The Journal of Popular and American Culture

User menu

Advice for Educators from Students’ Social Media Use

I graduated from high school in 1997. There was no social media to speak of then; email was still something people checked sporadically, maybe once a week. Today’s new graduates, fall’s incoming first-year college students, live in a very different world. When you see students using their phones and you think they’re just playing, please keep the following ideas in mind: how and why they use social media might be very different than we assume; we can learn from the way they use social media and apply the lessons to our lives.

I research and teach about social media, which is ubiquitous today. Social media is so prevalent that since you started reading this essay, there’s a good chance you felt the urge to check your own feeds. The same principles that I teach in my classes, about how to smartly and effectively use social media, apply to students’ and professors’ offline life as well. Many students are already applying these principles to their online lives. We, the professoriate, can learn from their use. There are also negative aspects to social media, but we can all apply the best aspects of social media use to our IRL experiences—how we live each day:

  1. Be yourself.

  2. Share.

  3. Remember to pause for evaluation.

Here’s what I mean by the first principle, be yourself. Students use social media to express themselves. Many are proud of who they are, expressing authentic emotions and thoughts. A professional social media manager would understand to “be yourself” as knowing your voice and using it. Think about your values and espouse them to the world. Social media gives everyone the ability to meaningfully engage with other people. Just like students, professors can do this as well. The online arena can be a place to hone your persona. Use your real voice judiciously online and you can reap many benefits.

Another important part of using social media effectively is to share. Share a lot, but thoughtfully. Many students are not just posting to fill space or shouting because they can. The principle here is thinking beyond yourself and using social media to share your ideas. Online, the most successful social media personalities share what’s on their mind, what others said, and what they want other people to think about. You can share, too. Share links to articles relevant to your research and teaching topics. Share your opinion on pertinent issues. By sharing your educated thoughts, you can connect with an extremely diverse group, including your students who may not necessarily share in class. Offline, sharing means be open to talking to everyone and being nice when you do it. Students may need to be reminded to get out there and network, to work on building connections with new people.

Finally, professors can learn another very important lesson from students’ social media use: evaluate. Don’t forget to pause and evaluate your efforts so you can learn and adapt. Good social media managers will try to determine if the work they’ve done has been successful. They need to know if their work is helping to achieve goals like getting likes or gaining followers. You can do something similar: set goals for yourself, but don’t stop there! Take time to reflect on how you are doing: slow down, stop multi-tasking, and consider your life. Stop, think, and evaluate. Do the results justify the expense? I’m not talking about money; I’m talking about outcomes in general. Is the time and effort you’re putting into your goals worth it? Sit down and figure out if you are happy with your life, and if not, how to change it. If you are happy, take the attitude of gratitude. Be thankful. So, clear your mind. What truly matters to you? Is it your friends? Is it your family? Is it an intellectual pursuit? What outcomes are you striving for? Are you going about achieving them the best way? Think big picture and granular details. Evaluation of your life will help you savor your achievements. Students are continually doing this online; they realize which posts earn interactions and likes and publish more of those. By evaluating, you can discern what is working for you, and what isn’t, in all aspects of your life.

We can learn a lot from students’ social media use. By applying these social media tenets to your life, you can create meaning for yourself, your peers, and your community. Stay true to your core beliefs. Be generous with your possessions and ideas. Feed your audience. Be friendly and a good friend. Take time to contemplate your life. The more thought you put into your life, the happier you will be.

About the Author: 

Dr. Amanda S. McClain is an Associate Professor of Communications at Holy Family University, in Philadelphia, PA. McClain earned her doctorate in Mass Media and Communication from Temple University. She authored the books American Ideal: How American Idol Constructs Celebrity, Collective Identity, and American Discourses and Keeping Up the Kardashian Brand: Celebrity, Materialism, and Sexuality. Her new forthcoming book teaches readers how to use social media like the Kardashian-Jenner family. McClain’s research interests include social media, celebrity, television, and media representations of women. She has developed and taught a wide range of courses, online and face-to-face, including Mobile Media, Multi-Media Storytelling, Social Media Strategy, and Social Media Analytics.

Volume 4, Issue 1

Submit a response

Do you have something to say? Submit a response to one of the articles in this issue. Our editorial staff will be in touch soon.