There’s something about social media that throws us back into playground politics of he-said/she-said, snarky remarks, and blatant rudeness that would never be said so easily in person. More often than we’d like to admit, a quick swipe through our feeds makes us think, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe he posted that!” Sometimes this results in the phenomenon recently introduced to the #SAchat community called “subtweeting” – when someone posts a pointed statement in reply to another’s post or real-life actions without actually saying who it’s directed at.
@SATweeter: To my non-SA followers – be prepared for my weekly #SAchat tweet-nado!
@egghead1230: My Thursday lunches are never a good time to be online. #makerealfriends #noonecares
Other times people are totally direct, especially when they think no one will reply to their negativity:
@universityofcollege: The @UofCPB wants to thank everyone for coming out to watch Mean Girls with us tonight! #ThatsSoFetch
@uofcbro: So tired of these stupid chick flicks taking over the student center.
While these are not real tweets, many of us have probably encountered similar reactions at some time to our own personal posts or posts released from our organization, department, or institution’s accounts. But that’s just what they are – reactions.
Back up to the day before last week’s chat on negativity in social media to my department’s staff meeting where we did a customer service activity to teach us the difference between reacting and responding. We talked about how giving a quick, uninformed, or emotion-filled reaction to someone who comes through the student center will block building relationships with the community, and how a thoughtful, timely, and genuinely pleasant response to their need supports the culture of care our institution takes pride in. As Thursday’s SA Chat went on, I started thinking about how I could use this when I come across negativity online, and my Final Thought was, “Constructive conversations can happen when negativity is approached by responding, not reacting, no matter the account type.”
I’m a big advocate of confronting those who choose to openly post their dislike of my posts or of the organization I advise. I think calling someone out on the fact that what they post can be seen by anyone is a great way to find out if their concerns are genuine or if they’re just complaining to be funny. The difference in responding and reacting to these posts can be as simple as remembering that we should never say “Why?” but instead ask “What can we do to make it better?” While it might be more appropriate to do this in a direct message or email than out in the open on a main feed, we need to at least attempt to have these conversations because we can learn truly valuable things from them.
We already know that, as student affairs educators, we should engage in meaningful conversations with those who interact with our programs and services to get the feedback we need to make things better. What I think we need to do more of is treat social media as a valuable tool to assess what students think about what we do because it’s a platform they’re much more comfortable with. We need to recognize that students are going to be more honest (in both positive and negative ways) about their feelings behind the completely transparent digital curtain than they will be on a paper survey as they’re leaving our program. And we need to show them we’re listening.
Natalie Undis is a first year graduate student in the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Texas State University and the Leadership & New Student Programs Graduate Research Assistant in the Planning, Assessment, Leadership, & Marketing Office in the LBJ Student Center. She is a self-proclaimed nerd and introvert, a true Tennessean, a Belmont Bruin, an Alpha Gamma Delta, and one of Hanson’s biggest fans.