We live in a digital age. So much communication happens digitally. When you take on a professional role, it’s important to have clear boundaries with social media and its intersection with your work.
Please read your campus peer support program’s policy on social media usage.
It’s important to remember that anything you share or send digitally has the potential to be spread far and wide, even if you don’t share it publicly. People can screenshot your texts, emails or posts, and once something is online, it’s essentially impossible to delete it completely. When you sign up for social media accounts, you are giving media companies permission to keep your data. Some things get cached and stored around the internet.
Considering everything mentioned above, and the fact that as a peer support worker you are representing your program and your campus, it’s important to be intentional and thoughtful about how you manage digital communication, including social media usage. We obviously know that it is never ok to post blatantly racist, homophobic, defamatory, indecent, hateful, sexist, or vulgar things on the internet. However, even posting something we know is humorously inappropriate in an ironic or flippant way can be quite problematic. We know that people receive and interpret information differently, and especially when taken out of context, it can cause harm. We might post a meme thinking it’s hilarious, and someone else can be very offended by it.
Consider how social media usage intersects with peer support work. Many campus peer support programs, and community organizations discourage peer support workers from sharing personal social media accounts with program participants. Other programs may have strict policies around this. Know your program’s policies on social media usage and email usage, as each program has different policies on these topics. It’s important to discuss this with your peer support supervisor as you begin this work.
If your program doesn’t allow connecting with people over social media, consider setting your accounts to private. You might find it best to avoid friending or following people you directly support. If your program allows social media, you might consider creating a work-only account that you use only for that purpose. That could make it easier to be very intentional about what you post, and how you choose to comment.
Social media can also be a great tool! Some campus peer support programs use social media to connect with other students and to let people know about their services. It can provide opportunities for connections with other students, and with people from all over the world. If your campus has any social media accounts, consider encouraging people to follow those accounts, rather than your personal accounts.
As you can see, there are many things to consider around social media use and peer support. It certainly can be a bit of a grey area.
As you explore these ideas, here are some helpful questions to consider before posting something on social media:
- What is the purpose of social media in my life?
- Why am I sharing this? What is my intention with this post? (Is it to make people laugh, educate people, create awareness, share my opinion, encourage people, tell people about my life?)
- Who will see this post?
- How is my tone in this post or comment?
- Could people be offended by this post?
Regardless of what your program’s policies are, and what you are comfortable with, it is highly likely that you will need to have clear and direct conversations with people you support about social media, and communication.
Be Clear how People can Communicate with you
Another boundary with digital communication is creating clarity on how someone should communicate with you. Most programs encourage campus peer support volunteers or staff to use a special campus email as the primary means of communication.
Know what your campus policy is on giving out your personal information including phone number, email address and social media accounts. If you are not permitted to share them, it’s very important to respect that professional boundary.
If someone tracks down your phone number and texts you, or private messages you, remember to be clear about enforcing this boundary in a kind and friendly way. Let them know that they need to contact you in ways permitted by your program instead and you will get back to them as soon as you are able.
This protects your own time, energy and privacy, which is very important when you are balancing so many responsibilities already.
Additionally, your program’s guidelines around communication have been created for a number of institutional and safety reasons; it is important to follow these and seek guidance when needed in order to ensure everyone’s safety.
It is important that you treat digital communication with the same respect and confidentiality as in-person communication. That means that if you use email for communicating with peers, you should never forward or cc an email with personal information in it to anyone else without that person’s permission. There may be exceptions to this if you feel like the person is a danger to themselves. However, talk to your supervisor about this so you have clarity on the policies.
Be Clear in your Communication with Others
Communicating digitally, whether by text or over email, can create many opportunities for misunderstandings. Most people tend to type quickly, without putting much thought into the wording, tone or inflection of the message. Online communication, especially when using phones, also increases the chance for typos; certain typos can change the meaning of a sentence completely. When we read a message when we are distressed or distracted, it can be easy to make assumptions – sometimes completely inaccurate – about the meaning or tone of a message. These interactions and assumptions about digital communications can have a very real impact on our peer relationships and is something to stay mindful of.
Have you experienced someone misunderstanding a text or email you have sent? If so, what happened, and how could you have approached that differently?
Have you misunderstood a text or email someone sent you? If so, what happened?
Here are some tips for digital communication (e.g. email, text, other messaging platforms) to ensure healthy boundaries and help prevent miscommunication and misunderstanding:
- Always re-read your message before sending. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask yourself if you’d like to receive the message.
- Wait before sending if you are feeling heightened emotions. Overall, try to keep digital communication as basic as you can with people you support. Save the in-depth communication for in-person conversations.
- Don’t use digital communication to engage in or to resolve conflict.
- Give yourself space and time to respond. Don’t feel like you must respond to everything quickly. Not only does that create a disconnect if you are hanging out with friends, but it creates more opportunity for miscommunication with the person with whom you are communicating. Take your time. Tell people that you will respond when you get a chance to do so properly.
- No digital communication is fully private. Emails can be forwarded and printed. Texts can be screenshotted. It is important to be mindful of that when we are communicating digitally.
- Consider calling someone instead of texting when you are communicating something that is more than a few sentences.
Can you think of some other tips?
What are some other things to consider with digital communication?