My niece Nina, a high school senior, recently showed me her new website and YouTube channel offering tips about makeup. Her homepage alone boasts more than 50 photos of creative ways to apply eyeshadow!

When I discovered this was all part of her AP English Literature assignment, however, I began to ask more questions.

Nina’s teacher had explained to the class how his cousin had been laid off and couldn’t find employment for over a year. The cousin eventually took to the web and began to brand himself on social media. His efforts finally paid off when an employer reached out and offered him a good job. This inspired Nina’s teacher to prepare his students for the competition of the 21st century work world and to teach them how to market themselves on the internet.

All of which made me think: Should children of any age be promoting themselves on the world wide web? Although my initial response was no, I wanted more details and to know what Nina herself thought about its benefits.

The Student Online Branding and Social Media Marketing Project

This project-based assignment requires students to choose one aspect about themselves they wish to brand. The emphasis doesn’t have to be academic or a serious life goal; it can merely be a personal interest, talent, or hobby the student wishes to actively promote on the web. Popular subjects in Nina’s class include comedy sketches, cooking, music, pets, fashion, sports, art, social justice and the environment. The objective is for students to gain experience with making themselves appealing so that future employers and contacts come to them.

Students must create a website and YouTube channel for their brand, as well as use four types of social media (Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Snapchat, SoundCloud, etc.) to promote it. During this ongoing assignment, students are required to upload two new videos per month, to show growth in followers and views and to do monthly class presentations using Google Slides explaining the techniques they’ve used to expand their brand and to engage with the online community they represent.

(A similar student branding project could be justified through the Media Literacy Education & The Common Core State Standards: Expanding the Concept of Literacy; Empowering Students as Critical Thinkers through Media Production and Analysis.)

Lessons Learned

Even though this project is a large time commitment, Nina enjoys updating her social media platforms and interacting with her global audience. She often goes well beyond what is required because the subject she has chosen is intrinsically motivating to her and because she doesn’t want to disappoint her followers. In fact, Nina wishes she began this project as a freshman because she sees how the experience can be applied to her future chosen profession, most likely in finance.

When asked what advice she would give to students beginning a similar self-marketing project, Nina recommends personally reaching out to people you admire in your online community, as opposed to waiting around for others to find you. She sagely states that quality is always better than quantity and advises students to be genuine, not phony or halfhearted.

For my part, I suggested she explore Twitter chats and to perhaps create a chat of her own. To show off and refine her literary skills, I also recommended that she start her own blog.

Assessing Advantages

I know sincere self-promotion works in the adult world because the reason I am now a KQED In the Classroom blogger is due to the articles I have written and shared online. Although I have only been on social media for two years, I have been offered several professional opportunities, garnered many accolades and formed supportive friendships with colleagues from all over the globe — all directly stemming from my online presence.

When one diligently shares their passion, wisdom and experience in an online forum where others in your field gather and connect, tangible and emotional benefits follow.

Yet I come back to my original question: Is it right for us to encourage children to market themselves online?

Nina certainly thinks so, and she even asked me, “Uncle Robbie, don’t you wish you had begun your social media platforms way earlier?”

I do, and I know it would’ve been much easier to promote my first two books if I had the online following and recognition I have now.

In cyberspace, I have defined my professional brand. I write about meeting the needs of the whole child and how teachers and parents must be allies in education. In fact, my friend Rita Platt, who I met on social media, wrote a compelling article on why teachers themselves should define their own brand.

Balancing Branding With Benefit

When creating their own social media student project, I strongly suggest that teachers avoid these possibly pejorative terms: branding, marketing and promoting. Students can still gain valuable experience with those very real aspects of the work world while using words that instead emphasize contribution over consumption.

Encourage your students to share a part of themselves with the world that brings them joy. Embolden students to define what is important to them, to learn more about it and to interact with others of like minds. Ask students to pay homage to works and people who inspire them, so they can in turn inspire others. With children, make the measure of success less about followers and likes and more about message and meaning.

Before launching straight onto the web, students can first present their passions to the class. The Super-Ordinary Hero Project is an assignment that serves this purpose. By beginning small, by having the opportunity to view other projects that balance altruism with ambition, and by gaining formative feedback from classmates, teachers, and parents, our students will be better prepared to create online content worthy of deeper exploration and exposure.

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The Student Online Branding and Social Media Marketing Project 5 February,2018Robert Ward

  • Rita Platt

    This is one of the best real-world assignments I’ve ever seen. I am so impressed with Nina. That young lady is talented and her teachers are helping her develop business skills that will be truly useful.

  • Mark

    Hi Robert,
    Any chance you can give me the contact details of the teacher who has created this? I run a program in Alberta, Canada called Building Futures. Our students build houses, run small businesses and learn to give back to their community. We are doing a very similar project in english called POP (Positive Online Presence) and I would love to connect with them. Similar idea and we have added that students need to get feedback from adults on how to make online connections and networking skills (the adults on teachers from SUNY in New York. Looking forward to hearing back from you.

    • Robert Ward

      Mark, your program sounds fantastic, and I love what POP stands for. Please email me at misterward@sbcglobal.net, and I will see if I can connect you with Nina’s class.

Author

Robert Ward

Robert Ward is currently enjoying his 25th year teaching English to a wide diversity of students at public middle schools in Los Angeles. As the author of books for educators and parents, Robert embraces a whole-child approach that attends to each student’s social, emotional, soulful, and academic needs. Robert’s fourth book, Talented Teachers, Empowered Parents, Successful Students!, provides classroom strategies for including all families as allies in education. In addition to his award-winning Rewarding Education blog, Robert’s articles are regularly featured in Edutopia, Education Week, ASCD, NCTE, the U.S. Department of Education’s “The Teacher’s Edition” newsletter, and the International Literacy Association. Robert can be followed on Twitter @RewardingEdu and reached at misterward@sbcglobal.net.

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