Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

November 8, 2012

Technology Corner

CSSD col. headchris-keslar

Social media 101

A colleague recounts this story whenever the subject of social media comes up:

New to Facebook, my colleague had friended not only her siblings and cousins, but her cousins’ college-aged children. She then was horrified as she saw what she considered “inappropriate” behavior on the part of one young relative, and she turned to her own son, then in his 20s, to ask for advice on what to do.

Her son just looked at her and said, “This is exactly why middle-aged people should not be on Facebook.”

However, staying away from Facebook no longer is a practical option for many people, middle-aged or otherwise. While people once used Facebook or other forms of social media primarily to stay in touch with family and friends, now engagement with social media can be part of your job: providing or gathering information; developing contacts; identifying resources.

Whose space?

Remember Usenet? Friendstr?

Right. Most people don’t. And someday, presumably, people won’t remember MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Flickr, Digg, Reddit, Google+ or Instagram.

But awareness of social media can be an important part of your work in higher education today. A recent Babson Survey Research Group survey of faculty from all disciplines found that more than 64 percent of faculty use social media for their personal lives, while almost 34 percent use it for teaching.

Defining “social media”

What does the term “social media” mean, anyway? Generally speaking, these are web-based services that let people do three things: establish a “public” profile; identify a list of other users, and connect with the profiles and activity of those other users.

While some social media establish profiles and make connections primarily through text (Twitter, LinkedIn), others operate primarily through photographs (Flickr, Instagram). Most involve both text and images.

Online bulletin boards offered a social media forum for Internet users in the 1980s and early ’90s, but the Internet was in its infancy. As computers, the web and then mobile devices became a routine presence in mainstream culture — for both personal and professional use — social media’s audience expanded accordingly.

For people who are fond of social media — and not everyone is — they offer a kind of online neighborhood, where individuals quickly can get a sense of what’s going on in their community and can engage as much or as little as they wish with others in that community.

Recognition of the value of social media is seen in educational offerings at Pitt. For instance, the School of Law offers a CLE course in social media planning for lawyers; the Katz school offers social media marketing courses at graduate and undergraduate levels, and Pitt’s Career Services office provides students with guidelines on how to use social media in a job search.

The potential of social media to reach people who are interested in your services is significant. The University’s official Facebook page, for instance, has well over 21,000 people reading its posts. Smaller units with more targeted missions, like the Study Abroad office (766 Facebook “likes”) and Computing Services and Systems Development (1,357 “likes”), also find social media an important part of engaging with their communities.

Should you or shouldn’t you?

Whether you decide to have a personal social media presence is up to you, but a general familiarity with social media can be helpful to anyone working in higher education. Here are two low-investment starting points:

• “Lurk” on sites like Reddit, which allow you to read what others are saying without having an account. (See

• Browse Twitter. Go to and type in search terms like Pitt or #h2p. You also can establish an account and follow others on Twitter without writing (tweeting) anything yourself.

Common sense

Because these are digital resources, the common sense you use in the rest of your online life applies, but old-fashioned common sense is needed, too.

Digital common sense

• Protect your device. Most social media platforms have mobile versions; if you have a social media app on your smartphone, tablet or laptop, “lock” your device with a passcode.

• Use a strong password for social media accounts: at least eight characters, not your birthdate, etc. KeePass, free software available through Pitt’s Software Download Service, can help you keep track of different passwords for different accounts.

• Be cautious about clicking. It’s tempting to follow that link you see from a friend who introduces it with “You’ve gotta see this!” — but don’t. If his account has been hacked, that’s about to happen to you, too.

Common sense 1.0

Equally important is the common sense you use in daily life.

• Be yourself — and be nice. In this instance, you definitely do not want to be known as the next Ann Coulter. Think before you speak — or tweet. While this is good advice for your personal accounts, it is even more important if you are managing a social media presence for a University account.

• Keep personal information personal. As parents, many of us have heightened sensitivities regarding what our children post online. Be equally sensitive about your own posts, whether they’re about you or others.

• Don’t post anything you wouldn’t be proud to have distributed publicly. When you post to social media, you are passing control of that message or image to the company managing that social media platform and asking them to publish that message/image to the people you’ve identified.

If they make a mistake, or if you haven’t set your permissions properly, your information could be made available to a far more public audience than you’d intended.

• “Clean your room”: Once a month, take 15 minutes and go through the privacy settings on your social media account/s.

Chris Keslar is a research and development analyst for Computing Services and Systems Development.

Leave a Reply