Top Ten Tips on using social media platforms

Now, this might, at first glance, not really look all that relevant to a teaching blog, but one development that is definitely worth watching is the growing use of a range of social media platforms, both for informal social networking, but also increasingly for developing professional practice both for teaching and after graduation. So, a very good set of skills to develop while at University are social networking skills. There are a number of potential pitfalls though, so hopefully these Top Ten Tips will give you something to think about, whether you are a teacher planning a session using SM or a student planning to engage with these tools.

a meerkat is for life- as is your digital footprint!

a meerkat is for life- as is your digital footprint!

1. A Digital footprint is for life, not just for Christmas. Yep, for life. It is very difficult to erase and obliterate social media mistakes, so think before you post. The attraction of social media platforms is that you can be ‘found’ by people you have not met in person, but this can be as much of a negative as a positive experience. So, think before you post. When you meet people in person, your body language, tone of voice, demeanour, eye contact etc are really important factors that determine people’s reaction to you. Digitally, all these non- verbal signals are not there, so you need to use words very carefully to convey exactly what you mean.

2. What do you hope to achieve? What messages do you want your readers/ followers to take away? Or, are you online to listen and observe, rather than to communicate? The beauty of the wide range of social media platforms is that pretty much anything is possible.

3. Do some research on the various platforms available different platforms are best suited to various purposes. So, for example, TWITTER is a micro-blogging site. You are allowed 150 characters per communication (called a ‘tweet’), including spaces. so messages have to be brief and concise. Twitter is perfect for very short reactions, and also, as a means of advertising links. Twitter works on the basis that everything you tweet is public, so unlike Facebook, where you can use your privacy settings to limit who sees what you post, on Twitter, potentially everything you do is  visible to everybody and forever. Twitter allows you to share images as well as text, always with the proviso that links etc fit within the 150 character limit. Twitter is possibly the most active and most ‘professional’ of all social media platforms, and certainly the one where you can speak directly to anybody. For getting started, try this slideshareFACEBOOK, unlike Twitter, has no restrictions on the lengths of posts, and you determine how public these posts are. Most Facebook users choose their profile to be private, that is, only ‘friends’ can see everything you post and post back, so you tend to have different conversations on Facebook to those on Twitter. But then, many social media users come to Facebook first, and Facebook might be something you have used for years, without going back to privacy settings etc. Is The way you used Facebook several years ago while maybe at secondary school the way you want to use it now? Worth thinking about.  In addition to your profile, there are also Facebook groups and Facebook pages, which are again ways of managing who sees what. LInkedIn again works on the basis of setting up a public profile, showcasing your professional skills, so think of it as a public ‘CV’ that is accessible and visible to everybody. You then link to other people you know, you become part of groups (many Universities have groups, many employers have groups) and depending on who you have connected to, you have a home page, otherwise called a ‘newsfeed’ where you see posts based on your interests. LinkedIn has a massive reach, but is possibly less interactive than Twitter and Facebook. LinkedIn is about being seen and watching for opportunities; on Twitter and Facebook, you probably chat more. INSTAGRAM  is for sharing images and can be used very effecticely to create relevant image banks for teaching, but so far, there seems to be less interest in harnessing Instagram for teaching than in some of the other platforms. Then there is STORIFY which allows you to bring together a range of messages from different platforms (see here for an example), to arrange them chronologically, and to add commentary to it. In other words, you capture a story with different contributors and voices. This can be a fabulously effective way to capture online discussions and to create a permanent record, or archive, these discussions. Another important form of social media use is BLOGGING, but we think blogging deserves its own Top Ten Tips: Blogging.

4. Use the right tool for the right job – and learn the lingo!

This is quite important know what the various platforms do, as that way you get most out of them. With the least amount of frustration. You will find that one, or maybe two, appeal more to you than the others, so focus on the ones that work for you. Better to be master of one trade, than Jack of all.

5. Consider the social media literacy of your students or peers You might think that they know how to use all these tools, but you’d be surprised to learn that they won’t all be familiar with such tools, or may only have used them in a very different context. You might need to introduce the tool of your choice with an introductory session, or links to help pages. Don’t leave your learners or colleagues behind!

6. Remember that SM suits some learning styles better than others. It is definitely an interactive and immediate way of learning, and this isn’t for everyone….so just like any teaching and learning technique, bear in mind that some learners would rather digest things later, and make allowances for this using other tools. For example, live Twitter chats can be recorded for later consumption and review using Storify.

7. The best way to learn to use SM safely- and effectively-  is experientially.
So, try these platforms out by becoming a silent user for a while. Sticking with Twitter, you could create a profile, and get on to the platform but instead of tweeting straight away, watch for a while, and only join the conversation once you are happy to do so. One way to start out would be to follow maybe your lecturers surely they *ought* to know what they are doing and might talk about their teaching but also identify people who are doing the job you want to do. For example,an art historian interested in becoming a curator might follow the National Gallery on Twitter to learn about exhibitions, jobs etc. Or maybe an aspiring zoo keeper will follow Twycross Zoo. Or, follow somebody you know is good at using Twitter; one excellent tweep is Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) and another one is the University of Nottingham’s registrar, Dr Paul Greatrix (@registrarism). Watch what they are doing and join in once you know your #hashtag from your Retweet. To help you with some of this, have a look at the bibliography.

8. Social media can be a great form of procrastination – oh yes, we’ve all been there! So if you are encouraging use of SM as a teacher or peer, don’t forget that some of us are more easily distracted than others.

9. A good social media presence needs work. But see 8! You need to engage with the discussions, so you need to use the platforms to get the most out of them. One way of doing this is to set regular time aside to go on a Twitter, let’s say 20 minutes every morning. Social Media use is regulated by its own etiquette, so it’s polite and expected that you respond to messages in a timely manner. If you don’t want to invest the time, that’s fine too. Social Media works for some people, but not for everybody, so only do what you are comfortable with.

10. If you only do one form of SM, which one to start with? This probably depends on what you want to achieve ( see 2), but our  vote would go to Twitter. Twitter is fast, Twitter has massive reach, Twitter can be both fun and informative, and Twitter can link to all of the other platforms. Twitter is proper ‘social media glue’ and is possibly the most effective of all SM platforms to reach a variety of users.


The bibliography is a starting point for some more practical advice on managing social  media platforms and your ‘digital footprint’. Please do alert us to any others you have found useful by leaving a comment!


Twitter: Getting started 

LSE Guide to Twitter

A Handy Visual Guide to Twitter Lingo

Everything you need to know about a Twitter: A Visual Guide

LinkedIn Etiquette

Instagram for Beginners




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