The past year
How has your professional community responded to the unique challenges that we have faced during the global pandemic? What do you think the biggest challenges have been for the professionals you interact with?
This was a year of explosive growth for our community. Our membership grew by almost 40% since the start of the pandemic and the issues have been like waves. Early in the pandemic folks were being laid off and coming to the community to network and job search. There was also confusion and lack of direction around the communication that was being put out by schools so our community was an important sounding board for folks to collaborate on messaging and see how other campuses were responding. Coming out of the pandemic this year we are seeing a lot of job openings being posted in the community as well as a rebound in mental health as folks work to rebuild into a new normal.
As regulations have limited many kinds of in-person community engagement, have you seen community members band together online, for support or other purposes?
We are very much an online community rather than in person so it really hasn't changed our work flow at all. The training events we put on have always been virtual since we are a global society.
What impact are you aware of on the ultimate causes behind the communities you are in contact with - have people, campaigns, or goals been put at risk, or suffered as a result?
This year was really stressful for our members. Colleges and universities across the world were a very public location which became a hot button issue as to how they were handing the pandemic. Whether they closed and moved online, continued with in person, had some hybrid of the two, were hotly debated online and politicized by government officials (as it was also an election year here in the states). Nothing schools did made their local areas happy. It was really a struggle all the way around. Our members were on the front lines reading everything (positive and negative) about their campuses and it really did take a toll on mental health as well.
On the other hand, do you have any examples of success stories or anecdotes about positive outcomes that have emerged from operating differently during the COVID era?
Colleges are usually very slow to change and the pandemic brought them into the new era of working remotely which for many was a positive change in their environment. We are all very hopeful that campuses continue to utilize this method of work, and that our members recognize that they do have a lot of power in the employment relationship and campuses that fail to recognize this new normal will find themselves unable to attract talent who demand the ability to work remote.
The here and now
Are you seeing any marked change in how networks have started to reinstate in-person engagement practices in recent months, or during periods where restrictions are lifted?
Many states are requiring back to “normal” instruction and campuses have for the most part have had students return. I think our members are cautiously optimistic on their campuses but also wary that outbreaks will happen. Our members still have not embraced professional development and conferences coming back to in person and have not communicated a desire to attend anything in person at this point.
Are you aware of any communities that are thriving, and whose fundraising efforts have pivoted or even been facilitated by an increase in online engagement?
Our community Higher Ed Social has seen a drastic increase in members coming to our community.
Have you spoken to any contacts recently who have taken the opportunity to change their ways of working, are employing new tactics or trialling alternative techniques?
A lot of our members are loving remote work. Since they are social media managers their core functions happen online anyway, and working remotely gives them the flexibility to work in ways and timings that work best for them. Many have discovered how they work best (night people, morning people, juggling child care so the ability to work in the evening is really helpful etc).
In the future
Whilst it’s tricky to predict, do you foresee any long-lasting outcomes for fundraising and community engagement operations or initiatives that your community would welcome?
Fundraising not as much, but definitely new opportunities for growth and professional development.
Are you expecting to celebrate more online/digital admin or engagement solutions in your everyday, and how could this change your relationship with your colleagues/clients?
We have always been a very online global community so its just more of the same for us really. Our members are very comfortable working and networking online.
What kind of message would you like to send to your peers and professional network in the coming months - what is motivating you, and have you found a silver lining?
Yes, this year has been hard, harder than many of us expected. And it seems like it will never end. But we will get through this. And we will do it together. By collaborating with one another. By learning and improving our craft. By engaging our respective audiences. Community is more important than ever, and our professional society is a great example of how folks are connecting over their work but also making very real personal friendships and support networks in an entirely online space. Many of these folks have never met in person. And may never meet due to living on the other side of the planet from each other. But they talk everyday. They celebrate the little wins and commiserate when the times are hard. Online friendships are real friendships and we all need all the connections we can make right now.
Kasandrea Sereno is the founder of HigherEdSocial, a professional society for those working in social media in the education sector.
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