Best Practices for Creating Community in a Graduate Program

By Niki Messmore

If student affairs graduate programs were to be depicted in a painting, they would most likely be said to resemble one of Bob Ross’ “happy trees”. In reality, graduate school is often more of a ‘whomping willow’ than a happy tree. Grad school can be difficult in many ways (class/work/life balance) but it can be an especially isolating experience. I’ve written about the 4 types of #sagrad loneliness before in my personal blog and was surprised to hear from the number of people who identified with those experiences.

Community is key to supporting student success and I would like to discuss best practices for creating a community within a student affairs graduate program; particularly through social media.

I’ve taken on several roles, both official and unofficial, to help create, build, and sustain community in Indiana University’s Higher Education & Student Affairs (HESA) program through social media.  We’ve experienced success in building community through Twitter and Facebook during recruitment, orientation, and ongoing experiences, and I’d love to share some practices that have worked for our program.


1. Explore a deeper understanding of social media, both as a philosophy and the technical aspects. Social media works when there is engagement; i.e. capture people’s emotions, ask questions, interact, post interesting news about the program, etc.

2. Create a social media guide. Identify the purpose that social media will play in building community within the cohorts and the strategies that will help to engage students. For example, the guide I created is 5 pages and identifies our philosophy on social media and how we will be engaging students, alumni, faculty, and friends via Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Intentionality is the key to success.

3. Create a ‘how-to’ guide. The term ‘digital native’ is unrealistic and we can’t expect all grad students to understand how to use the different social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, etc). Consider writing a manual if you don’t have one already. For example, I’ve written a 13-page document (Professional Social Networking for the #SAgrad) outlining how to technically use social media (create and manage accounts), how to professionally use social media (live tweets, student affairs hashtags and connections), and best practices.


Twitter usage is increasing in the student affairs world thanks to excellent live tweeting sessions and hashtags that connect us across institutions. Therefore Twitter is not only a tool to engage students within a grad program but good professional development.

1. Create a Twitter account for your program. For example, the IU HESA program has a Twitter account for the HESA student organization that I currently manage (IUSPA_HESA). This will give you an official voice in sending out news, interacting with students, and reaching out to alumni, faculty, and staff. Several other great programs out there tweeting with their students include BGSU BGSDA, UT HEASPA, Northeastern CSDA, Baylor HESA, and FSU HESA.

2. Create a program hashtag. Make sure it is unique (check Twitter to see if it gets used by unaffiliated people), captures your program brand, links the reader back to your program (i.e., that it makes sense), and is easy to remember. For example, for IU’s HESA program uses #IUHESA. It was first used by alum Sean Ryan Johnson in 2011 but has been sporadically used since then; I revived it as part of our branding in July. Since then there have been almost 200 tweets using the hashtag. It’s helped masters, doctoral, faculty, and alumni connect to one another over Twitter and has been great in building relationships with one another; adoption of the hashtag by the IU School of Education has been beneficial as well.

Other examples actively used by SA programs include #IUPSAHE and #HESAnation; my search did not demonstrate that there are many grad programs actively using hashtags to connect with one another.

3. Create lists. On your Twitter profile you can follow people and add them to lists that can be made public. Create separate lists for alumni, institutional student affairs staff, and faculty. This will allow people to use the program Twitter account to find one another and interact.


1. Create a Facebook group for your interview weekends. One current first-year student informed me that IU’s Facebook group for the outreach experience was a strong factor in selecting IU. Why? Because she really cared for the community that was built in the Facebook group.  Current HESA students posted in the Facebook group, encouraged questions in group, interacted with prospective students, and during the weekend experience many group photos were uploaded – effectively building a welcoming community for students.

2. Create a Facebook group for your admitted cohorts (one for each cohort and then one combined group has been effective for us). This increases opportunities for interactions in both a fun and academic capacity. For example, our Facebook groups are a combination of social plans, updating on events, and sharing articles to help create discussion on issues of social justice and other areas of higher education.


This is a brief outline of some of the best practices in creating community via social media during my time at Indiana University’s HESA program. Based on personal observation, I can see a distinct difference in the HESA community, especially among first-year grad students. I believe that social media, coupled with creating social events in July and August, helped to build a stronger community within the program.

How does your program use social media to build community? Do you think social media engagement relates to overall program engagement? Leave a comment or tweet me at @NikiMessmore.



Best Practices for Creating Community in a Graduate Program

On My Radar: A Few Tech-Related Items

By Anitra Cottledge

I’m still feeling fuzzy from the semester and its ending, and am just getting around to my usual routine of clicking around the intrawebz. A few technology-related items that caught my eye:

  • I’m Out of the Office. No, Really. I Am. – This article poses the question: “Is the out-of-office message meaningless?” Not to me. I don’t have a problem not checking my email when I’m away from the office. I used to have my email synced to my phone…for about two hours and then I just wanted people to pelt me with an endless stream of gummi bears.
  • #Hashtags: Facebook’s missing link to pop culture – So Facebook is missing out on cool points because it doesn’t have a hashtag mechanism? I suppose this is true. One part of me says, “What the big deal? I use hashtags on Facebook anyway, even if they aren’t live.” But then again, hashtags are useful on Twitter, particularly when you’re trying to follow a conversation. Then again, I don’t use Twitter in the same way that I use Facebook, so I’m not sure that I would want the same hashtag functionality on Facebook as I have on Twitter.
  • Tools for Displaying Tweets at Your Event – Some new and useful tools that could come in handy for those of us in Student Affairs, who tend to plan lots of programs and events, and may want fresh ideas about how to integrate technology into our programs.
  • Facebook Rape Campaign Ignites Twitter: Boycott Threats From #FBrape Get Advertisers’ Attention – When Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of WAM (Women, Action, & the Media), Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, and Soraya Chemaly, feminist writer and activist, write an open letter to Facebook asking that it take action on “pages and images that explicitly condone or encourage rape or domestic violence or suggest that they are something to laugh or boast about.”

What are you reading?

On My Radar: A Few Tech-Related Items

Lean In with #femlead

By Brenda Bethman

Technically, this post is not really about technology (although Sandberg does work at Facebook) — but it is about women, which is the other focus of this blog. And it’s cheating a bit as it’s a cross-post from my personal blog, but it’s April and I’m sick, so it will have to do. Enjoy!! And join us tomorrow and May 14 on Twitter to talk about the book.

lean inIf you’ve been conscious and tuned in to the media at all over the last 6 weeks or so, you have probably heard that Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, wrote a book that people are talking about (just a bit). You may also have heard that there is a fair amount of disagreement in feminist circles about Sandberg’s book and whether it’s helpful or harmful to women.

We at #femlead decided these were questions worth pursuing — so the next two #femlead chats (4/30 and 5/14) were be dedicated to a discussion of Lean In as well as the discussion around it. The chats will be facilitated by me and the fabulous Liana Silva. We hope you can join us and below are some links in case you want to do some pre-reading.

Joan C. Williams and Rachel W. Dempsey, “The Rise of Executive Feminism” in HBR

Anne Marie Slaughter’s review in the NYT

Lean In and One Percent Feminism” in Truthout

Feminism’s Tipping Point: Who Wins from Leaning In?” in Dissent

Jill Filipovic, “Sheryl Sandberg is More of a Feminist Crusader..” in The Guardian

Catherine Rottenberg “Hijacking Feminism” on AlJazeera

Jessica Bennett, “I Leaned In: Why Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Circles’ Actually Help,” in New York Magazine

On Lean-ing In” at Racialicious

Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean in” Message Not Enough for Women, Especially Professional Latinas” at Huffington Post

The Feminist Mystique” in The Economist

Joan Walsh, “Trashing Sheryl Sandberg” at Slate

Questioning Sheryl Sandberg: We’re Not “Trashing,” We’re Exploring” at The Broad Side

Tressie McMillan Cottom “Lean In Litmus Test: Is This For Women Who Can Cry At Work?”

Elsa Walsh, “Why Women Should Embrace a ‘Good Enough’ Life” in the Washington Post

Originally published at

Lean In with #femlead

Best Practices/Making Life Easier: Social Media Edition

By Anitra Cottledge

Before I jump with both feet into this topic, a couple of short items to provide a bit of backstory.

Social Media Landscape
I only joined Facebook however-many-years ago because it seemed that Facebook was where students were getting their information, and thus it made sense for me to be there so that I could create a presence for our office. To this day, I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook (I am aware that I’m likely not alone in this). I love the fact that it does, in fact, make staying in touch with some people much easier. I enjoy the opportunities for conversation; I pretty much use it as a place to highlight what I’m reading and noticing in pop culture, in feminism, in social justice work, and it’s interesting to see the conversations that grow from these random status updates/links. But, meh for the privacy concerns that pop up like weeds every five seconds. I’m also not particularly fond of the way that checking FB can become almost second nature, or how easily FB (and other social media) can become a time suck. (Note that privacy concerns are a structural issue, and the time suck thing is a personal thing – one that I’m sure many other people experience, but an individualized phenomenon nonetheless, since there are many people who go weeks and months without even logging in.)

I get LinkedIn invitations all the time. All. The. Time. Sometimes from people I don’t even know. To date, I have held out on joining LinkedIn, mainly because I just don’t feel like managing yet another social media profile or service. Also, I haven’t been able to really see a use for it, even though many human resources colleagues rave about its importance and value.

With both Facebook and LinkedIn – and really, any social media outlet – my questions are the same: how much do you post? How much is too much? Too little? How much information do you share for this tool to be useful?

Fast forward to the last few weeks. I read a post by Tressie McMillan Cottom entitled, “Outgrowing Your Social Media.” I thought she really captures the challenges of “managing a public-private self on social media sites as you are growing and, yes, perhaps changing.” Like Tressie discusses in her post, my digital self is pretty consistent with my “real” self; I just happen to have very clear ideas at this point about how much of my self I want to be accessed digitally. I could get into the whole “real” self vs. digital self thing, but I’ll save that for another post. More from Tressie’s post:

As tools pop up that allow social media users to know immediately anytime you unfollow them, people are becoming digitally passive aggressive. You don’t unfollow; you “mute” someone using a special twitter client. You don’t de-friend on Facebook; you “hide” someone from appearing on your wall. You maintain the illusion of a digital relationship precisely because the divide between real life and online life is porous, if real itself. … So what do you do when the people you follow on social media are not the people you want to talk to anymore?

THIS. We’ve all “unfriended” or been on the receiving end of an unfriending, so this is not my own passive aggressive musing about “Oh, those people I wish I could delete, but I don’t want to name names.” (Again, I could write a whole ‘nother post about social media and its unspoken rules of engagement and etiquette, but not right now.)

As usual, this post is more a way to pose a question. As social media tools become more numerous and complex, is it a best practice to divide your audience(s) among various social media outlets? For instance, does it make your life easier to, as others I know have done, remove all work-related contacts from your Facebook friends list, and to only include friends and family there? Do you then funnel all of the work colleagues and contacts over to LinkedIn? How do you manage your “real-life” relationships via these digital means, i.e., what do you do or say when someone gets mad that you are no longer friends with them on Facebook?

Weigh in via the comments.

Best Practices/Making Life Easier: Social Media Edition

App Highlight: Facebook Camera App

by Jennifer Keegin

As most of you know, Facebook bought Instagram for a billion dollars. I was instantly horrified. As someone who wishes they could move away from Facebook but can’t (tethered by long distant relationships with all of my family and high school friends) I found this news to be troublesome because I love Instagram and hated to think of it going to the way side like other apps that I’ve known and loved. (RIP Gowalla).

I wasn’t even interested in downloading the app. Then I read this article called “Thanks Instagram It’s Been Fun But I’m Out Of Here” on Simply Zesty.

A couple of points interested me. Better quality photos and the ability to share directly with Facebook, and the fact that there’s a website you can go to to view the shots.

So I downloaded the app to check it out. I kinda like it. I too found the quality of the images to be better and its easy to use. Obviously the immediate integration onto Facebook was nice – However – I do still like to use Nostalgio (the app I highlighted last time in my post) so I can see where I will have to keep playing around to see which is truly the best. A great feature of Facebook Camera and its one real selling point over Instagram is multi-photo uploads. This helps you tell a story or share the best photos from a day’s outing in a single post. It’s great for if you can’t decide which shot is best and don’t want to go through the sharing flow over and over. Instagram does have more filters though, 17, plus light adjustment and tilt-shift that Facebook’s new app doesn’t.

Would love to hear feedback from others – thoughts? Comparisons?

App Highlight: Facebook Camera App

Best Practices for Social Media

By Meghann Martinez

This post is meant to solicite your own best practices in social media. I will share some of my own however this is not exclusive. With social media growing at a rapid pace I am curious to learn what best practices people are employing.

Plan Ahead

As much as we would like to believe social media is not random or spontaneous. Feel free to plan out a couple weeks of content at a time. Why? Because then you know you have content that is consistent, fresh and relevant. I use Hootsuite for my scheduling and so other who contribute to our social media can see what is scheduled out. Things may change in the world that will effect your content so be sure to check it out every couple of days.

Frequency– How often should you post. I suggest acknowledging the community culture of the social media site you are using. For example, on Twitter you could post 20 times a day and barely make a dent however on Facebook 20 times in a day is a bit excessive.

Content and the 80/20 rule

  • Shake it up! No one likes the same content over and over again. Especially if it does not give one an opportunity to talk about themselves.
  • Don’t forget a call to action in every post. Examples of a call to action may be for someone to share, like, retweet, comment, etc.
  • Finding a home The shelf life of your content and the appropriate social media medium are tricky. I tend to view it like this: If the content is relevant for longer than two days it’s home is Facebook (e.g., events). If the content is dynamic and has a short relevancy (e.g., news article about another university) then it’s home is probably on Twitter alone. This does not mean it isn’t mentioned in other areas of social media but that they are driving the traffic “home”. Home may be a blog post or a news release on the university website as well.
  • Know the space! Each social media channel has it’s own culture. Knowing viral tendencies and fads of the channel are essential. On YouTube certain trends pick up so stay fresh and adapt but don’t catch the end of the train (e.g., Sh** people say). Facebook also has its own trends (e.g., memes) and so on.
  • The 80/20 rule This isn’t just for dating but for marketing as well. I advise my colleagues to post 80% of the time content that is relevant to their audience or area and only 20% of the time the “sales pitch”. Using residential life as an example: (1) article about roommate matching, (2) room decorating photo contest, (3) My favorite thing about living on-campus is ______., (4) Poll for RA of the month and (5) Pay your housing fee for 2012-2013! or event reminder.

Move the party off-line

As much as I love sitting at my computer or on my phone I’ve been told a dose of human interaction is healthy. Don’t be afraid to host a TweetUp or Tweet ‘n’ Greet so students can interact with each other and put a real name to a face. Have the student place their twitter or username on their name tags instead of there given names. (This may also serve as an education moment in choosing an appropriate handle for social media.) TweetUps may center around activities such as a baseball game (boost the attendance!), a hall social or lunch in the cafe.

So now it’s your turn! What are your best practices? 

Student Affairs meme

Best Practices for Social Media

Highlight a Woman: Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook

Normally, the “highlight a woman” post features a female student affairs professional. For this week’s post, however, I decided to focus on Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg as she’s been in the news as the most visible woman at Facebook (and one who stands to become very wealthy thanks to their IPO). Additionally, as Marshall Fitzpatrick pointed out on ReadWriteWeb, Sandberg has been attracting attention for her views on women in the workplace:

She’s often said to be a prominent advocate of women in the workplace. Doug Barry points out on Jezebel, though, that Sandberg’s position is a very particular one: that women are fundamentally responsible for their own career development in corporate America and need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

This is a view that has its critics and supporters. On the one hand, Sandberg is known as someone who works hard to recruit and retain women (something not all women who “make it” do). On the other hand, as Berry notes:

she is implying that the only impediment between the average working woman and the riches of corporate America is attitude and that most definitely is not true.

I also find Sandberg’s message to indeed be simultaneously positive and troubling. The TED talk below is a good example of this.

What do you think? Is Sandberg a role model for women in tech? Or is her message that “the problem is you” too far removed from other women’s concerns to be of use? Let us know what you think!

Highlight a Woman: Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook

Linkage Love: New Twitter & Facebook Timeline

By Brenda Bethman

This week’s Linkage Love is a day late thanks to sick bloggers and the insanity of finals week. Better late than never, though, right?

Last week, Twitter rolled out a bunch of updates (website, iPhone & Android apps, Tweetdeck, etc., etc.) so we are dedicating this Linkage Love post to #newtwitter. Enjoy!

And an extra link to a post on what Facebook timeline (which finally rolled out this morning) means for your privacy settings.

Linkage Love: New Twitter & Facebook Timeline

Friend Me, Follow Me, Subscribe to Me

by Kristen Abell

Oh the drama that has been Facebook this week. Subscriptions! Changes! Newsfeed! Oh my! What will we do? How are we going to make it now that the all-powerful Facebook has changed it’s format…again?

Seriously, people, haven’t we been through this like a thousand times already? I mean, I have to admit, I was a little befuddled by the new page this time around, but still – I’ll get used to it, just like I did the last thousand times.

I remember back in the day when Facebook made some of their changes, and I was all in an uproar – I can’t find things anymore! And I’m pretty sure I joined some “We hate the new Facebook” group. And then I got used to it, and I just didn’t care. The next time Facebook made changes, I was frustrated, too, but realized that hey, I’ll get used to it again. As I do every time.

Let’s have a little history lesson, folks. Facebook was created as site for people to connect, to find out more about each other, to meet a potential date or hook-up (hey, these were college guys, let’s be realistic). It was not created as a way to protect your privacy or anyone else’s. That has never really been their shtick. So why are we all in an uproar about how they are suddenly obliterating it? If you don’t want people to know everything about you – DON’T POST IT. The only change Facebook has really made is making it easier to see what you’re doing – it was all visible and easy to find before, it’s just easier. Facebook is meant for people who are wanting to be open and authentic and connect with each other. If that’s not what you want, this isn’t the place for you. But don’t get all upset because it continues to do the things it’s proclaimed it wanted to do all along.

Of COURSE it’s going to try and adapt some of its features to be like Google+ and Twitter – why wouldn’t it, as so many people proclaim the advantages of those networks? What website, business, product doesn’t try to improve itself – even if those improvements aren’t always what people want? Why do we have to assume that Facebook is evil and out to get everyone, when really, they’re just trying to be better?

Go ahead, disagree with me, I’m curious to hear other arguments on this. But if you really hate Facebook so much, don’t expect me to be sympathetic – it’s a free service. No one is requiring you to use it. Sure, it’s only the largest networking site out there, but like I said, if that’s not what you’re wanting, you don’t have to be on there.

For me, I’ll continue to use Facebook, and I’ll continue to be more open, and I’ll continue to be responsible about what I’m posting. Oh, and Zuckerberg, you might be a conceited pain in the butt, but I think what you’ve done here is pretty freaking awesome, so have at it, dude. You deserve a little kudos – but don’t let that go to your already larger-than-life ego.

Friend Me, Follow Me, Subscribe to Me

Linkage Love: HigherEd Tech Design Picks

I have seen a bit of chatter in Twitterverse about #satech, #sacomm and #sachat asking about media/design examples within Student Affairs and Higher Education. I like to think we are all responsible for the image and brand of the university. In student affairs I think this is very new and growing quickly. ITS and PR should not be having all the fun! So I thought I would share my personal favorites in higher education design and media usage.

Texas A&M University- Commerce
Call me a sucker for simplicity but I really like this minimal but robust website. The page has a scrolling showcase of images taken around campus with a very diverse cast. The black menu bars drop down to display departments and highlight pages of interest, the phone number is easy to see and the intranet button is plenty visible.

Virtual Tours:
University of Missouri
There are three options for a virtual tour on Mizzou’s admissions page a 10 minute YouTube video (captioned, yes!), an interactive map with photos and video (created by the awesome guys at NuCloud) and a very entertaining 77 second video tour with the Mizzou mascot Truman.

Mention: Syracuse University The Virtual tour is hosted by an avatar with a script. I find this lack of transparency odd at the least. The design is easy to use and slick to use.

Use of Facebook:
Texas A&M University
I promise I am not home state bias, Go HORNS!. Even the U.S. News & World Report thinks their facebook page is more than stellar. Real quick best practices here 1) Invest in the time to design your custom vertical banner, 2) Invest time and design to create your own “tab” & layout, 3) Give your students a reason to want your content and reason to come back and 4) Show some personality!

Mention: Ever hear of Biola University? Me neither, but looking at their facebook page sure does tempt me to order a viewbook!

Use of Twitter:
North Carolina State University
NCSU has a dedicated page to all of the Twitter accounts associated with the University. To date it lists 91 accounts for departments, athletic teams and organizations. The page includes an intro to Twitter resources, displays streams for tweets from orgs of NC State and a link to a stream searching #wolfpack, #ncsu and #ncstate. With all this Twitter its hard to believe the Wolf Pack is ever out of the loop. Bonus! You can download the source code used to make the site for FREE.

Dean Elmore from Boston University (7,485 follwers and counting)
Dean Elmore is a Student Affairs rockstar dolling out nuggets of wisdom, conversation feeders and has students asking him for mentions and RTs to promote their events. The transparency has catered to the Millennial generations while providing a dosage of character and humanism of a higher education administrator.

University App/Mobile Website:
The Ohio State University
This app seems like a miracle worker in hindsight. I WISH this would have existed back in ‘04! (I know…it was the technology stone age, iPhones didn’t event exist.) This app is more comprehensive then the ones I’ve seen at other big name schools include Harvard and Stanford. Someone consulted students regarding what they would use an OSU app for. Well they use it for real-time bus stop information, ID card money balances/transactions, checking grades/class schedules, GPS campus map, campus directory, athletic information and much more!

For those of use who may or may not be tech/comm/design nerds… Style Guides!
Style Guides can be editorial or visual in nature. Often times distributed by university public relations, public affairs or creative teams. Check when creating printed materials and social media that you are following policy.

Vanderbilt University has created their own supplement to the AP Style Guide.
Indiana University has created a Visual Identity guide for print, digital media and web. Even includes PowerPoint templates.
Cornell University has a rather extensive and super detailed Style Guide including measurements for stationary and business cards.
Auburn University stretches Cornell’s limits and even includes embroidery standards.

This is a just a taste of different communications and technology trends in higher education. What is your university doing? What is your department doing? Don’t be afraid to show off. Share your links!

Linkage Love: HigherEd Tech Design Picks