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6 Tips for Social Media Newbies

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A road trip involves taking a journey without a solid destination in mind. It is usually impromptu and includes stops for exploration, sightseeing, and sharing. Joining in a social media platform is the same type of adventure, opening doors to global opportunities.

Social media is everywhere, according to the latest statistics. While Facebook is the most popular platform—with 1.42 billion users worldwide—Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram, and Kik are moving up fast. Ninety-two percent of teens are online daily, with 71 percent of teens using multiple platforms.

Social media and road trips don’t always follow an itinerary, but a bit of pre-planning makes it a more enjoyable ride. Since nine out of every 10 of teenagers have a social media account, their journey has already begun. If you don’t start, you won’t go anywhere new or catch up. Now is the time to get on the road!

The following six tips will help you avoid roadblocks.

1. Prepare Your Mode of Transportation

Facebook and Twitter are currently the two most-used social media platforms and are recommended for beginning your social media road trip.

Create a professional username that makes you visible. With your username, you are creating a brand name that others will easily identify with you and your passions. Using your given name is a good idea. I was hesitant to do so back in the early days of social media and created the username @teacher6th. My teaching assignments and responsibilities have changed since then, but I remain Teacher6th at conferences, workshops and all online platforms.

Your image is also an important part of your social media profile. A Facebook banner and Twitter icon should be recognizable. Don’t change these too often: Let people get comfortable with you. If you want to keep your private and public lives separate, make that break clean and clear. Above all, make sure you check the social media policies of your district. Districts have different policies about creating social media accounts, what content educators can and cannot post, and the degree to which educators may interact with students online.

Your account is a public profile and transparent, so consider it a networking tool. Attach your username with links to your different social media accounts in all of your correspondence, including email. Keep your content professional and welcoming. LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter are probably the best accounts to share since many professionals already use them.

2. Map Out Your Journey

Where is your starting point? Share your purpose, passions, and strengths so others can help you build them. What is your planned outcome? Always have a clear, professional approach to content that you are posting and why.

Then go where other stakeholders are to share your message. When I began posting on social media, I created a classroom blog, hoping to connect with my students and family. Although some parents did visit the page, I wasn’t able to reach as many as I wanted because most of them preferred using Facebook. So I added a Classroom Facebook page to meet my goal of connecting with more stakeholders. I also added a Twitter class account, @OMS6th, in 2010. I still post on my blog, but I use it mostly to share student global projects and activities and link to the class Facebook page.

Social media platforms allow you to change directions easily. Literacy has always been my passion and focus, but I’ve also taught English, Talented and Gifted and Remedial Language Arts, and Social Studies in a middle school setting. Social media has connected me to experts and leaders around the world across all of these topics.

3. Make Time: When You Get Tired, Pull Over

Many teachers don’t go on social media because they feel they don’t have enough time. Like a road trip, don’t overschedule—this should be relaxed, not another thing you have to do! Once connected, you can always take a break and return when you have time. There is not a set amount of time you need to put in: Visit when you can and walk away when you need to. Social media doesn’t sleep. Pinterest will be there tomorrow.

Connect your social media accounts to your devices. Smart phones, tablets, laptops and desktops can give quick, easy access. Visit your accounts when you can, post when possible and remember to log off if you share the device.

4. Explore, Lurk, and Learn

Social media opens the opportunity to explore and share with leaders and experts in your interests and field. Follow classroom teachers who are already using technology in their classrooms. Groups and organizations that cover classroom topics can bring a global perspective to the local level. There are also many lists of educators and educational hashtags to follow on Twitter and Google+, and most groups have Facebook pages.

Other hints for making the most out of social media:

  • Retweet and Like to connect with others.
  • Listen, engage, and communicate with a variety of stakeholders. This give-and-take helps others connect to your interests.
  • Ask questions and share ideas.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Spelling errors will happen. You will get better over time.
  • Connect outside your comfort zone—like, friend, and follow others back.
  • You don’t need to participate on every social media platform. From Kik to Instagram, there are more than 800 apps out there.

5. Take Pictures, Send Postcards

Road trips are a lot more fun when they are shared—no matter the duration or destination. Just like Twitter, start small. Using a variety of media makes your posts more interesting. Post pictures with your phone, publish, and share with others.

Your trip gives opportunities for others to learn. Participate in educational Twitter Chats (such as #iaedchat on Sunday nights at 8:00) to add more networking opportunities. Use a third-party tool like Tweetdeck or Instapaper to organize the flow of information coming from Twitter, or organize results using a tool like Twitter Curator or Storify. These tools can help you reflect on your teaching journey and let others learn from your travels. Social media allows real-time feedback that supports and challenges you in a learning environment. This support is crucial for teaching 21st century skills in today’s classroom.

6. Buckle Up and Enjoy the Ride

Teachers who are not connected via social media will not be in the driver's seat much longer. Simply put, students are living and breathing in the social media world.

Just like a road trip, buckle up, have some common sense, and you’ll avoid the biggest bumps. Your road trip map will help you stay on the right path and share appropriate content. Remember that what you post and link is public and can be shared. But in a world where daily data is measured in petabytes (125,000 smart phones that are 8 GB each), not posting is a bigger problem than dealing with the bumps of making a few mistakes. Avoiding social media is comparable to avoiding cars because “horses have always been good enough.”

An article written by a high school student recently summed up teachers using social media and technology: “Believe me, your students will appreciate it, even if not every attempt is successful.” Become familiar with the social media landscape and take a new route every once in a while.

The ideal social media road trip is an individual journey. What’s interesting to you is not always to those around you. This is YOUR trip—get what you need from it, and remember to share along the way.

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