Tomorrow marks six months since I started my professional “teachergram” account (@adamhilledu). I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss Instagram as a platform for teachers because, to be honest, I have mixed feelings about it. Of course, these are just my observations. I don’t speak for all teachers.
Let me start with this: I’m happy to have a professional Instagram account. I do find value in the platform and I have been an active user every single day since I started the account. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. I don’t want to sound negative because my experience is largely positive. I really like Instagram… but I don’t love it.
I have long advocated for Twitter as a professional hub for teachers, and so I can’t help but compare the two platforms. One of the reasons that I avoided Instagram for so many years is that I already had Twitter. I didn’t feel like I needed two platforms. There’s still some truth to that. However, there’s surprisingly little crossover between them. There’s room for both in my life because they offer value in different ways. Also, the connections are mostly different. This new platform allows me to connect with new teachers, which I’m always happy to do.
Speaking of connections, this is Instagram’s biggest strength in my experience. In just six months, I have some surprisingly strong relationships. Perhaps it’s the algorithm that successfully connects me with like-minded educators, or maybe it’s the fun features that promote interactivity and conversations. I’m not entirely sure. Whatever it is, I appreciate it. I have some issues with Instagram but, for relationships, it absolutely delivers.
With any social media platform, the strength of connections is far more important than the number of connections. Having said that, it’s worth mentioning that growing a large network on Instagram is far quicker and easier than on Twitter. It should not be about shallow numbers, but this might be an important consideration for consultants, authors and anyone else who sells products and services. It is, by far, the most superior platform for marketing, engagement and self-promotion (not just in education). This is a double-edged sword, though. More on this later!
As mentioned, Instagram offers a wide range of features. I haven’t even tapped into the newer ones yet! It’s a highly creative platform that allows teachers to express themselves in different ways. For example, stories, IGTV, highlights, live videos and reels (to name just a few). Instagram is fun and bursting with personality. Even my standard feed posts are valuable to me. The carousels (multiple images that users swipe through) allow for many creative possibilities and the captions can be long enough for detailed explanations and reflections. Many teachers use these lengthy captions almost like a blog. There’s great value in that.
Let’s talk about marketing again. To be clear, I have no issue with self-promotion. Actually, I believe that it’s increasingly necessary nowadays, especially for content creators. It’s important to learn how to self-promote in ethical, responsible and appropriate ways. Instagram is actually perfect for this because of the strong relationships and high engagement rate. But, in my opinion, there’s far too in-your-face promoting on Instagram, especially monetised posts through brand partnerships. As a general principle, I’m not entirely against these, but they have to be handled carefully. Too much sponsored content chips away at credibility. Rightly or wrongly, I sometimes question people’s motives and the authenticity of relationships. Maybe that’s just me, but I worry about fakery on Instagram far, far more than I ever have done on Twitter.
Now comes my main issue with Instagram. It is, by far, the biggest reason why I can’t advocate for it as strongly as I do for Twitter. Although the context is different, I’m reminded of a phrase that I read in Kids Deserve It!, by Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney. Instagram really needs “more meat and less glitter”.
Instagram is a highly visual platform and this brings many benefits, such as the marketing value that has already been mentioned. However, the drawback is that too much emphasis is placed on content that is… here comes the worst word in education… cute. Useful content is too often secondary to this. I don’t blame teachers (I’m including myself in this). It’s just the nature of the platform. But I find myself having to choose between posts that will add value and posts that will perform well in terms of engagement. On Instagram, glitter far outperforms meat, and so the best way to sell meat is to invest time and effort covering it in glitter. Is this metaphor still working?
The bottom line is that Twitter – which might seem boring and slow in comparison – has a much more positive impact on my teaching practice. Every time I scroll through Twitter, I learn something new or stretch my thinking in some way. I can’t honestly say the same about Instagram. The meat often gets drowned out by the glitter. It’s more important than ever to connect and engage with the right people so that the algorithm can help to bring the most valuable “meaty” content to the forefront.
So, is Instagram a good platform for teachers? Actually yes, despite my criticisms. Like I said, I do really like it. There’s a place for it because the positives outweigh the negatives. I’ve embraced it for what it is and I’m enjoying the benefits, namely relationships, creativity and reflection. These things are hugely important, after all.
I’d love to hear about your experiences. Drop a comment below and feel free to disagree with me on any of these points. These are just my observations as someone who is relatively new to it. What tips do you have for leveraging Instagram as teachers? Let me know!