This post was authored by #FAchat contributors and participants, Karla Weber (@ItsJustKarla), Financial Aid Counselor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Justin Chase Brown (@jstnchsbrwn), Financial Aid Associate Director at the University of Missouri; and Liz Gross (@lizgross144), Social Media Strategist at Great Lakes Educational Loan Services. An earlier version of this article first appeared in the 2012-2013 NASFAA Now - Annual Impact Report [PDF] (membership login required to view the full report).
When someone says “social media” you probably think about outreach to students and parents. But have you considered what a powerful tool social media can be for exchanging ideas with colleagues? Despite being tied to the office, social media allows you to receive information instantly, engage in targeted discussions, publish ideas, and participate in activities from a distance. By following the “Four C’s” of social media—consumption, conversation, creation, and conferences-- you can utilize powerful tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and the NASFAA website to network, learn, and advance your career.
CONSUMPTION: Quick, Concise News You Can Use
Information is everywhere and can be accessed in many forms. Social networks like Twitter offer a venue to collect useful information that helps you stay “in the know.” You don’t have to be a “tweeter” or even have a Twitter account to participate. For example, to follow NASFAA without a Twitter account, you would send a text to 40404 with the statement “follow NASFAA” – omitting the quotation marks. Used this way, Twitter is like a listserv, but it is sent to you via text message and doesn’t clog your inbox.
Speed is the beauty of Twitter. Reading micro-communications of 140 characters or less takes less time than constantly perusing information on the web. In addition to being more concise, Twitter delivers information quicker than print news, websites, or emails, and can even be directed to your smartphone. A good example of lightning-fast information delivered by Twitter occurred when ED tweeted details about the upcoming 2013 FSA Training Conference well in advance of sending information via the IFAP portal. You can know about a significant occurrence on your campus, in your state, or across the nation before your supervisor asks you how it will impact student aid.
If you don’t want instant information delivery, you can also schedule a brief time to read tweets that have been posted in the last few hours or days. This provides an instant overview of what’s happening in the field.
Twitter is just one way to receive updates. By simply “Liking” the Facebook page of a professional association such as NASFAA, you can read news from the financial aid community while you’re reading updates from friends and family in your home community. LinkedIn allows you to join NASFAA’s group and others and receive direct updates on new or continuing financial aid-related discussions taking place among other LinkedIn users in your email box.
CONVERSATION: Don’t Just Listen – Engage!
Forums like Twitter are also great for discussion. You can ask questions, get advice on a program, or collect resources or opinions on a specific topic. Posting a question to a wide, national audience of your peers can yield quick results from people you trust. Responses can also lead to new professional relationships, brainstorming sessions, and productive future discussions.
Discussions also take place at NASFAA.org, where members can comment on features in Today’s News, Student AidPerspectives, Voices from the Aid Office, and other online publications. Your ideas can lend to the richness of the discussion, and reading others’ viewpoints can provide you with new insights. NASFAA’s LinkedIn page, now with nearly 4,500 members, is another excellent place to post questions and participate in discussions with other financial aid professionals. LinkedIn also allows you to network with colleagues on a one-to-one basis, and provides useful tools for seeking new staff or taking the next step on your career ladder.
Another easy way to be a part of the conversation is to follow topic-based chats on Twitter, like #FAchat (@theFAchat), founded by NASFAA members, Justin Chase Brown and Melissa Haberman. #FAchat is a monthly chat geared toward financial aid topics held on the second Tuesday of each month from 12-1 CST. Many aid administrators, policy wonks, financial aid researchers, and other stakeholders have participated in #FAchat. Other Twitter chats where you can discuss higher education and financial aid issues are #EMchat (enrollment management), #SAchat (student affairs), and #FinLit (financial literacy) – and there are many more from which to choose. Twitter chats allow for topic-based conversation using hashtags.
Listservs, like FinAid-L and NASFAA’s Graduate and Professional Listserv, are one of the older forms of electronic social networking, but remain a useful tool for collaborating with others in the field. Using a “digest” setting allows you to receive messages in a single daily email rather than multiple individual emails in your inbox. You can also set up IFAP announcements as RSS Feeds that are sent directly to your email inbox so you never miss an important electronic announcement or Dear Colleague Letter.
CREATION: When You’ve Got It, Share It
Social media provides the opportunity for anyone and everyone to express thoughts on a variety of topics and develop a publicly available professional portfolio. You probably have unique knowledge about policy and procedures, staff training, or workplace dynamics that would contribute to the professional dialogue. You may want to help to show new financial aid professionals the ropes, or share best practices based on your experience. Consider starting your own blog (free via sites such as Blogger or WordPress) or contributing to another individual or organization’s blog as a guest. If you don’t have the time to blog, you may consider Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn to share with colleagues. You may even wind up serving as a mentor…via social media platforms!
CONFERENCES: Be Part of the Experience – Even from Miles Away
When you can’t attend a conference or other training event, you can still stay connected with the conversations happening there via Twitter. Many national conferences now have designated hashtags (a code, starting with the # sign [hashtag] that allows you to receive all tweeted updates that include that code). For example, NASFAA’s 2013 conference hashtag was #NASFAA2013, and the 2013 Federal Student Aid Training Conference hashtag will be #FSATC2013. People attending the conference tweet about sessions and information they are learning, allowing those back home to follow the activities and even send questions back to have answered. You can also see your friends at the conference and read ongoing updates in NASFAA’s Facebook newsfeed and photo stream. You don't even have to have a Twitter account to search for hashtags at https://twitter.com/search-home - try it out!
Put Yourself Out There
Social media can enrich your experience as a financial aid professional and keep you on top of what is happening in this fast-moving field. Clearly, you need to be mindful that what you post on the Internet is public, no matter how private a forum (or even listserv, for that matter) may seem. But provided you keep your professional activities professional, you should be able to take advantage of social media tools to connect, interact, and engage with your colleagues without leaving your office!