I have been a freelance trainer, consultant and coach in the post 16 education sector for the last three years and have been edging into the world of social media. Here are some reflections on that journey, in case they are helpful to those hovering on the brink of joining the social media community
I think the main thing with social media engagement is deciding on what your chosen approach will be and feeling confident to do it your way.
At the start, I felt overwhelmed, pressurised and confused by the bewildering array of options – get a professionally designed website, make your own, use Facebook, harness Twitter………..the list went on. Luckily my sister sat me down on a Saturday and said, “You have a new business. You need to publicise it and connect with people and we can set up a WordPress site this morning FOR FREE, NOW! Come on!”
The whole blog site, website thing.
I can really see that some kind of website or blog site is a good idea and people seem to take different approaches to these – mine is a blog site, with plenty of tips, activities, case studies etc as well as info about the services and training I offer. It is a conscious choice to present myself as someone who shares sector practice and is in touch with the classroom as well as pedagogy/research. It is not a bland, clinical, commercial site and I am happy that it creates a good sense of what I am like to work with, which means it is a helpful, honest marketing tool for me.
My platform is Word Press so I can do all my own editing and linking from phone, iPad or laptop, which is easy and convenient, even for someone who has no interest in gadgetry whatsoever. There is no cost involved. It really wasn’t anything like as bad as I thought to set up and now I just post things when I have thoughts about topics that people are discussing in the colleges where I work. The anticipation of it was out of proportion to the challenges a basic blog site actually creates but I know I am not the only person to feel that initial trepidation.
If you are hovering around this and feel a bit anxious, I would say it really is up to you how you harness your blog – how much or how little you actually do. Make a start and feel your way……
I wrote the first few blogs with clammy hands. Posting them provoked slight palpitations as it does feel like a very public, highly exposing step! It is easy to keep re-writing until you never actually post the blog, wanting to make it feel safe, comfortable, summative, the best post you can do. After all, SOMEONE MIGHT ACTUALLY READ IT!
Three years on, I know it is all about using it as a tool to refine your own thinking, and more importantly, to contribute something to the wider conversation in the sector. Time to get over myself and be less of a princess about the blogging thing! I work all over the country and constantly meet inspiring, creative, inventive, ingenious teachers with great ideas. They often share with me resources, case studies or tips and are happy to pass them on. Frequently, they modestly express amazement that I would want to do so, thinking others would find them of interest. Now I often find myself impatient to get a blog out, to share something I have seen or heard, and no longer feel that performance anxiety of the early blogging days. I think that the practice just helps you find a voice that is comfortable for you and then blogging becomes a form of reflection, clarification and communication.
Twitter and LinkedIn
My Twitter strategy is simple and entirely devised on the hoof:
- Lurk a lot, just reading things related to topics of interest. I regularly just type a current topic into the search box and scroll through, reading a few things. If it is sufficiently appealing, I click Follow.
- I follow key sector/policy/media bodies to keep on top of what is coming next
- I search out research articles on current themes and re-tweet them.
- I don’t use it as a personal platform linked to my social life – for me Twitter is something work-related.
- I often look up people I meet in person on Twitter as they can end up being really fascinating to follow, due to interests in common.
- I rarely comment as I find the 140 character thing a bit reductive and sound bitey. I will generally blog about something I may have read instead of responding to it via Tweet.
- I sometimes talk to people via Direct Message but rapidly transfer to email for longer communications.
- I try to do a bit at breakfast time, a slot in the middle of the day if I am at home, and something early evening. If I am out training or doing something else, I don’t do anything. I think you can become a slave to it, if you don’t decide how to harness it and how much engagement you are looking for! On holiday, I don’t touch it and think the break from all that stimulus is healthy.
I have been told that some people adapt my blog content for their teaching toolkit intranet sites and for discussion in SMT meetings, which is exciting and makes me feel useful in my outpourings!
I blog, tweet and use LinkedIn regularly (to capture contact information) and this has definitely raised my read rate and people contacting me because they have seen something I have written. This can lead to work on a consultancy basis or invitations to give conference presentations, as you are visible without needing to go in for heavy marketing strategies.
Most significantly for me, I feel connected to the wider education community and take inspiration, stimulus and challenge from what I read. I love the feeling in blogs of people thinking things through and working their way forward, trying to capture how their practice/thinking is changing. For me, teaching and learning is all about a constant cycle of trying, thinking, tweaking, changing and evolving your practice. It is a vibrant, organic, shifting process and social media feeds into that brilliantly, with its wealth of content, and speed of reaction to emerging topics.
I could never keep up with so many threads of research and practice without the easy access of social media. I travel by train and bus a lot and frequently read a piece of research, a policy update, something on flipped learning and a few blogs just in one short journey. If you source a carefully curated list of people/organisations, it is way more focused than just using Google for keeping abreast of hot topics. For deeper reading and research you need a different strategy and sources but for keeping up to date, I think social media works very well.
This is just my own set of preferences as I have evolved my way of using Twitter and blogs, and I think that is a good way to approach it – do it your way!