In this mini-series, we share three different experiences in three different types of publishing: publishing with a large publishing house, self-publishing and social media publishing. This week, Fiona Wattam and Simone Braverman shared their experiences as educational content creators.
Whether you like it or not, social media seems to be inescapable. What used to be a distraction for personal time, is now a professional tool. This is particularly true in education. If you search #IELTS on TikTok, the combined view count is 1.2 billion. If you search #LearnEnglish on the platform, the view count is 4.2 billion. Yes, billion. This figure shows us the volume of educational content on social media is booming – along with the appetite for it. I spoke with two experienced teachers, Fiona Wattam (FW) and Simone Braverman (SB), who have each set up successful IELTS resources on social media. You can learn more about IELTS with Fiona here and Simone’s IELTS-blog here. These are their thoughts on creating educational content for social media.
What was your motivation to start creating educational content for social media?
FW: I started using social media in my physical classroom years ago, on the interactive whiteboard. It was a good icebreaker to show clips or diagrams of what I would be teaching my students. When I saw they really enjoyed what I was showing them, I decided I would start making my own.
SB: Everybody has a preference for how they like to source their information. It just made sense to make it as easy as possible for them to access IELTS information using their favourite social media channels.
What content is best suited for social media?
FW: I have found that it is a great way to show how real-life English works. Instead of reading an example of how a grammatical structure works, you can show a clip or a soundbite of how it is used in real life and give a quick explanation. When you have to work within the constraints of size and character limitations, it forces you to simplify concepts down to their bare bones. You can’t expect to post anything in depth. The content you put on social media should be the tip of the iceberg, the starting point where your students can then go to your course or book to learn more.
SB: Students’ attention span is shorter on social media because of all the other posts and messages competing for their attention. You have to play into this. What works best on social media is bite-sized content or micro-resources – things that are intended to be consumed quickly. For example, infographics, key words, short quizzes and videos, or quick tips. These all perform well.
Social media can be a complementary tool to your own website or teaching course. By putting a taste of your materials on social media, thanks to the smart algorithms, your potential students are more likely to find them. A sort of match-making system, the algorithms help to put resources right in front of people who expressed interest in similar content.
What are the advantages of making educational content for social media?
FW: The global reach you get on social media is incredible. Especially if you use multiple platforms to accommodate students in countries that have banned particular apps.
SB: Accessibility. Posting educational content on social media helps students access it more easily. It removes the friction caused by the perceived need to allocate uninterrupted time to study, which makes some students procrastinate. You can learn anytime, anywhere.
You can also create a relationship with your students. When you start posting materials online, you create an open channel for your students to contact you and ask follow up questions on a medium they are comfortable with. It will also improve your abilities as a teacher as you adapt and improve your content.
What are the disadvantages of making educational content for social media?
FW: There is a real illusion of simplicity on social media. Watching a series of ten second videos won’t help you pass the IELTS test. Sometimes I feel that social media can trivialise the hard work that needs to go into learning a language. It isn’t a cheat sheet.
Another issue I have with social media is how oversaturated it is. I think it is great that there are so many people that want to learn and teach. Unfortunately, a lot of the people giving advice are unqualified and the viewers are not always in a position to distinguish between what is good advice and bad advice.
SB: Preparing content for social media can be labour-intensive. You not only have to think about character limitations for each post but different platforms have different requirements for content presentation: dimensions of images, aspect ratios of videos, and text length all vary from one platform to another. For novices there is definitely a learning curve.
How do you measure success?
FW: I don’t believe in vanity metrics. It doesn’t really mean anything. What I look for is those consistent viewers that ask questions, leave comments, engage with the content because they are curious and looking to learn more. That is so much more valuable to me.
SB: Success is a happy student. I have the same target for my social media as I do for my programs, books, and courses. I don’t like to measure the numbers: likes, shares, saves. I don’t think it is a reasonable measure of success because there are so many reasons why people start and stop engaging.
As an IELTS specific page, for example, trying to retain your entire audience is unrealistic considering most people only take IELTS once. Yes, some people retake the exam and so that is one reason why they may stay on my page. But everyone continues to learn English. IELTS is not the end – it is really just the beginning of a new life in a foreign country. I still post content that helps new arrivals communicate in new situations like ordering food at a restaurant, going to see a doctor or buying new clothes. It is really useful and appreciated by students. If I can continue to help students beyond their original purpose, then I have succeeded.
Would you recommend creating educational content on social media?
FW: I would 100% recommend creating educational content for social media. There are a few cons you’ll figure out along the way but it is so valuable for students to see all different kinds of teachers and different styles of teaching. Be yourself because there is a space for every teacher. You will attract students that like your personality and your style of teaching because it works for them.
SB: I would definitely recommend other teachers use it. Be mindful of the extra time it takes to create content for different social platforms, and be prepared to receive feedback and criticism. But don’t be afraid to respond and commit because social media gets at times, well, incredibly social!
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Fiona Wattam and Simone Braverman for taking the time to share their insights for this blog post. You can learn more about Fiona here, and you can learn more about Simone here.