Networking is no longer just a good idea. For a modern job-seeker, networking is an essential long-term investment. For an online ESL teacher, making business connections can make the difference between unemployment, and being able to collaborate with experts on content while building an audience of eager students.
Creating professional relationships becomes even more difficult in specialized ESL fields, such as Business English teaching. Contacts do not always appear organically. Therefore, it is necessary to seek out those connections in the industry in a vigorous way. Active networking through social media may open up a world of ample opportunity for any teaching professional.
ESL Teacher Discussion Groups
Maintaining personal contacts in the industry is a vital aspect of networking. However, when you teach online and not at a school, building relationships with colleagues may be difficult. Online discussion groups provide an excellent opportunity to connect with other individuals in the field. Joining a discussion group related to teaching ESL presents a chance to interact and collaborate with teachers of the same specialty.
Many discussion groups operate through an online forum or email. The discussion is often based on contemplating issues, sharing of tools, professional advice, and job resources. Engaging in conversation, as well as providing solutions, builds a relationship not only with the members themselves but with their own network.
A few places to find discussion groups are Yahoo! Groups for a variety of forums, or edWeb.net and Teachers.net for teacher-specific groups.
Search for groups discussing topics that interest you. Consider lurking for a while and read the archives and FAQ to see how the group operates. A good group should have a defined set of rules regarding participation. Wired Advisor CEO Stephanie Sammons writes in Social Media Examiner that a good group should have a moderator who leads discussions when necessary and mediates posts to keep the forum relevant and free of spam.
A guide to Online Discussion Group Etiquette advises taking your time on the first message, while avoiding providing an extended biography as an introduction. Generally, it is helpful to remember the general Dos and Don'ts when participating in online discussion:
- Do use a signature in your messages for identification purposes, with insight into who you are. In email discussion groups, attach a sig file with your name, your affiliation, and a personal message at the end of every message.
- Don’t use ALL CAPS when posting messages. Using all caps online is often equivalent to shouting, which is not appropriate in a professional setting.
- Do follow grammar rules when writing and editing your posts. Showcase your knowledge and insights in an eloquent way. The content of your messages create your branding and establish your professionalism. Avoid sarcasm.
- Don’t be demanding or pushy in your early messages. Allow your network to build in a gradual way.
- At the same time, Do ask for help from the group.
- Do be respectful and tolerant of others’ ideas and opinions. At the same time, do not get discouraged if the members disagree with your post.
- Don’t be a passive user; help other group members when possible. Networking should be a long-term, mutually beneficial pursuit.
Most importantly, remain polite and professional. Get involved. Think about your goals and how to display an approachable and professional image. As you build networking relationships through discussion, opportunities will present themselves.
LinkedIn Career Connections
If you don’t know already, LinkedIn is great for building your professional network. In 2017, LinkedIn announced it had reached 500 million members, making it one of the most popular social networks for professionals, as well as one of the top social platforms overall. But is your profile allowing you to use LinkedIn to its fullest potential?
Consider these often overlooked aspects when building a LinkedIn profile, which can make a big factor in increasing your networking success:
- Customize your public profile URL. Instead of keeping the random set of numbers in your URL, make it clean and professional by customizing your link to your name or company.
- Add a background image that shows your personality, while being professional.
- Do not forget to spend the time to list your specialized skills on your profile, and seek out contacts who will endorse those skills.
- Take advantage of the link feature to enhance your profile. Add links to your work under each job description. You may also upload files of your previous projects.
- Invite lots of people to connect. What many people don’t know, is that you can sync your email and phone contacts to see who is on LinkedIn, by viewing your connections and clicking on "Manage your synced and imported contacts.”
LinkedIn also offers impressive discussion groups, some of which are tailored to your existing profile. Utilize the connections you make in discussion groups, and strengthen them through a direct message feature on LinkedIn.
Social media specialist Kristen Curtiss writes in Business2Community.com that you absolutely should reach out to another group member when appropriate:
“Once you’ve been interacting with someone in your group, and you’ve built up some familiarity, send them an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. Make sure to let them know why you want to connect and remind them of your interaction in the group.”
Facebook - It's Not Only Personal
When it comes to Facebook, it is crucial to keep your business contacts separate from close friends. The last thing you want is for your old high school friends and your cheeky cousins to get involved in heated conversations with valuable business contacts. Also, you don’t want to bore your friends and family with constant work posts. The safest approach is to create two accounts, one for work and one for fun.
Your professional Facebook may be set as a separate profile, or you may create a business page which is tied to your main profile. Either way, the right content and presentation of the profile may lead to significant networking prospects.
Tailoring Facebook Content for Business
As social networks have become more popular, audience expectations have grown as well. Status updates are no longer keeping the audience’s attention, as it expects engaging content from a professional page. Creating such content not only promotes your brand as a teacher but provides an opportunity to reach other professionals in the industry.
In 2014, writer Darren Barefoot reported at Hootsuite on a study that determined the kind of content that received the highest level of engagement from Facebook users. His research involved an analysis of fifty posts from twenty professional organizations, with a sample size of 1,000 Facebook posts.
Overall, the best performing posts were images, particularly the ones with overlaid text. Posting photos on Facebook gains more attention from people, as pictures are easier to digest than text. Not only should you share high-quality images, but you must also post content that feels relatable to your target audience, specifically other ESL teachers and members of the teaching industry.
Social media expert Patricia Redsicker from Social Media Examiner gives her advice:
“If you haven’t done so already, start to increase the number of high-quality images that you post on your Facebook page. And of course, don’t forget to include relevant links with your images, to ensure that you’re sending all that traffic back to your website.”
From her previous studies, Redsicker notes that photos bump social media shares by 35%.
Sharing links to relevant articles and ideas, along with contributing useful material to ESL teachers’ Facebook groups, further endorses your skills and experience in your field. Other professionals active on social media may see the value of your content or relate to what you say, and start a conversation which may lead to a valuable connection.
Retweet for Networking on Twitter
Once you create a Twitter handle that is either related to your industry, or something straightforward and appropriate, like your name, find people to follow. Begin with one of your well-connected contacts, and then follow his or her followers. Build as large of a Twitter network as you can – no-one minds being followed on Twitter, and you can always later remove the users who post spam or unrelated content.
The easiest way to get involved in conversations is to share someone’s tweet, perhaps adding a short comment: “Great post” or “Really interesting!”
As for the tweets on your profile, it is essential to understand who would want to see, like, or share what you post in those 140 characters. Just like on any other professional social media page, it’s vital to relate to the audience you want to reach. Thus, your content should reflect the specific interests of those individuals, and give them value that they would want to share with others.
Social media expert Laura Roeder weighs in on this idea:
“[People share links on social media] so they can deliver valuable and entertaining information to other people. When people share content, they do it so that they can improve the lives of other people — whether in a practical way, like providing useful information, or by other means, like making them laugh. 94% of people carefully think about how the information they share might be useful to a person reading it before they pass it along.”
To connect with other teachers, start by asking your followers direct questions, and don’t forget to follow up with the conversations. Try providing useful ESL tips on your feed, or post that newest study on best teaching strategies. Don’t be afraid to share funny quotes with your followers, too. Your Twitter is a great place to show off your personality and approachability in a professional setting.
For direct teaching-specific conversation, check out EdChat, which began with an ordinary Twitter exchange between educators. Now, those tweets have expanded to PBworks, a platform that encourages ideas from Twitter discussion and translates them into practical advice. To get involved in EdChat on Twitter, search for the hashtag #edchat and join in the discussion.
In the age of the internet, networking has become a readily available asset. With the right approach and presentation, you can appeal to well-connected people all over the world. Online, you have the control over your image - remember that at every step, and use it to your advantage.
Flaunt your knowledge and passion, and show ESL professionals all over the world that they would be lucky to connect with someone like you. You never know the results of a single encounter. Take every chance, with your best foot forward.
While you are thinking about remodeling your social media accounts, check out YourAgora, a free collaborative teaching platform made especially for ESL teachers. Give yourself the tools to be the best online teacher you can be!