Is your Institute Social Media Savvy?

by Emma Cresswell

Sometime in 2009: “Emma, you’re young, you use computers, do you use this Facebook thing?” (My boss to me)  And that’s how it all started.  Fast forward to 2013 and I’ve been Online Services Manager at IH San Isidro for over 4 years.  I’ve spoken at the last two DoS Conferences about getting your institute online and then how to maintain this online presence.  Am I an expert? No.  Is it my way or the highway? No.  All I hope is that you can take something away from this article that you may be able to implement in your school or institute.

Some statistics:

There are over 1.4 billion Facebook users worldwide.

The total amount of minutes that people spent on Facebook each month during 2012 averaged 700 billion.

Depending on sources, between 190 and 400 million tweets are sent each day.

93% of marketers use social media for business.

25% of smartphone owners ages 18-44 say they can’t recall the last time their smartphone wasn’t next to them.

Social Media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the web.

These figures seem to speak for themselves.  The question shouldn’t be “why should I use social media to promote my institute?” but “why shouldn’t I?”

So how do you go from being Facewhat? to a social media connoisseur?  This is what we’re going to talk about…

Once you have taken the decision to get social there are some questions you should consider before the big launch:

  • What?
  • Who?
  • Who?
  • How?

What social media network(s) do you want to join?

When people think of social media, it’s usually Facebook that springs to mind.  But what if you live in China? Or Russia? If your country has its own social media network akin to Facebook it’s a good alternative.  Talk to your students, which one do they use more frequently?

Then there’s Twitter.  Sure you can only use 140 characters, but you can say a lot in 140 characters. (Those two sentences? 101 characters.)

And don’t forget about LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, Flickr, Bebo, Cloob, Habbo, MocoSpace (and I didn’t make any of those up!)  The point is, there are so many social media networks it can get overwhelming, even if you pride yourself on being SMS (that’s Social Media Savvy!)

My advice?  Start small.  Stick to Facebook.  If you want to branch out, also open a Twitter account.  You can link the two accounts so that whatever gets posted on one automatically appears on the other.  (More on that later).

Who are you aiming this social media at?  Existing students?  Potential students?  Current teachers?  Potential teachers?  The ELT world in general?

Whilst it’s not necessary to narrow down the target audience to the smallest of categories, and nor does it have to be one single category, it will help you plan your content better.  For example, if you decide that you want to primarily target students (both current and potential), the chances are they won’t be interested in articles discussing the latest methodologies in ELT.  But they might find a blog post on English slang quite handy.

It could also influence the language you predominantly post in.  Let’s say your main aim is to attract new students, then it would be better to have at least some, if not most, of your advertising and posts in the language of your students.

Who is going to be in charge of these new social media accounts?

Once you’ve come up with a plan and a target audience, or even before, it’s time to think of the person who will be running this venture.

For some, the obvious candidate would be the DoS, and I can hear DoSes across the network crying out that they are already working 26 hours a day (and that doesn’t include cover teaching…).  My suggestion would be to create a new position.  Find a teacher or a member of the administrative team who is interested in online work, someone who already uses social media, and importantly, someone who shares the vision of the school.

How are you going to get followers?

Once you’ve created the social media account of your choosing, you need followers.  Word of mouth will help, as will random searches that people type into the social media platforms.  But to really spread the word, you’ll need to be more proactive:

Tell your staff. The teachers are the ones who have the most contact with the students, so are the ideal candidates to tell them about this new social media account.  Incorporating it into the class, with a webquest, or just a general perusal, will get the students liking or following.

Advertise. Make posters to go in the classrooms or in common areas.  Adding a QR code to the poster can lead people directly to the page when they scan it with their smartphones.

Entice. Create a competition or contest to get the students online and interacting.  Again this can be introduced during class.  Don’t forget, IH Experience runs contests throughout the year, which is a perfect way for you to start promoting both your social media and that of IHWO.

Ask your staff. The chances are, for every idea you come up with, they’ll have two more.  Social media is about being social and sharing ideas (and cat videos), so share it with your staffroom.

And there you have it: a person, a plan and a social media network or two.

Now what?

No one wants to be a one-hit wonder: Dexy’s Midnight Runners?  Chesney Hawkes? Baha Men?  Whatever happened to them?

So to avoid becoming the one-hit wonder of the online ELT community, maintenance is the key:

Scheduling is your friend.  Look into programmes such as HootSuite or LaterBro which allow you to schedule tweets and Facebook posts in advance.

Link up the accounts. With a couple of clicks of the mouse you can link your Facebook to your Twitter, or your Twitter to your LinkedIn.  This means one post can appear on numerous platforms at the same time, saving you precious time.  Time that you could be spending on YouTube looking at baby hedgehogs… or marking compositions… or sleeping…

Create regular competitions to encourage interaction. Every time one of your fans/followers interacts with your account all their friends will see it too, thus enlarging the potential captive audience.

Interact with your audience.  Ask questions in your posts, respond to people’s posts.

Keep up with the network. Join up with other IH schools and see what they are doing.  Not only will your students be able to see what is happening in other parts of the network, therefore reinforcing the idea that they are part of a network, but you might get inspiration for future posts.

Share and acknowledge. If you do find something interesting on another page, share it or acknowledge the source.  Copying something and posting it as if you had found it, well it’s just like telling a joke down the pub which only one person hears and then goes on to tell it as if they had made it up… and takes all the kudos.  You just don’t do it.

However, perhaps one of the most important things is moderation.  It’s tempting to go overboard on an enthusiastic wave of social media glee, but it probably won’t last.  Work will get in the way, or the internet will go down, or your football team will lose and you’ll be drowning your sorrows down the pub.

So start small and as you feel more confident and begin to find your social feet start taking bigger steps and before you know it you’ll be sailing away into social media cyberspace.

Author’s Bio: Emma Cresswell is ADoS and Online Services Manager at IH Buenos Aires San Isidro where she has taught for over 5 years. When she is not teaching her role as OSM obliges her to spend lots of time online playing around with social media and checking out memes under the guise of finding something to share with our followers. Outside of the classroom Emma can usually be found in the kitchen trying out new recipes or roaming the streets of Buenos Aires finding random things to Instagram.

Statistics taken from: (both accessed 21/10/2013)