Jessica Jensen, Aurora University
Kelci Kosin, Columbia College Chicago
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the best moments in advising were the daily, in-person interactions with students: meeting on-campus for a cup of coffee, hosting free-breakfast Fridays, offering candy/snacks and a welcoming space, and just about any opportunity to connect beyond the realm of a typical advising appointment. Motivation for advisors was and is driven by balancing meaningful connections through academic advising to create relationships based on trust and care. Through intentional outreach and interactions, students see advisors as supportive and caring individuals that guide them through their academic journey.
The shutdown in March of 2020 challenged communication efforts in advising significantly. The in-person interactions were reduced to virtual interactions via Zoom, phone calls, and frequent exchanges via email. Luckily, students are often conditioned to check institutional emails regularly and, prior to the pandemic, many advisors utilized emails as a way to regularly check in with students and share informative content and resources. But the increase in email exchanges during the pandemic took a toll, and we as advisors noticed an increasing number of students that began avoiding email as a means of disconnecting and coping with the challenges and changes of the pandemic. According to an ongoing report on email statistics by The Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, individuals send and receive over 120 emails daily, and that number is increasing annually (Radicati, 2018). To no surprise, the data finding suggests that email remains the most pervasive form of business communication. Students and advisors certainly felt the weight of constantly having to manage increased email activity during the pandemic, and the negative impacts became clear: a change in productivity, creativity, and overall motivation to engage.
Our Social Media Journey
One of the challenges we faced as advisors was changing the setting of traditional advising and the means in which we communicate with students. For us, the authors, it became a quest to find alternative ways to interact with students in meaningful ways beyond email outreach. Our mission: to meet students on their level and offer communication, that despite the challenges of a pandemic, would provide caring and impactful interactions to holistically support students and their academic success.
Our journey began with YouTube. We began creating video content to connect with students beyond email. We could use video content to share important information and institutional deadlines/policies and also allow students to absorb the information while seeing our smiling faces and hearing the inflections in our voices. This proved to be favorable amongst students. The initial purpose of the YouTube video messages was to check-in and let students know we were thinking of them. This was crucial early in the pandemic when students were suddenly sent home for the semester and disconnected from the campus and community. Gradually, the videos became bi-weekly outreach in which we could connect with students to share important information, resources, and deadlines in a creative yet timely manner.
Eventually our social media journey inspired us to explore outreach and communication via Instagram. This social media platform allowed us to share video content, pictures, and informative posts/captions all while creating a space for students to get to know us beyond the realms of our on-campus presence. We started to see how these small initiatives impacted students and deepened our interactions during advising appointments. Students started sharing more information with us in advising appointments and we were able to make more accurate referrals based on both their academic and personal needs. Something was happening. Students were responding!
Guidelines for Creating Content
Typically, outreach via social media aligns with the deadlines and timeline of the individual institutions and, as authors, we both recommend that when considering social media usage, be intentional with content. Remember that the point is to offer communication that is genuine and connected. Students appreciate authenticity and honesty, so when making content via social media, be yourself. Advisors do not have to be social media influencers to create content that is meaningful and engaging for students. The path to meaningful outreach via social media does not have to be flashy or polished. Create content that gives the student an experience that is as real and personal as in-person encounters while remaining professional to uphold the standards of the institution. It might be helpful to consider the following four principles when creating content for students:
- Create to inform.
- Create to inspire.
- Create to connect.
- Create to celebrate.
Create to Inform. When creating content, especially when it comes to relaying important information, it is a good idea to set deadlines/ create a schedule for producing and sending out the content. Using social media gives advisors the power in a very creative way to ensure students are aware of important information regarding their academic path and institutional policies/procedures. Base your post theme on the needs of your students. Is it a critical time in the semester with lots of dates and things to remember? If so, choose to create content to inform.
Create to Inspire and Celebrate. Maybe it is a difficult time in the semester or there is something major happening in the world that is impacting students. While an advisor’s responsibility is to make sure students are aware of policy and academic requirements, they can also use communication via social media to empower and uplift students as they face challenges. Sometimes sharing inspirational content is enough to make a difference. Create content to inspire and celebrate.
Create to connect. Connectedness is imperative when considering retention, student success, and a student’s well-being (Jorgensen et al., 2018). By interacting via social media, advisors are extending that line of communication and showing students that they will meet them at their level. Advisors can adapt to ensure their students know they are thought of and cared about beyond the discussion of an academic plan. Create content to connect.
Implications and Next Steps
Meeting students on their level via social media usage is just one in which advisors can become more holistic in advising. While we are sharing informative content with an agenda to guide students academically, we are also taking the time to let them know that we see the personal struggles they encounter through their journeys, and we are here to be a support system. These interactions encourage students to connect with us in advising, to foster a space of trust and care, and ultimately social media interactions have given us the space to get to know our students in a unique way. Afterall, when we are open and vulnerable to our students, they tend to be open and vulnerable as well, which ultimately creates a foundation for a relationship of growth and trust. What starts as a conversation about a post or a video can grow into discussion about academic plans, the challenges students face in courses, and school/life balance.
The discovery and exploration of creative ways to communicate has only sparked curiosity for future initiatives to connect with students in advising. There are many aspects that remain explorable and researchable. One area in which we hope to explore is data analysis to better understand how social media is received by students. Our hopes are to understand how many students engage in viewing the content and if there is a more successful platform for outreach. Many social media platforms, like YouTube, offer data analytics for users and we hope to conduct future research on how social media outreach correlates with students and their efforts to schedule advising appointments as a result of viewing content. We also hope to address alternative methods of communication beyond email communication alone. Can we limit email communications via interactions beyond email and will this positively impact our students overall collegiate experience? These are just a few of the questions that we hope to explore as we continue to seek methods to meet students on their level. We hope that this inspires other advisors to question the traditional methods of student outreach and consider exploring options that might be more accessible, meaningful, creative, and overall beneficial to not just the academic student but, more importantly, the whole student.
Columbia College Chicago
Jorgensen, D. A., Farrell, L. C., Fudge, J. L., & Pritchard, A. (2018, January). College connectedness: The student perspective. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 18(1), 75–95. https://doi.org/10.14434/josotl.v18i1.22371
Kardash, S. M. (2020, June). Holistic advising. Academic Advising Today, 43(2). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Holistic-Advising.aspx
Radacati Group, Inc. (2018, March). Email statistics report. https://www.radicati.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Email_Statistics_Report,_2018-2022_Executive_Summary.pdf
Cite this article using APA style as: Jensen, J., & Kosin, K. (2022, March). On their level: Making meaningful connections with students via social media. Academic Advising Today, 45(1). [insert url here]