Group chats are a really effective way of communicating with members of your communities. They enable individuals to stay connected, even when you can’t all be together, and you can easily disseminate consistent information to multiple people in one go. Additionally, they are designed to provide a more instant and reliable way of communication than the more methods of email or phone calls.
However, as the use of group chats has become more commonplace in society, so have the complexities in using them within an ‘organisational’ setting. WhatsApp in particular presents a challenge due to the link with a user’s personal phone number, meaning that it is much harder for individuals to keep a personal and professional lives separate.
Unlike in group chats with friends or family, the content and conduct of participants is starting to become subject to the same kinds of scrutiny and legislation as we might expect if the communication was in person, and as leaders of a community group, committee members and the Union hold some responsibility for managing this the same way.
Easy access to groups, and large participant numbers can also make it hard for student leaders to track the membership status of the group which could mean they are inadvertently breaching data protection regulations, and/or offering benefits to non-members of the Union.
This would not only be unfair on the members who have registered properly, but it would also invalidate the Union’s insurances. This a very significant risk and could lead to the student group being disaffiliated.
Use of group chats are covered by the SBSU Social Media policy for student groups which means that breaching any of that policy could result in a disciplinary procedure being instigated. We acknowledge that it is particularly hard to navigate this fairly new area of risk, and that this is compounded by the complexity of how student groups operate, therefore, SBSU sets expectations on its student groups who decide to use group chats to communicate to help protect their student leaders; members and the Union itself.
Set a new trend - Think about encouraging members to use a different platform to WhatsApp. For example, Google chat is available to all student groups via their Union IT account which provides a lot of the same functionality as Whatsapp but allows student groups to keep their personal accounts separate.
Read up - Make sure you have read and understood the SBSU Social Media Policy
Become an expert - SBSU will be arranging training on GDPR and hopefully a session specifically on Student Groups use of social media in the coming months so please make sure you attend/complete this.
Role Model - If available, use the ‘group description’ function to briefly outline rules around acceptable usage, and from time to time post this in the group to remind members.If you see content which is or could be unacceptable, remove it, either explaining why on the chat or privately to the poster.
Doing this will help to embed the right culture amongst members which will then help reduce the likelihood of problematic content being posted.
New year, New group - Make sure a new group chat is started each year instead of letting existing ones roll over. This stops the possibility of non-members remaining on official Union groups by accident, and it also means that participants from the old group can keep in touch if they want to without being subject to the Union’s terms of affiliation. (just make sure you remove reference to SBSU from the group’s name!)
Members only - Don’t send out links to a whatsapp group to people who are not members. The link should only be sent out once students have officially registered their membership. Limit the number of people who are ‘admins’ to make sure the link isn’t sent to non-members without the President knowing.
Persistent failure to uphold this will be deemed as a significant breach of the student groups affiliation terms and is likely to lead to the group’s disaffiliation if not addressed by student leaders. In some cases this could also lead to disciplinary action being taken against student leaders, members or the group as a whole.
Respect the boundaries of others - Set expectations with your members about monitoring and responding. Make it clear what kind of questions are appropriate to ask on the chat, and what aren’t and set times for when members will / won’t get a response, and embed this through role modelling. If you have agreed no responses after 8pm, stick to it - even if it feels easy to respond. This is key for making your group inclusive and accessible.
Access for everyone - Every registered member of your group must be given access and allowed to join the group and committee members must make sure they have a system in place to make sure this happens.
Similarly, members who do not want to, or can not, join must not be excluded from the information posted in the groups. You must use multiple methods of communication to send out key information about your student group’s activity to make sure all can access it, but you should also think about how much of your group’s ‘social’ connection takes place through the group and how this might exclude those who don’t have access;