited some to private message me so that I could respond more fully to their respective questions. It has definitely enhanced my perspective on social media in higher education - I had been in the camp of "unplug" and students spend too much time on their smartphones - while I still feel that we all need one day a week to unplug and turn things off, I have come to accept the fact that the generation coming to college communicates MUCH differently and we "old dogs" need to keep pace.
After the August AMA, I have become much more open to new ideas/approaches to using technology to communicate with students. For example, I oversee a staff of 45 peer advisers who coordinate first-year orientation and work with new students throughout the academic year. My intern recommended we try an application called Wiggio to send out staff updates, last minute location changes, meeting reminders, etc. It worked really well - we are continuing to use Wiggio for staff meetings. I know it sounds like an antique, but even using Google more frequently to share documents and resource materials has kept the staff better connected. I am also using an iPad much more frequently in meetings and communicating with students more frequently. The one thing that has been a difficult transition for me is that I do not always get a response - or a VERY brief response - and many times do not need a response - but still expect one. I think that is part of the generational difference - I was socialized and matured in an era when you promptly returned a phone call and/or wrote someone back (e-mail or ... gasp ... a mailed letter). I am getting used to the "non-response" and the quick bites.
Do you think that this will become a regular event?
Hames: We do. Dean Low will do another one that is focused on academic concerns. Maybe after October 15.
Any other thoughts/insights?
Low: Both of the AMAs I did were about a broad topic - the first year of college. In August - I received a wide variety of great, thoughtful questions - some from students and few from parents - but a majority of them were not about the transition to college/first year of college - more about policies and my opinion on certain topics. All fine, but would really like to see what happens when we frame it or draw a more clear circle around a specific ASPECT of the first year. Reddit is interesting - it is very, very quick paced - I think I said earlier that the speed of the responses and the whole points and up votes/down votes made it fun - almost like a competition to see if I could keep up with everything!
I have to admit, I was pretty tired the evening of the first AMA - I also felt compelled to respond to everything - even the more silly, lighthearted questions or the wacky ones such as "what is the easiest major at Colgate? etc.
The class of 2016 and 2017 doesn't really know life without social/digital media. They assume and expect responses in the places they want to be. However, being available on Reddit surprises even them. It sends a message of openness that helps students understand that the open door policy is across the board.
I'm often asked about "the next big thing" on the web. Dean Low may have just shed some light on that question. An AMA on Reddit with a "no BS" DOS sounds pretty good to me.
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