How does social media impact academic life?
Dr. Cheyenne Seymour wrote the book on the real-life impacts of social media. The collection, Successes and Setbacks of Social Media (Wiley Blackwell 2020), brings together diverse narratives about how social media can influence the pursuit of Higher Education.
Cheyenne joins me for a featured interview about her social media research. She is an Assistant Professor of Communication, Arts, and Sciences at CUNY Bronx Community College. She was an amazing editor for my piece in the book, “Social Media: From Deleted to Private, Private to Public Profiles.” Be sure to get your copy today from Wiley.
Is it okay to not be on social media? Find out in this featured interview.
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Jennifer: Hi everyone, this is Jennifer van Alstyne on The Social Academic. Welcome to the featured interview series. Today I’m talking with Dr. Cheyenne Seymour who is an author, a professor. We’re going to be talking about social media, online presence, and what it’s actually like to work on an edited collection about social media experiences in the academy.
Cheyenne, I’m so glad you’re here to talk with me today. Would you please introduce yourself?
Cheyenne: Absolutely, thank you so much for this opportunity, Jennifer.
As you mentioned, my name is Dr. Cheyenne Seymour. I am an Assistant Professor of Communication, Arts, and Sciences at Bronx Community College, which is part of the City University of New York.
I happen to teach various courses on communication including social media. I also teach courses on public speaking, as well as rhetoric. I’m very fortunate to have all of these interests within the communication discipline that I get a chance to explore and help students with.
What inspired your book about social media?
Jennifer: I love that. I work a lot with professors on social media, so it’s awesome to talk with someone who’s really in the classroom and working with students and seeing that kind of larger perspective.
One of the things that I really liked about your book is that it covers academic experiences from a lot of different perspectives from undergraduate students, graduate students, university administrators.
Tell me a little bit more about your book, Successes and Setbacks of Social Media: Impact on Academic Life. What inspired you to work on this collection?
Cheyenne: This is a wonderful, wonderful topic to explore. And I was delighted to have this opportunity. And one of the things that led me to an interest in social media was how it continued to come up in the classroom.
For example, when teaching classes on interpersonal communication, we were exploring the relationships between two people.
It was often interesting that students wanted to talk about mediated communication and how they were forming relationships because of social media, ending relationships because of social media as well.
And we were really thinking about the differences in terms of how people present themselves in person when chatting with someone on the street or in a classroom, in the workplace, versus how they were connecting online.
And there were some clear distinctions that were cropping up.
Cheyenne: Also, when we were talking in classes like on public speaking, lots of students were saying, you know what, “I’m starting to go live. And I’m not only talking to people in a live setting, I’m actually talking to people in a virtual setting. And it feels different.” And we were kind of exploring those as well.
I found that social media was kind of like intersecting with so many areas of life that it just was like calling for a little bit more attention. [Jennifer and Cheyenne laugh.]
Jennifer: Oh, I think that’s amazing. It sounds like you were really impacted by your experiences in the classroom. And the conversations that you were having with people, that influenced the research that you were doing. And ultimately this collection that you put together, some of them are firsthand experiences, some of them are more research based.
And I love all of the little introductions to each section that you have that talk about this kind of greater understanding of what social media is and how it’s interactive with our society. That’s fascinating.
Can I ask about the book in terms of the process of releasing it? Is that something you talked about on social media?
Cheyenne: I didn’t really explore that so much on social media. But let’s dive into that a little bit.
Cheyenne: It’s really, really exciting when you get multiple perspectives. And as you’ve kind of described, it does just that. We’re getting student perspectives, we’re getting perspectives of educators and administrators, who are sometimes thinking about themselves when they were in the seats in the classroom. And then also sometimes thinking about themselves in the role.
And it’s really interesting how we see it impacting so many avenues of life. Like how social media was able to help some students, connect with others, understand course content, and meet their academic goals.
Where we had some who just were feeling a little defeated because perhaps they were spending too much time on social media and not using that time to complete their homework. Right?
We kinda see a little bit of a difference here. And it was really important to me to capture that not everyone is going to have this same cookie cutter experience on even the same platform.
It was really, really wonderful that we had various identities reflected, various professional roles reflected in the book. And I worked really hard to try to synthesize the current research on it.
As many of us know, social media is really a young subject, right? Although it has probably consumed a lot of our lives it hasn’t been around for quite so long. There’s so much to explore. But I wanted to take a look at some of the data on the more concrete assessments, the statistics that have been out on the topic. To share those and couple that with firsthand experiences to really paint more of a clear picture in terms of how it’s impacted us in the past and how people began to retool with it currently.
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Social media can have a negative impact on women
Jennifer: I love that. Can I ask it, was there something in particular that your research showed that you found surprising? That you were like, ‘Oh, I am so glad I can include that in the book.’ [Laughs.]
Cheyenne: That is an excellent question. I think there is a lot of shocking bits of info. But I guess as one who identifies as a woman, I was quite surprised. And then it kinda reflected experiences that I had had, or had heard from others.
I was quite surprised at just how much social media can have a negative impact on women.
Although there’s a lot of great things out there, a lot of women were worrying about self-esteem, about their parents. They were essentially having issues with romantic relationships. With platonic relationships.
Whereas the data was not quite showing that for men, people who identify as men.
We didn’t quite to be fair, assess non-binary. And maybe next time around, we’d love to include that particular demographic in the data.
Cheyenne: But ultimately a lot of researchers were kind of just like finding that anyone who identified as a woman…and I shouldn’t say anyone, but many who identified as a woman was definitely finding a lot more negative experiences.
Jennifer: Mm-hmm [Affirmative].
Cheyenne: That was important for me because we wanna enlighten individuals. And not just make them feel like, oh my gosh, I should log off right now.
No, we wanna empower them so that they can understand, ‘Okay, maybe I need to think about this differently. Maybe I need to limit how much time I’m using it.’ Just so they ensure they understand the full scope, right? Of the impact.
Jennifer: Oh, I think that’s so important. One of the questions that I always ask people when I’m working with them on social media is: how do you use social media now? And is it how you want to be using it?
Because most people have this idea or this preconception about how they should be or how they should appear on social media. And that’s not always gonna work for them. It’s not always something that’s gonna meet their goals, like why they joined Twitter or something in the first place.
Asking that kind of introspective question to people, I always find that the people I ask are surprised, cuz they’ve never really sat down and been like, ‘Okay, let me think about my social media life and like what I want from it. And like what I’m getting from it. And, maybe those two things aren’t the same.
I’m actually really glad that you brought that up because that introspection is something that all the people who were writing for your book, for that collection had to do, but it’s not really something that we do in general in our everyday lives.
Cheyenne: Yeah, that’s a really great point. And I’m glad you bring that up because when I teach social media, which is typically an introduction course, that’s one of the things that I encourage the students to explore.
I ask them to think about how they want to be perceived. Right? And whether or not their activity (their reposts, their posts), whether it’s leading to that perception.
Jennifer: Mm-hmm [Affirmative].
Cheyenne: And many of them find that there are some small changes that they can make that will help them better align with their social media goals.
And it’s something that I think most individuals don’t often think about, just jump right in. “Oh, I like that. I’ll unfollow this person or this organization.”
We just kind of move along. But if we think about our goals, and keep that in mind as we make those choices, it sometimes might even empower us a bit more on these platforms.
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Cheyenne’s online presence
Jennifer: Ooh. I love that. I love that. Now, actually, I wanted to ask about your online presence. I mean, you wrote a book about social media. You teach social media. What does your online presence look like?
Cheyenne: That’s a great question, Jennifer. I’ll preface this by saying oftentimes some of my friends are like, why don’t you post more? [Jennifer laughs.]
I get that question a lot. When I think back to when I first joined social media, which was shortly after undergrad…I kind of was like one of those individuals would chat with friends. I would post my thoughts because that was during the time when Facebook asked you what you were thinking.
Jennifer: That’s right!
Cheyenne: Yeah. I was like sure, I’ll tell you what I’m thinking.
And I think now I’m a little more private, if you will, when it comes to things. I love to share content that connects to education, women’s empowerment, culture, politics. Things that kind of reflect my core values, the things that I find important.
But ultimately I try to not necessarily sort of put my personal life on display, if that makes sense.
Jennifer: Yeah, it does.
Cheyenne: And for me it kinda gives me a little bit of, I should say like a curtain. I don’t feel like I have to constantly live on display or perform.
Cheyenne: A lot of things on social media are performative.
That for me has been the difference, I think, as I’ve grown, as I’ve learned.
I decided, okay, I wanna use social media to stay connected with friends, to read about the issues, to make sure I’m current. But I try not to make it so that my entire life has to bleed on the platform. If that makes sense. [Laughs.]
Jennifer: I think it makes so much sense.
And I love that you talked about that distinction, how your specific goals played out in terms of the content that you actually do share. And why you share it because of your values and those things are important to you.
But it’s not the same as like sharing your thoughts with Facebook. I remember that prompt. That was when it was always like, “What is Jennifer thinking? What is Jennifer up to?” [Laughs.]
Thanks for sharing that with me. And I think that gave me a little bit more insight into kind of your motivations for everything. But I would like to hear more about your online presence. It sounds like you do have social media. Which platforms are you on?
Cheyenne: Primarily I tend to use Facebook.
Cheyenne: That’s my go to. I know it’s kind of tried and true. I’ve been around for a long time, but I’m a big, big fan of Facebook in terms of its ability to kind of offer various modes of communication.
Meaning of course you can post. You can go live. You can add stories. You can make phone calls.
I think it does a really great job of offering lots of various avenues also. It’s kind of near and dear to my heart in the sense that that’s where I really fell in love with social media.
Jennifer: Me too.
Cheyenne: I continue to use it. And I’ll be frank and say, I really have very intentionally limited my consistent use of other platforms.
Because, not to say that I don’t think that they all have value or that they’re all great. I am definitely familiar with them. But I know that if I were to like really engage on all of those platforms, I would have very little time in the day. [Jennifer laughs.] I try to limit it.
I also utilize LinkedIn quite a bit. Great for networking. I always encourage students to start building their profiles as well. That’s a really good one. Students can add colleagues from their workplace, they can add classmates, professors and really just start to kind of build this wonderful professional catalog of all of the things they’ve done and all of the people they’ve interacted with. Those are the two that I use the most.
Jennifer: Oh, that’s great. Actually, I’m so glad that you brought that up about teaching your students that having that profile early on is really helpful for them on LinkedIn.
I get that question a lot from graduate students and even from early career researchers, like: ‘Should I be on LinkedIn? Is it the right time for me now?’
The answer is definitely yes.
Even if you’re thinking about academic jobs, if you’re thinking about staying in the academy, LinkedIn can still be beneficial because it has really powerful search capabilities.
And you can even ask for recommendations from like your professor, or your advisor, someone you work on a committee with…that helps more people understand kind of what’s important to you, what you’re working style is like. And this is great when you’re talking about research funders, or you’re trying to network with other people in your field from different universities.
I do encourage you as early as you can start a LinkedIn profile. I’m so glad that you brought that up.
Cheyenne: Yes, and I’ll add one more thing. Depending upon where users are in the world, there are different ages that they can start creating a LinkedIn page. But, primarily in the United States, it’s often recommended as early as high school. Right? So to start there, so great advice regarding LinkedIn.
Jennifer: I love that. It sounds like your social media, you share things that are about your values. You share things that are important to you. It’s not like a diary, but you do connect with people personally there, is that correct?
Cheyenne: Yeah, I would absolutely say so. While I may not share what I’m having for lunch on social media, and no shade to anyone who does [Jennifer laughs, holding her hand up] [Cheyenne aughs]…I will typically share things that are kind of a reflection of the current times. If there are topics that are highlighting a cause that really kind of gets me excited, ignited, those are the things that I often share.
I do often share pictures of my travel when I go to a new place, learn about a new culture. Perhaps self snap a pic, share something really interesting that I learned. It’s like, I can take the knowledge that I’ve come across in my travels and share that with those who are on my pages. Things of that nature: articles that are of interest, pictures that kind of represent my experiences.
And oftentimes I love to comment. To like photos. Or posts of jokes and other memes that my friends and family share.
Yeah, I try to stay pretty connected on social media. It’s a great way to feel like you haven’t missed anything. Even during the pandemic, right? We’ve been so far away what feels like from our friends, our colleagues, family. And this is a really nice way to stay close.
And so I love to see what my fellow followers are sharing.
Jennifer: You actually mentioned something that I wanted to talk about and I’m hoping you’re, you’re open to talking about it.
During the pandemic, I feel like social media use and online presence became more important to people who were social distancing, maybe traveling to conferences less to present with other professors and other researchers.
How have you noticed the kind of trends about social media changing over the past couple of years?
Cheyenne: Yeah, that’s a great question.
I think primarily there are two things that stood out to me: the good and the bad. Right? And that’s pretty general. Let me explain a little bit.
So the good: I noticed that there were lots of things that were bringing families together, like the TikTok dances and trends. Those were really, really phenomenal at getting people excited to kind of share content, learn new dances. Even just like something as simple as that. It was a really nice way…And what we saw were multi-generational families doing these things, public figures. It was like a really nice way for us to all say, ‘Okay, you know what? We’re far apart, but let’s grow together.’ Not to mention TikTok had a huge boost in their numbers during the platform in terms of their enrollment, if you will, on their site.
But ultimately then we kind of saw a lot of heavy things. I found out about the loss of some friends through social media who had unfortunately lost their lives to COVID-19. And so it was really heavy. It was like a heavy time to kind of log in, see what’s going on. Lots of people were posting about their illness or their sadness. Or just sort of some of the difficulties that they were dealing with in isolation or just kind of struggling through the unknown.
It was like it was one of those situations where you weren’t really short where you were gonna scroll upon whether it was gonna be something that made you smile or perhaps something that brought some tears to your face.
I think as a result of that, that really shows just how much social media can reflect the times.
Cheyenne: It’s like a great reflector of what’s going on in our lives in our communities. And sometimes it’s great. And sometimes it’s challenging.
Jennifer: That’s really interesting. When you think about that kind of really early on Facebook prompt that’s like, “What are you thinking?”
And I remember at that time, most people would share like 1 sentence, maybe 2, about what was going on. And a kind of trend that I’ve been seeing more recently is that opening up. These kind of longer posts where people are getting personal and sharing more about the good and the bad.
And people can really connect with that, but they can also be affected by it emotionally. It’s really interesting that you brought that up.
Cheyenne: Yeah, that’s a really great point. I love that connection with that initial question, like the original Facebook question.
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Hashtag activism and what your students care about
Jennifer: Now I also wanted to talk about hashtag activism, which is something that you mentioned in the Looking Ahead section of your book at the end, when you’re talking about these bigger trends in social media.
I know that social media can really bring groups together. It can help people share their voices and even be heard, in some cases by universities, even having to address issues that they were experiencing on campus.
What are your feelings about hashtag activism and what are you seeing in those trends?
Cheyenne: Yeah, hashtag activism is something that is really, really widespread. Sometimes, I think students don’t even consider it in terms of that title. They just feel like ‘I’m just sharing hashtags that are passionate.’ Or I should say, that reflect their passions rather.
They’re excited about these topics. They wanna get them out there. And a lot of them really don’t think about it as activism from my experience, talking to college students. They primarily just see it as like a way of life.
But it is a really, really great way for students to have a voice. To learn about getting their thoughts out not only within their college communities, but really across the nation.
It’s a really fast way for lots of trends to start kind of cropping up in areas where there’s a lot of need for change. So I’m noticing that.
I think what’s really great about it though, is that this is also an opportunity for colleges to recognize the needs of their students. If advisors, faculty, staff, administrators are able to really be in tune with what students on their campuses are sharing about, are posting about what’s the hashtag that’s currently trending. It will allow them to say, ‘Okay, you know what? Maybe we need to provide some resources in this area. Or perhaps let’s, let’s arrange an event on this particular topic so we can invite panel speakers to offer some insights.’ Or perhaps it’s even a situation where students are in need of an outlet, right? And maybe they want to bring in more outside resources like counselors or specialists who can help students to essentially address their concerns. There are a lot of ways for students to kind of speak out and for faculty, staff, administrators to respond.
I also think there’s a really great opportunity for employers to intersect as well. Because if you think about college, of course, many of the goals lead to professional goals, professional aspirations. If we can also start to work in a way for businesses, organizations to kind of recognize what students are interested in because those are essentially their employees in the future…They can too start to make sure that their policies, that their procedures are in alignment with what’s going to attract qualified, skilled, thoughtful citizens.
And it’s really a great way to kind of start connecting with not too much effort required, to be honest.
Jennifer: Very cool. Now if I’m listening to this and I’m like a university administrator and I’m all the sudden like, ‘I need to figure out what my students are saying on social media.’ Like, what can they do? I mean, there’s social listening out there, but that can be expensive.
What is something that maybe a college administrator can do to start hearing more of that conversation, to seeing more of it, and actually seeking it out?
Cheyenne: Yeah, that’s a wonderful question. Many colleges and universities happen to have social media teams. Oftentimes, they are the ones who are posting content, inviting students to engage. You might of course start there and ask the team to kind of perhaps start noticing the comments that students are actually posting. To notice that there are hashtags that are trending. And sometimes even just to kind of look at the trending topics, even regionally. That will kind of provide some insight.
If you are following, for example, students on your own pages, or perhaps even students who are using your institution’s hashtag, there’s a lot of popular ones. Sometimes it’s the nickname or the acronym for the school. Again, that will kind of start to open up those trends.
And one might even think about offering some platforms for students to kind of freely do so. It might be like another version of “What are you thinking?” What are our students thinking? What’s important to you?
When I talk to students right now, there are a couple of topics that are really national, topics that are in the forefront. Of course we’ve got things like the right to seek an abortion, social justice, voting rights. These are topics that students are really getting worked up on. Even when it comes to the cost of education or student loans. These are things that are super important to students.
And also it’s a great way for the individuals who are running these institutions, who are teaching at them, to really figure out what the students need. Because sometimes the needs are not only in the classroom. They are outside of the classroom when they’re at home, when they’re in the dorm, when they’re at work. And we wanna make sure that we’re producing well-rounded students.
And so just starting with, again, the staff that you have managing social media platforms. And perhaps even using hashtags that reflect your school to see what is out there’s a great way to open that door to a productive conversation.
Jennifer: Ooh. I love that advice. I think that’s gonna be so helpful for some of the people who are listening.
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Do you have to be on social media?
Jennifer: Now, I know we definitely have some listeners that are like really anxious about social media. Like they’re watching this video on YouTube, or maybe reading it on the blog. But they’re not on Twitter. They’re not on Facebook and they really are trying to find out, is it okay to not be on social media? I mean, you teach social media. You wrote the book on it. [Cheyenne laughs.]
What do you think, do you have to be on social media these days?
Cheyenne: That’s a great question. And I think that individuals can lead themselves to these decisions. In other words, you don’t have to feel like you’re compelled to be on social media.
I know some individuals who have made the choice to stay away. And we actually had a really great contributor in the book who actually wrote about her decision not to engage on social media. And she talks about that in relation to teaching high school students and how that kind of has informed her life, and her decisions.
I don’t think we all have to be on it, but I do think it’s important to be aware of the platforms that exist. And perhaps even you might decide later that there’s a particular platform that suits your needs. Some individuals, for example, like Twitter, because it primarily focuses on short messages. And they don’t have that overwhelming visual content. Whereas some of the younger college aged students love the visuals and that’s really what pulls them in.
It’s okay to not be on social media.
But I don’t think we should ignore it in total. But perhaps just kind of be aware of the ways that it’s reflecting modern society. And perhaps even think about what type of social media you might want to see or use in case one introduces itself. And then, you’re excited to join.
Jennifer: Ah, I love that. What a great response. I think that so many people will feel relieved after hearing that, you know? ‘Okay, well, I don’t have to join. I can really think about what I need and what will make sense for me. And it’s okay. If that changes over time, maybe I’ll wanna join social media later. Gotta be open to it, but I don’t have to do it now.’ So I love that.
Is there anything else you’d like to add? I have had so much fun with this conversation.
Cheyenne: Well, there’s one other thing that I have been doing, and I’d love to just kind of encourage others to maybe even consider this. One of the things that I’ve been doing, Jennifer, is I’ve been using my cell phone to monitor how much time I am on the phone, how much time I’m on certain apps, like social media apps.
And I’ll be honest, [laughs] when I was looking at my time, I thought, “Wow, I’ve been devoting a lot of weekly time to social media.”
In my case, I was like, okay, if I dial this back just a bit, if I spend even 30 minutes less, what could I do with that time? For me, it’s spent going outside, taking walks, hobbies, things of that nature. Just kind of reclaiming that time a little bit.
Cheyenne: And I’ve also invited some younger individuals in my family to do the same. They’ve identified things they’d like to do. One said she wants to spend more time working out. And the other ones said that she wants to spend a little bit more time working on her jewelry hobby. It’s a really nice way to kind of think about how we’re spending our time.
On the flip side, though, you might have someone who says, ‘Gee, I don’t think I’m connecting enough and I really wanna have more of a presence.’
Then maybe you might think about how you can efficiently use maybe another half an hour or so. Maybe there’s a new platform you wanna check out. Or, for perhaps you wanna use that time to create some content.
It doesn’t mean that the time has to be good or bad, but it’s all about the individual in terms of how you interpret it. I think that’s a really helpful tool. All phones are a little different. You might have to play around with your settings to get how much time you’re spending on social media each week. But once you do, most people find it’s kind of mind blowing. You might wanna check that out.
Jennifer: Oh, that’s great. I’ve checked this stats myself and been slightly embarrassed about how much time I was spending. And I really have to break it down and like look at the platforms.
And I realized that even though I was saying Instagram was my favorite platform, I spent way more time on Facebook and I had to admit, [laughs] I liked Facebook more than I thought I did.
It really gave me insight into what I was doing. I wasn’t folk focused on what I was doing at the time. But when you see it all in the data. And you’re like, okay, well that took more hours than I expected it to…that can really help you make better decisions for yourself.
I really liked that. It’s all about that time, what you wanna do with it. And it’s okay if you wanna put more energy into social media. It’s also okay if you wanna put more energy into your hobbies or things that you enjoy doing, or that you need to get done too. Both of those choices are great. And it’s really up to the individual.
Cheyenne: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s a great point.
Jennifer: Wow. Well, Cheyenne, thank you so much for talking with me. It was so great to feature you for this interview. And if you’re listening, be sure to check out Cheyenne’s book, Successes and Setbacks of Social Media: Impact on Academic Life from Wiley. I’m gonna drop that link in the video [description] below.
Like and subscribe to The Social Academic on YouTube. We’ll see you next time for the next featured interview.
Cheyenne: Thanks, Jennifer. Have a good day!
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Bio for Cheyenne Seymour, EdD
Dr. Cheyenne Seymour aims to instill in her students that carefully crafting messages can increase interest and aid in understanding. Her areas of research include social media, rhetoric, and public speaking. Dr. Seymour is an experienced television news producer with a passion for sharing information that can positively impact individuals and communities.
She has earned a Doctorate of Education from New England College, a Master of Arts in English from Trinity College, and a dual Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Media Arts from Long Island University. Dr. Seymour enjoys traveling and experiencing new cultures.
Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and communications consultant. She founded The Academic Designer LLC to help professors build a strong online presence for their research, teaching, and leadership. Jennifer’s goal is to help people feel confident sharing their work with the world.
Jennifer’s personal website
The Academic Designer LLC