Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The power of social media

Smack dab in the middle of conference season, the power of social media in our world is more evident than ever. As an association, we used Twitter, Facebook, and FourSquare to interact with our attendees at #CFLNBGLC11 and will do the same at #WFLNCGLC11 in a few short weeks. Our peer associations like @TheNACA and other Higher Ed Associations like @AFA1976, @NASPAtweets , @ACUItweets, and @ACPA are all using social media to engage participants. It is neat to see the connections being made, and the additional learning that can take place on the conference backchannel.

As with most tools, in the right hands they can be used for good - and in the wrong, for bad. Amongst all this excitement surrounding the potential of social media in our little corner of the fraternal world, there has been something that has been bothering me for a while. I saw a tweet re-tweeted by several people this weekend that brought my frustrations back to the surface.

"@TFM: Charlie Sheen parties pretty hard for a GDI, but I don't think he would have survived the weekend I just had. TFM. "

I don't personally follow TFM, because in my mind, following is a silent endorsement, or approval of content. And that is content I'd personally rather not be connected with, thank you very much. But apparently a lot of people I follow, follow TFM. And over 100 people re-tweeted that tweet. Sad. If that is your definition of the fraternity/sorority experience, I'd invite you to spend some time with your ritual, and tell me where your organization has taught you to value "partying hard". And if Charlie Sheen is an example of "winning" then I'd rather be a loser. If that is the experience you'd like to continue to have in college, please go ahead and take off your badge and turn it in.

I did some quick research to see how many people are following some fraternity/sorority related Twitter accounts. As of 9:00am MT this morning, here are the numbers:

@TFM: 74,050 followers
@TSM: 16, 955 followers
@AFLV: 1,687 followers
@FraternalValues: 221 followers
@fraternalthghts: 875 followers
@fraternityinfo: 680 followers
@nicfraternity: 1,369 followers
@npcwomen: 2,800 followers
@NPHC1930: 235 followers
@AFA1976: 337 followers
@FraternalRitual: 373 followers
@GreekCompass: 239 followers

#thataintwinning, friends, that's worse than I thought. Obviously the followers of TFM are not limited to affiliated members. But consider for a moment that there are hundreds of thousands of living affiliated people. Even if only 5% utilize twitter, our followership is dismal. Clearly, the tweeters of the fraternal world need to be doing more to provide valuable, engaging content for followers (we here at AFLV included). And just like in the "real world", we need to be aware that like it or not, to an outsider, our interfraternal brothers and sisters are representing us to the world. Challenge others when their content is not in line with our shared values. We need to take ownership and responsibility.

We would love to hear your thoughts and comments. How do you represent your values through social media? How does your organization? How are we holding our members accountable for representing our founding values in their tweets? Is this a conversation you've even had? What could we be doing differently?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


We’ve come to that time of the academic year when chapters begin preparing in earnest to initiate its newest members.  If your university is on the semester system, perhaps you are nearing the end of your 8-week new member process; if you’re on the quarter system Initiation may still be a few weeks away.  It’s always been my contention that the Ritual is not simply a ceremony that we dust off 2-3 times a year, but rather something that, if internalized, truly becomes a tool to help us navigate our undergraduate careers and beyond.

So why the # sign (hashtag, in the Twitter vernacular) in the subject of this post?  The value of the hashtag on Twitter is that it keeps a conversation going, or simply tags a comment along a continuing theme.  #livingtheritual can be used as a way to point out when students or staff exemplify their chapter’s values and Ritual.  Sometimes, it is used to identify a situation that runs counter to those values.   It’s a small way to hold ourselves and each other accountable to the things we all swore an oath to live up to.

#livingtheritual isn’t always easy.  I suppose if it was easy, every organization would have a Ritual.  But our letters, for better or worse, set us apart from other organizations and hold us to a higher standard.

The challenge (and reward) of #livingtheritual lies in a recent comparison I heard from a UIFI graduate: Ritual is not a wedding, it’s a marriage.  Simply put, the real work of the Ritual begins after the ceremonial initiation of each new member.  Once the symbols are revealed, badges are bestowed, and mysteries are explained, the hope is that we walk out of the ceremony with a renewed sense of what it means to live as a man of honor, a woman of virtue, or whatever language your own ceremony employs.  In marriage, the work begins after the reception is over, when the gifts are opened and thank you notes sent.

Serendipitously, I’ve been fortunate to be a Greek member as long as I’ve been a husband, with just over two months separating those two important ceremonies.  I try to live as a good husband every day.  Some days are better than others, like when I volunteer to cook dinner when my wife gets home from work late.  Some days are worse, when I have unfair expectations of my wife’s ability to read my mind and know why I am upset or frustrated.

Similarly, there are days when it is easier to live up to my fraternal oath, and days when I rely on my brothers to assist me.  But just as marriage includes the good days and bad ones, so too, does our Ritual.  If your brothers or sisters hashtagged your actions with #livingtheritual, would it be because more often than not, you exemplified your chapter's values, or because you failed to do so?

Just because many of the elements of most Rituals are secret, doesn’t mean that that how we live out those values should be a secret. 

Congratulations to all new members who will start their Ritual journey in the coming weeks; I look forward to seeing how you all #livetheritual.

Jeff Pelletier is a 1994 graduate of Boston College, and a 2006 Initiate of Delta Tau Delta at Ohio State University, where he currently serves as the chapter advisor.  He works for the university on the staff of the Ohio Union, managing budgets and operations for the student organization community.  You can follow him on Twitter @JeffBC94