Each morning, when I get to the school, the first ten or so minutes of my work day are spent scrolling through Instagram. In a barrage of posts, there’s typically one or two that I will share to the ACHS Advising story (@ACHS_Advising, if you’re curious) for my students and a couple more that I will save and look at later to see how I can rework the idea for the College Advising Corps. If I have DMs (direct messages) from students, I see if I can send a quick response in the app (“Hi! You get your transcripts from Mrs. Sloan downstairs.”) or if it’s going to need a little more explanation (“Hi! I’m typing up the info you need right now. Check your school email!”). I check to see if the Ashe County High School official accounts have posted any updates (testing alerts, StuCo events, no school tomorrow, etc...), and post anything I already have scheduled. I’ll refresh the app a few times, make sure that everything looks the way I intended, wait to see that students have started interacting with content, and then go about my day.
Social media has been a lifesaver this year, especially in trying to navigate working in a high school during the Covid-19 pandemic. Ashe County High School is operating on North Carolina’s “B-Plan” for reopening schools, so we’re operating at half-capacity. This means that only half of my seniors are here at any given time. And that’s being generous. Many students opted to go fully virtual. Unfortunately, a lot of students have left school permanently for varying reasons such as taking care of their sick family members, to work full-time, or battling the seemingly insurmountable stress that students are facing during this time. . They’re tired, they’re overwhelmed, and they’re scared. So I don’t blame them when they don’t check their emails or don’t pay full attention to the morning announcements. Thankfully, they are usually able to take 30 seconds to check out our Instagram posts.
The benefits of using social media as a tool for education and outreach are multifaceted, but the main points that I have identified are as follows:
Tapping into what students ENJOY using
Time-Efficiency (aka, don’t fight the short attention spans)
When was the last time you actually enjoyed reading a really long email? Be honest.
Never. Emails are the worst.
Necessary? Yes. Efficient? Yes. But call them what they are: “boring”. Also, they hurt my eyes. They take a long time to read, and most students do not engage with emails. They just don’t. However, if I can get the same information across in a post that will take the students 15 seconds to read and 5 seconds to share with their friends, I’ve saved myself 20 minutes that can then be used to engage in conversation or answering questions that the students are able to ask directly on the post. I am also able to share my own post multiple times and see for myself that I am gaining new meaningful engagement without having to generate new content (or clog up someone’s inbox with 50 repeat emails.)
For example: this was created by Wilkes Community College. I was able to share this 3-4 times, taking MAYBE 10 seconds each time I did so. Students were able to DM me with a question. Whole interaction took 30 seconds, and they got the help they needed.
Personalization (aka, Show that you Know)
There is, honestly, nothing easier than directly tagging a student in a post you know applies to them.
For example, Ashe County High School’s mascot is a Husky. This took maybe 5 minutes, and it makes me happy.
Being able to tag future Mountaineers in posts about Appalachian State scholarships, or welding students in posts about trade programs available at WCC is the quickest way to get their attention. Beyond that, students like and appreciate when you show that you know them. If you remember that a group of students want to go to school for dentistry and you tag them in a post from UNC about their DDS program? Golden engagement. Those students are gonna remember that information better than if you just posted.
Personalization also means knowing your audience. I couldn’t post the same content at Ashe County High School that I would at my alma mater, even though the populations are incredibly similar. And honestly? Some of the most fun that I have creating content comes from creating things that are specifically for the ACHS population.
Tapping into what students ENJOY using (aka, don’t reinvent the... well, you get it)
If you know that you like watching TV, but you hate doing laundry, would you sit on the couch and fold your jeans while staring at a blank wall? No. You would put on The Bachelorette, or whatever it is that brings you joy, and try to cheer up your chores. We all do it. Why not do the same thing for your student interactions?
Let’s be real, you don’t want to be another thing to stress out your students. Your students like social media. Your students like silly posts, especially from people they usually only see on their Best Professional Behavior. Your students don’t want to be reminded of the deadlines that have been attached to their ankles like a ball-and-chain. If you have to remind them, you might as well throw a meme in there to ease the burden.
Yes, I made this by texting myself. Yes, it WAS worth it.
Using social media as an outreach tool for the students we work with just makes sense. Social media (in my case, Instagram) is something they already understand that doesn’t run me any extra money (unlike some of these new education outreach programs that are pounding on our school’s doors, trying to sell them their idea and their $500 software.) There’s no learning curve. These students grew up with the internet and are dominating social media. Navigating these platforms is as natural to them as anything else they do for school or entertainment. If we want to keep up with our students, we have to embrace what is, essentially, their primary language. Social media is their common form of communication. It’s easy, it’s replicable, its impact is verifiable, and it’s Likable.