A marketing approach to social media for teachers

02 JUNE 2013

 A marketing approach to social media for teachers

 Primary Audience: Lecturers, tutors, and other adult educators.

Why educators need to know about social media:

It’s hard to get away from social media.  Traditionally teachers were able to keep their public and private lives quite separate, however that’s increasingly difficult as students often try to “friend” you on Facebook. Do your students really need see or “like” photos of your kids? No.


Rather than seeing this as an issue, I realise that this is an opportunity: Students are willingly engaged, they care, and most importantly they are coming to me. Teachers can use social media marketing techniques to influence and transform students’ lives in a way that would not be done easily in the classroom.




Social media is an effective 
communication tool.

Teachers must realise they live a public life, so must actively manage their reputations just as would any professional sportsman, celebrity or politician. Thus if celebrities and presidents can harness the power of social media in order to convince their audience, teachers should be able to do the same, since we are predominantly in the business of communicating to shape minds, just as are spin doctors. So while our message is more difficult and complex, the principles of good communication remain the same.

Although most educators hate the idea of participating in a popularity contest, a genuine connection between the learner and the teacher must exist for any message to have effect.  We must speak where our audience is most likely to listen. This means using what they use. 


Of course, there are many risks. And the burden of responsibility is disproportionately heavy on the teacher rather than the student – however these risks can be mitigated with prudent management.


Social media is broad; this guide focuses on using Facebook to influence student attitudes. 




The best thing you can do is to create a separate work account and private account. Do not allow any overlap. Never allow anyone to friend both accounts. Never ever, If anyone tries, immediately ban them from one account or the other. Be brutal.


All social media tools use predictive technology that will suggest that you friend/connect/follow other people based on your connections.  You do not want your students contacting your children. Some things you must keep secret.



For the private profile you should:

  • Not use your real name (yes, this will break the ToS)

  • Not use your face on the profile picture (most people use pictures of their kids or pets)

  • Not publish your phone numbers or other identifying details

  • Lock your privacy settings down as tight as you can

  • Explain your actions to your private audience (so they don’t try to cross the line)

For the public profile you should:

  • Use your real name

  • Make every post public

  • Make your face as the profile picture

  • Publish your work email address

  • Always write in full sentences

  • Ensure you post according to the public persona you wish to create


Holding two contacts is a little controversial, and it technically breaks the Terms of Service.  Facebook inc isaware of the practice, and is publicly disapproving, although I notice they have not yet cracked down on the practice as many people have multiple accounts as identities for their kids or pets. So for the moment it’s a taboo. Both Zuckerberg and the NSA dislike multiple identities for roughly the same reasons.


Google+ has done much better to separate people's identities by creating “circles” that allow you to publish different post to different audiences. Unfortunately nobody (other than Google employees) uses Google+, so you will have to go where your audience is and stick to Facebook.



Logging in and out of different accounts is a pain, but if you use different browsers for different accounts you can easily segregate the two. For example, you can use Google Chrome for your public account and Firefox for your private account and remain simultaneously logged into both. This trick also works for smart phones but is less effective.




The chances are that you are already using Facebook, however don't know how to turn your favourite toy into a rugged work tool.  It’s up to you to exercise soft skill and lead by example.  Unlike the classroom or LMS, you cannot control the social media ground.


The key is to maximise your message impact. Think about what marketing messages you receive on Facebook already – what things annoy you, and what things do you actually like?


The key difference between social media marketing and regular advertising is a sense of “being sold to”. Avoid sounding plastic at all times. Our whole lives we have desensitised ourselves to advertising.  Indeed, the court is expected that a reasonable person would be able to tell the difference between a genuine message and advertising that constitutes a “mere puff” (Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co 1893 Court of Appeal UK). Craft updates that really “sound like you”. Develop your own persona and use this voice, avoid merely parroting the corporate line.


Remember your audience (the students) do expect to be spoken to as students, so its ok can give them instructions. Just avoid “barking orders”. NEVER insult your audience. This makes you a target for attack. I have seen many teachers complain on Facebook that students are stupid, or are lazy - this is a great way to get fired!


If you do have a situation that could explode, alert a senior immediately. You never want to be seen to be covering up the truth.


Avoid being positive about everythingProvide commentary where appropriate. For example, I teach taxation, and while I remain politically neutral, I do regularly comment on the taxation policy of the government of the day. Some things I promote, but others I am very critical of. Students expect teachers to be able to apply their learning to the real world, and thus commentary demonstrates your mastery of your field, and also makes the learning realistic. You need to exercise tact; avoid being a shock jock.


Be passionate about your field. I constantly post about how much I love accounting. I make light of the matter, and even list Lucca Paccioli as my grandfather.  It’s a light hearted way of protecting my real family. Always love what you do. If you want the students to care, so should you.


Never use a linking tool that posts to twitter and Facebook (or elsewhere). Your audiences on each platform are very different. For the same reason, never use an RSS link feeder.


Do post links to interesting things you read on the net that are relevant to your field. Always make a quick comment on the link that contextualise why students should read the link.


Unless it’s part of your strategy, avoid ranting about politics or sport.  You might love Hawthorn, but most of your audience do not. If you really must post about sport, try to segregate your audience somehow or ensure it’s not sport-spam.


Never send friend requests to students.  Let them friend you. They consider this to be “THEIR” playground, and so you are a guest in their space. If they friend you, they probably want to read what you have to say. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to read it.


Don’t get upset if they unfriend you.


NEVER never never force students to use social media. Remember, it’s not your space to pollute with work.


wish people a happy birthday as it makes them feel special. Although, I don’t post my own birthday because I don’t want them to know, and it may invite presents from students that others might construe as “bribes”. Presents to teachers are not uncommon in Asian cultures.


Make ALL your posts publicly available. Most modern classrooms are designed to be visible from the outside. This transparency means that it is difficult for unscrupulous students to level false accusations against teachers, and likewise difficult for teachers to misbehave in private. Your dealings on Facebook should remain the same as your interaction in the classroom - open door and transparent at all times. Assume nothing you do using your work account is private. If a student has a private matter, invite them to e-mail you using your work address rather than Facebook chat messenger.

Be clear to them that you do NOT have to give instant replies.

Occasionally you will be criticised, so develop a thick skin. If remarks are inappropriate, simply delete them, however if the complaint contains any validity, you should address it publicly. If you are attacked, sometimes it is better to draw on your infantry of social capital and invite the discussion of others – many will support you. Many times silence is the best option.


Stand up to bullies when you see another person being victimised. The chances are that you won’t see it, but always provide the moral leadership.


Update regularly. I try to make one post every working day. An abandoned account shows students that the account is probably a decoy, and that students will keep searching until they find your real account. To ensure consistent updates, I use scheduling software to update my social media channels with my key central themes. This gives my message on track, and I randomise schedules over daylight hours to make it look as if I am on Facebook as much as my students are.


Encourage past students to give advice to current students.  This has helped me build a community where the class content can be discussed, and seniors can help juniors. This is especially true when past graduates let new graduates know about jobs! Networking is important.


Avoid posting 20 messages consecutively and nothing for days. This looks like spam. Timing is important so space out your message intervals. Try to leave at least 90 minutes between posts, but don’t post more than 6 times a day. If you do have lots of ideas down, use a scheduling tool such as Buffer.



Photos generate more engagement than videos or text. Again, keep it real. Good photos taken from a smart phone generate more engagement than professional photos that look like an advertisement. Photos shot on campus make for great engagement. 





Celebrate their achievements. Like every photo of them on their graduation day. 

One idea per post. Longer or more complex writing goes into a “note”.


You need to understand that different social media platforms tend to attract different audiences with different attention spans. While this might be work for you, it’s a playtime for them. So keep it short and snappy!  Posts less than 2 lines long are almost always read. Paragraphs are not.  If you need practice, learn to tweet.


Social media is a risky environment, but ignoring it is likewise foolish. Even if you do not have a social media presence, you can still be the target of some very nasty attacks. I believe it is always better to show leadership and always be on the front foot.Displaying judgement, being tactful and maintaining dynamism are key points.