It generally starts with a statement and then ends with a question. The statement is usually framed as: “Social media is/are a 24/7 concern.” The question that follows said statement has consistently been: “What do we do about that?” There’s a fascinating fear of social media that is ingrained in a lot of student affairs practitioners.
For some reason, social media are given a unique status among our communication channels. Email, phones, and even faxes are also technically 24/7 concerns. However, social media, most-likely due to their cachet as being our most recent “shiny and new” communication tools, have been uniquely inserted into our psyches. Perhaps it is because we have already been through this phenomenon with the phone, email, and the seemingly immortal fax machine. Maybe when professional speakers were championing the benefits of email they were receiving similar statements/questions that social media seem to elicit. I can imagine it now: “What happens when someone emails me at 3AM? I can’t be expected to answer them. I work from 9AM to 5PM.” Or, imagine the horror of what it must have been like to worry about receiving a pre-dawn fax when no one was present to collect it. It must have been chaotic.
In all seriousness though, when I’m asked about what a student affairs practitioner should do when it comes to how they manage their work-related social media, I usually keep it simple. For starters, it is okay not to check your work-related Facebook Page, Twitter mentions, Instagram account, etc after 5PM. It really is okay. I realize that we often check our email after hours and we may even check our work-related social media channels after we’ve left the office. If that works for you, that’s okay. Now, it is important to establish publicly available guidelines that state that you are not going to be monitoring social media 24/7. Instead, your social media guidelines should reflect your usage of social media as communications and engagement platforms. That way, the expectation is not that you will be constantly online, but that you will be present in that space whenever it fits your workflow.
If you miss something serious (hate speech, threat of injury, etc.) that a student posts or tweets at 3AM that can get tricky. Your guidelines (make sure your legal counsel has gone over this with you) should state how you will handle things if this type of communication occurs. This should easily blend in with your policies for what would happen if a student emailed you that they were going to hurt themselves or left an epithet-ridden voicemail at 3AM. Social media aren’t that different from phones, faxes, and email when you consider them in this context.
Have you developed guidelines at your campus for how you handle late night/early morning social media posts/interactions?