To be or not to be social? That was the question posed by a panel of four CIOs — two very much for being active on Twitter and the others a bit more cautious as far as its professional use is concerned — last week during a later afternoon panel at Educause.
For Michael Berman (California State University - Channel Islands), Raechelle Clemmons (St. Norbert College), Melody Childs (University of Alabama in Huntsville), and John Suess (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), the risks and rewards for CIOs who are active on social media are varied, but the four were able to agree on several pros and cons to maintaining an active Twitter presence. For attendees in Orlando and those viewing remotely via live stream, the panel also included several real-time participatory surveys powered by Poll Everywhere, as well as an additional side-conversation via the #edu14socialcio Twitter hashtag, monitored by Clemmons throughout the panel.
So what is there to gain or lose for the social CIO?
Social media helps connect you to colleagues you might not otherwise meet
"It has connected me to many of you in ways that I'm not sure that I would ever have had the opportunity to before," said Clemmons, who told a story about how she and Chaminade University of Honolulu CIO Kyle Johnson, who was in the audience, first "met" by following one another on Twitter several years ago. At last year's Educause, while she was standing in the airport, Johnson shouted, "Hey, it's Rae Clemmons!" As a result of social media, they had that instant connection.
Clemmons, who describes herself as an introvert and not the type of person to just introduce herself to people at a conference, said that, in that regard, Twitter gives her an opportunity to connect with people in another way.
For Berman, it has provided an way to build connections with people in various roles on campuses who he might not otherwise meet, like librarians and instructional designers. "It's connected me to people at places in other parts of the world, in some cases," he said. "It's not a substitute for other types of connections you have, but it opens new doors. It's enabled me both to meet new people I didn't know, who now I've met face-to-face — some at this conference — for the first time, others who I maybe sort of knew but I didn't know well."
It's worth noting that Berman and Clemmons both are frequently listed among the Huffington Post's most social CIOs.
Suess countered these points with his involvement in three listservs with about 1,500 people between them: one for identity management, one for security, and one for CIOs. "Because I'm spending so much time in those three spaces, I'm not necessarily spending the time to do Twitter or other sorts of things," he said. "So for me, what I think has been the case is to stay in those communities because they don't tweet, I'd rather do email and be in that mode because that's sort of the communities that I have tended to live in. But I don't get to meet random people, which is a really interesting thing that I'm hearing from you."
Social media doesn't necessarily allow information to be centralized in one place
One benefit brought up about communities like the listservs is that the information within can be stored in a centralized place. Recalling information from a few months ago on Twitter might require you to remember who tweeted it in the first place and then scroll through numerous tweets. Of course, this could also vary depending on your strategy for "favoriting" tweets.
Speaking to that concern, Berman said, "I've always been envious of people who lived in times and places where they had things like cafes and salons, and you knew you could always go to a certain cafe and there would always be interesting conversation going on there. If you lived in Paris or New York or London or wherever you lived and went to that place, there would be a conversation going on, and when you left, the conversation would probably still be going on and you'd miss it. So, there's a long arc of dialog, much of which you are not going to be personally participating in. When it was face-to-face, there was no way to wind it back, except to say, 'So what did they talk about after I left last night?'"
"I kind of think of Twitter like that. You dip your toe in the water, you see what the conversation is, and then you step away."
It's more of a coming-and-going conversation than an archived chain like an email, and Berman acknowledges that it suits some personalities better than others.
But can it be an effective tool for on-campus IT communication?
While the IT department may have accounts to keep the campus up-to-date on what's going on, the panelists don't use their personal Twitter accounts for that. Berman, however, uses it to keep those on campus with the same interests in the loop on conversations. "But if we want to communicate directly, we just communicate directly," he adds.
While it can also break down the barriers between IT departments and students, Childs pointed out the risk for combative banter, as well. But it does give IT a chance to meet the students where they are and communicate with them in a way they're comfortable with, arguably making them more likely to talk to you.
My social philosophy-You are always one tweet, one post or email away from being fired. #Edu14socialcio— A. Ogletree-McDougal (@TreeMcDougal) October 1, 2014
Of course, there's also the issue CIOs can run into if their personal handle is also branded to their school — especially when it comes to sharing opinions.
"I'm going to be discreet when it comes to saying things about my campus or the Cal State System or something like that, but other than that, I feel pretty free to express my point of view — especially around educational technology," Berman said. "I'm not primarily debating the Middle East or some other more sensitive topics. I do that in other forums."
Clemmons also reiterated that her account is focused primarily on professional topics. For the most part, it's probably best to stick to things you'd discuss with other people on campus over lunch.
Document on-campus events at your own risk
"We had two graduations, and at the end of the first one, someone came up to me and said, 'Someone said, and they asked me not to say who it was, but they thought it was kind of rude that you were using your phone during commencement,'" said Berman, who had been posting photos of graduates accepting their diplomas on Instagram. "It didn't feel rude to me, but obviously the perception, there's 10,000 parents sitting in front of me and some of them probably looked at it and thought, 'Why's that guy using his phone during commencement? That's really rude.'"
People assume the use of the phone is a sign of distraction, to me it's a deepening of engagement with speaker or content #edu14socialcio— David Gunsberg (@dgunsberg) October 1, 2014
Because he sees less reward than risk due to those types of scenarios, Suess said there wasn't much reason for him to venture forward on social media personally. But his institution's president is very active on social media, and he pointed out a conversation the two had regarding negative comments online about another socially active college president on Twitter. Of course, for some administrators, it's better to have a social media coordinator do the tweeting for them, but as Berman adds, it must be managed by someone close to the administrator so it seems authentic or else, "What's the point?"
For more tips, see the panel's poll results in the tweet below: