Institutions need critics.
This need for criticism is particularly true in higher education. Without honest critiques, our colleges and universities are in danger of succumbing to faddism, group think, and stagnation.
One wonderful outcome of the birth of social media has been the death of message control.
Today, every one of us has access to publishing and communications platforms - platforms that were once controlled by the few.
Social media eliminates friction for critiques of institutional culture, priorities, and policies.
The combination of an informed critic, and the low-cost and high-reach of social media, can add up to a potent force for advocacy.
What are some principles that can maximize the effectiveness of those wishing to use social media platforms (tweets, blog posts, and comments), to advocate for organizational change at a college, university, or system?
Here are 10 principles (or guidelines) for academic social media advocacy for us to discuss:
1 - Be Humble: The most effective advocates are also the most humble people. They believe in the power of their ideas, but they believe even more in the importance of learning, listening, and dialogue. Coming across as a someone who thinks they have all the answers will immediately stifle conversation. Nobody will listen to someone who continually represents themselves as the only person with access to the truth. Anyone who uses social media to predictably criticize others will not gain trust or influence.
2 - Be Generous: Never assume that you are the only one working for change in an institution. In the case of higher education, our colleges and universities are full of people who are motivated mostly by improving both their institution and the larger postsecondary environment. Do what you can to form networks and relationships with these other change makers, and be generous to their efforts in whatever social media platforms that you enjoy access.
3 - Assume Good Intent: The reality of higher education is that almost everyone involved is motivated by good intentions. All of us got into higher education out of a love of learning, a passion for our disciplines, and the belief that education is the best engine we have for personal and societal improvement. You may disagree with the thinking, beliefs, and policies of the people who work in higher ed - but this disagreement should not be confused with the conclusion that actions stem from selfishness or self-dealing. Once you assume good intent for those that you disagree, you open up a space for understanding, conversation, and dialogue.
4 - Build Relationships: It is always best to speak through social media in the same way that you would speak to someone face-to-face. Advocates for change are effective to the degree that they can articulate their ideas, and to the extent that they can build coalitions around their visions. Social media can be a great tool to build new relationships, and for cementing existing networks. Social media can also work in the exact opposite way if used poorly, rapidly depleting trust and destroying good will.
5 - Criticize Policies, Not People: It can be tempting to think that it is okay to criticize individuals on social media. Personal criticisms get reactions - the bigger the criticism the bigger the reaction. This strategy of personal criticism is self-defeating and counterproductive. You will lose any opportunity for dialogue and learning. You will cut-off, rather than open up, communication. It is far better to be critical of the policies and practices of individuals, and to avoid making statements about their character and beliefs.
6 - Admit Your Own Mistakes: Every interaction on social media should be treated as an experiment. Every assertion as an hypothesis. People who use social media well for institutional advocacy will push lots of ideas - and inevitably get many things wrong. Be the first to admit where you are unsure, need more information, or may simply be mistaken. Treat being wrong as a gift - as when you are wrong you learn something new.
7 - Model: Social media models for others how passionate, smart, and committed people should - and should not - communicate. In an academic context, we have a particular responsibility to model good communications practices with social media. We should assume that today’s students (tomorrow’s workers and leaders) are watching and learning how to interact by how we interact on social media. If we want them to be articulate yet humble, persuasive yet open to new ideas, then we need to model those behaviors.
8 - Don’t Shout: Communication on social media devolves much faster than face-to-face communications. Norms of collegiality and respect that tend to inhibit yelling and name calling on our campuses don’t apply to social media discussions about higher education. It is up to all of us to modulate our tones - and refrain from doing the tweeting / blogging / commenting equivalent of shouting.
9 - Practice Active Social Media Listening: There are (at least) two ways that we can practice active social media listening. The first is to invite, and participate in, collegial conversation through our social media platforms. The second is to phrase your ideas in social media as hypotheses and as questions. If you approach your social media participation as a conversation, rather than a monologue, then the ideas that you are advocating for have a much better chance of taking root.
10 - Be Thoughtful: We have strongly held beliefs about the ideal culture, policies, and priorities of our colleges and universities. As students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, taxpayers, and neighbors we want the best for our schools - and we have ideas about how those entrusted with institutional authority should behave. That is a wonderful thing. If we want to be effective in our advocacy, however, we must be thoughtful in how we utilize the tools and platforms of social media.
What do you think are the principles that we should all follow for effective higher ed advocacy on social media?
How do you use social media to advocate for change at the college or university that you most care about?