When I look around my classrooms, every student has a device that they are using – a phone, tablet or laptop. But they aren’t always looking at their university work, quite often Facebook or Instagram are open. Then when you ask students about whether they received your email about an adjustment to the homework question – you get a lot of blank stares. Sound familiar?

Though there are no official statistics, many educators get the inkling that students are not opening their official university email accounts regularly. So how can we reach students if they don’t answer their email? Given students are accessing their social media accounts more frequently than their university email, my goal is to disrupt their social media viewing with education-related material.

All of my work in this area has come out of sheer laziness (though I’ve been told that I should call it a drive for efficient work practices). No one wants to have to post on social media and then create announcements on UTSOnline or Canvas.

If you’re short on time, jump to the TLDR summary at the end.

Getting started on social media

Most of us have a personal account on social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat. For security reasons, I do not recommend that academics connect with students using their personal social media accounts. Below I’ll talk about the options for embedding a social media feed into your subject. After that, I’ll talk about the ways you can publish the information you want to students via these channels – you want to it be easy and quick.

Facebook Pages

Facebook allows you to create a Page – they were originally designed for businesses and celebrities, but now anyone can create one. There are two widely used options for Pages for student communication:

  1. A Page for a specific academic
  2. A Page for a specific subject

I recommend option two – a FB Page for a specific subject. Facebook Pages are also good for teams of educators – you can set up multiple people to have access to create content on your page. Option two allows students to follow the Page while they are enrolled and then they can choose to unfollow when they complete the subject. You can then embed your Facebook Page into UTSOnline or Canvas with a plugin by following the instructions in this video.

Twitter

Very few students are on Twitter – there are some discipline areas there it is more prevalent (such as journalism) but it isn’t commonly used. It is easy to create a Twitter account and then embed your feed of Tweets in UTSOnline (Canvas users – steer clear of this option – it doesn’t display all of the Tweets – just a link).

If you want to use your Twitter account for subject/teaching-related issues AND other purposes (such as dissemination of research) – then I suggest creating a hashtag for your subject. Twitter has removed the functionality to embed a feed of all tweets that feature your hashtag. You’ll then need to manually assign those tweets into a Twitter “Collection” and then embed that Collection into UTSOnline/Canvas. Honestly, this is time-consuming and a pain to use. I don’t recommend it to anyone!

Instagram

Plenty of students are on Instagram, however embedding an Instagram feed is not easy and I don’t recommend attempting it unless you’re common with embedding HTML code.

What if I want to post to multiple social media platforms?

If you want to set up Twitter, Instagram and Facebook presences – then you want to make posting to all of them quick and easy. If you’re planning to use just Facebook, embed the feed as I discussed above. However, if you want to use multiple platforms, the key to efficiency is to use a social media management tool. These are apps or websites that will allow you to post to multiple social media platforms with one click. Then, once you embed one of those platforms into UTSOnline or Canvas – your announcements will automatically update.

There are two social media management tools that I recommend for educators – Hootsuite and Stacker. They are fairly similar and you can access both via websites and apps. These options are both freemium – you can post simultaneously to 3-4 platforms free of charge. If you want any more functionality, you’ll need to pay a monthly fee.

Pro tip: create your account for either of these tools by signing in with the social media account that you think students will use most. That will usually be Facebook. Then it will ask you to connect to any other social media channels you want to use (e.g. Instagram and/or Twitter).

Then you’re ready to start posting!

Pro tip: Take advantage of the scheduling functions – setting posts to publish in advance at a date/time you specify. You can do this directly on a Facebook Page, but not on Instagram or Twitter. Hootsuite and Stacker will allow you to schedule posts for multiple social media platforms. This can be handy when you want to schedule assignment reminders. UTSOnline and Canvas do not allow the scheduling of emails to students.

 

I’ve built it – will they come?

My experience is mixed. Some students say that the social media contact creates a feeling of belonging and it reminds them about their study responsibilities. It becomes more difficult when there are large contingents of students who are on WeChat (though most will have Facebook as well). You can only connect WeChat to a social media management platform if the business is verified by WeChat in China – not as easy as setting up a FB page! For now, I’ve steered clear of using WeChat for communication purposes.

Pro tip: to get students to see your messages on FB, get them to ‘like’ the Page in class and then request they set their Following preferences to ‘See first’. This will put your posts at the top of their feed whenever they log in.

I’m still not anywhere near having all of my students open their emails – but it is better than before I started sending communications out on social media platforms.

Pro tip: students are more likely to look at posts with imagery. If you’re posting a link to an article or website, a preview of that site will appear in the post. If it is just text – then you may want to consider finding a relevant picture to catch their attention. I use Canva combined with Bitmoji to make cartoon-style announcements.

I also strongly suggest recycling image content – I have a standard set of graphics ready to publish when weekly video lectures become available, with the graphic related to the topic of the week. You may also wish to include a ‘call to action’ in your post – that could be asking students a question and requesting that they comment.

Try not to make your post too long. I would suggest 280-350 words maximum. Any longer and, students will have to expand the post to see the rest (which they are unlikely to do). Twitter has a maximum character count of 280. Instagram has no limit, but again, viewers will need to expand the post to see more than the first 3-4 lines.

Do I need to worry about posting memes? I would resist doing this unless you know your audience well. Sometimes memes don’t cross cultural barriers well and you may end up offending some students.

 

The TLDR (too long didn’t read)

If you’re wanting to start out, create a Facebook Page. Embed that Facebook Page into UTSOnline or Canvas. Start posting!

If you have any other questions about using social media to connect with students, pop a question in the comments or contact me directly. You can check out my social media communication with students on my Facebook Page – Amanda Loves to Audit.

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