Payton Saso: Sorority social media may be pretty, but it's not perfect

Social media usage in ASU's Panhellenic community perpetuates stereotypes about Greek life

The pervasiveness of social media has furthered problems inside and outside of the Greek life community, necessitating an impossible balance between demonstrating the values of Greek life while maintaining a consistent aesthetic and brand online. 

This creates a sense of superficiality across the social media accounts of Greek chapters, especially sororities, that overshadows the values upon which they were originally founded. 

And I would know: As new member director for my sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, I can say there are parts of my chapter that are strictly image based. My position is one that fuels the idea that sorority women have a perfect, put together look. In organizing events, I find myself pushing for an image that makes girls to want to be friends with us and others to want to be us. 

It’s not all planned to best reflect our values, but to best reflect our brand — especially online. This is why sororities' Instagrams don't always communicate those values — the focus is more on the image as opposed to  substance.

The competitive nature of Greek life used to focus on philanthropy, but the attention is now placed on content and looks over fundraising and sisterhood, which has been notably impacted by social media. As social media evolves so do sororities' perceptions of perfection.


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An outsider's perspective

That's something that women interested in rushing Greek life immediately take notice of.

Megan Ferrell, a freshman currently studying nursing at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, is transferring to ASU in the fall and considering going through the recruitment process. She said that a sorority that is concerned with their image is most likely to be considered top house — the chapter that's perceived as the best looking, the most charismatic and the highest on the social ladder. At ASU, it seems today that the top house spots are based on which chapter has the most Instagram followers and the "prettiest women."

“I think that their status is (shown) on Instagram by the amount of followers they have and how they format their pictures to keep up their image,” Ferrell said. “When I think top house, I think just pretty blondes who show off and portray what they think people want and like to see.”

Ferrell’s depiction of what sororities portray is often the brand for many of these houses. This is what ASU sororities are showing the outside world. And when Ferrell puts it in her own words, it sounds as unflattering as it is.

An outsider's perspective on what Greek life looks like is not exclusive to students that aren't in sororities. 

The Multicultural Greek Council is home to nine houses that aren't in the Panhellenic Community and do not always fit the stereotypical sorority mold. Ironically, the brands of those chapters seem to better reflect the original values of fraternity and sorority life.

Graphic design senior Amanda Gomez, who is a member of Alpha Phi Gamma, a multicultural sorority at ASU, said there's a significant difference between how she runs her sorority's Instagram and how Panhellenic sororities run their social media accounts.

"I feel like I don’t put as much thought or strategy into our Instagram account as Panhellenic sororities," Gomez said. "We just want to portray that genuine factor of who we are and personally being a design major and into photography, on my personal Instagram (I) focus on having an aesthetic and sharing a similar filter on photos, but I don’t carry that same mindset into our sororities Instagram account.

"I just want it to feel more comfortable, warmer and organic in a sense versus having that filter that I’ve seen on some Panhellenic sororities, that can mess with different peoples skin and things like that," Gomez said.

Gomez may be referencing a literal Instagram filter, but it's just as true that the social media accounts of some of Greek life's top chapters filter reality to the point where it becomes artificial. 

An insider's perspective

A sorority's brand is a large part of what brings most PNMs — or potential new members — through their doors. That was the case for Krystal Lockhart, the current director of social media for the Gamma Pi chapter of Alpha Phi. She said that Alpha Phi’s brand, which exudes perfection, is what pulled her in. 

Lockhart, a freshman at ASU, manages the most-followed sorority Instagram account on campus. She said that the follower count does matter when looking at sororities and in her personal experience going through recruitment, Alpha Phi's 26,000-plus Instagram followers were quite intimidating.

She sees her organization's Instagram account as a company she has to market.

"That's why we post the photos that we do, because it fits our brand. Everything that we post has to fit how people see ASU Alpha Phi and we have to keep going with that standard that new members or other people hold us to," Lockhart said.  

To be clear, I'm not implying that every sorority's social media is guilty of this. 

Gabbie Dionisio, a business communications sophomore, is the director of marketing for the Psi Epsilon chapter of Chi Omega at ASU.

While the sorority has upward of 8,000 followers, Dionisio said that Chi Omega focuses on promoting its members' accomplishments and showcasing its values. She said this is how sororities can use social media to their advantage: it helps chapters present themselves in a positive light. But even with the best intentions, the prioritization of social media can have unintended consequences. 

“We talked about this in my training. The PNMs, especially the last ones, are very imaged-based and focused on what can benefit them the most,” Dionisio said. “I think since Instagram is so important, especially now for Greek life, that it does negatively affect how people look at top house, which is unfortunate.”

The idea that image is what makes a good house has spread across the country and across social media. 

Taylor Edwards, who attends Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, is a member of Alpha Omicron Pi. She said that she doesn't feel that there is pressure to look perfect in her chapter, but that there are certain expectations of how to present herself.

"I do believe there is an expectation to make yourself ... appear to be a higher standard than those who are not, mostly when recruiting new members," Edwards said.

Oh, how times have changed

The decades before social media have proven that Greek life can function, and succeed, without it — which begs the question of why this fixation on an online presence exists. 

Ali Matthews, founder and CEO of Ali & Ariel, a sorority clothing brand company, is a former member of Kappa Alpha Theta who graduated from ASU in 2008 and plays a hand in the company's heavily followed Instagram page. Almost every chapter at ASU uses Ali & Ariel to create their looks for recruitment, promo week and philanthropies.

Matthews remembers a time when social media "was in its infancy."

"Because social media didn't really exist, it was just Facebook," Matthews said. "It was more achievement-based off of things that we did or for grades. It was off or real things of substance and not numbers of a social media account. In a different way I appreciate that time so much because there was more of an emphasis on just being yourself and who you are as people and the conversations you have."

Instagram has played a huge role in the creation of these modern branding models for different chapters. With the ability to post one photo that could reach thousands of people, picking these photos has to fit a sorority's specific brand — which can differ from chapter to chapter but generally maintains the same put-together image.

Other defining factors

These phenomena exist outside of Instagram as well.

 When deciding on a sorority to rush, many women going through recruitment use the site Greek Rank, which creates a ranking for the top houses based on user ratings.

This helps perpetuate the idea that social media can decide which sororities are better than others, and how exactly the site's users make those decisions is unknown. 

Following recruitment, sororities brand themselves through the social media posts they share. We all tag the main chapter account in our selfies and group photos in hopes of being reposted, but this individual branding for each organization is not necessarily helpful to each chapter's image.

Even Ali & Ariel's Instagram page is guilty of perpetuating some traditional sorority archetypes, though Matthews said that a lot of thought goes into what images she chooses to repost.


"For picking models, I don’t think that deep into it, but I do because I want to be inclusive," Matthews said. "That's bottom-line no matter what, and I want to make sure that we have an actual good representation of what the modern sorority woman looks like in our shoot. So it has to be diverse and that means more than one sorority, it means different shapes and sizes and overall diversity in these women. Just having an eclectic reflection of what sorority women look like is critical and crucial."  

Matthews said that it's unacceptable for any brand to not be conscientious of who they are choosing to represent their brand. 

Looking ahead

The continuing rise of social media is inevitable. While sororities have been using these platforms as a branding tool for only a few years, the growth in their use has been exponential and does not show signs of stopping. 

Greek life has always faced its issues, and the fixation on a "perfect image" online is its latest hurdle. It's important that these sororities recognize that they are both role models for future sorority women and and bearers of the legacy of women who came before them.

Sorority women need to rebrand themselves as people who care about more than looks. It is important to differentiate Instagram from reality and understand that pretty does not always equal perfect.


Reach the columnist at psaso@asu.edu and follow @paytonsaso on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the authors’ and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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