Student Blogs or Social Feed?

School websites have gone through a few evolutions since the World Wide Web was invented in the early 1990s. At first, web sites were static affairs which were generally updated by one person who would upload content from one computer to a server via FTP. Then Web 2.0 came along, which allowed multiple people to log on to a shared backend and update the web site in real time, and hence the start of the blogging phenomenon. Many schools had class blogs and some were updated regularly and others…well, let’s say, were updated less regularly. The birth of social media was a game changer where people could update what they were doing in the tap of a screen. While there are hundreds of schools updating their work on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, there are still quite a lot that are still using a blog based web site.

Hold on! What’s wrong with blogging? Isn’t this a blog?

There’s nothing at all wrong with blogging, and almost every guru on the Internet will tell you that every organisation should keep a blog. The blog, however, has evolved and is now best suited to longer articles (like this) or for sharing tips and ideas. One has to ask what good does a blog do for a school anymore?

Apart from the practicalities of space, content on a website can become a little tired looking especially if the website isn’t updated very regularly. While we can persevere with asking people to log on to the website and add photos and videos and news, it’s so much quicker now to use a social media platform like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to share what a school is doing – simply snap a picture and 2taps later, it’s online for everyone to see. Another reason for moving content off a website and on to a social network might be summed up with the phrase: “If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.” Most people don’t go on their phones and think – I must check what my kid’s school is doing; most likely, they go to Facebook or Instagram or Twitter and because of the algorithm these services use, it’s most likely they will see your news there.

A good school website will now have a lot of static information like policies, enrollment forms and constant information. However, it should also be able to embed the feed of whatever social network the school is using. So which one is best? Unfortunately there isn’t a straight answer to this question so I’ll stick to 3 – Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

For me, each of these platforms have separate aims. I find that Twitter is probably the least useful place to add school news. Twitter invites conversations and debates rather than likes and shares. While one can like and reshare (retweet) content on Twitter, it doesn’t really feel like the best fit when it shares the stage with debates on politics, news and celebrity gossip. That’s not to say it can’t. Twitter, to me, doesn’t really have that vibe. However, one thing in its favour is that it is really easy to embed your tweets into your website and this is why many schools do this. The only trouble is after a while it can become unwieldy to find what you’re looking for as Twitter is such a busy place.
Facebook is probably the most popular platform for schools to share their news. It’s definitely worth considering for a school. However, it can be tricky to embed your Facebook content onto a website and often requires an add-on like Smashballoon if you are using WordPress.

However, Facebook is brilliant for reaching most parents in 2022. This demographic are still most likely to be using the platform though this is starting to change. Facebook, in some ways, is becoming the platform of choice for older people. Having said that, nearly 3 billion people use it and not all of them are old! Facebook’s culture or vibe is wide ranging and is suitable for schools to share their news. It’s a great way to share news to the widest audience – the only danger is that Facebook has more potential than Instagram for online bullying. For example, there are a number of “reactions” one can give on Facebook and some passive aggressive people out there might get a kick out of hitting a “sad” reaction to stir up a bit of trouble. Comments can be problematic if not well managed but the same could be said for any social network. Another minor thing is that Facebook posts comes in different shapes and sizes and if you are embedding them into your site, it can make your posts look a little messy. Again services like Smashballoon will sort this out for you, but it’s just a minor thing to be aware of.

Instagram was bought by Facebook a few years ago for over €2 billion before it was a big thing. At the time everyone thought that Facebook were mad but they either got lucky or somebody knew exactly what they were doing. Facebook has also bought a few other companies, the other big one being WhatsApp, and all these services now fall under the umbrella of a company called Meta. As you can probably guess by now, I’m going to gush about Instagram!

To me Instagram ticks almost every box but the most important thing is its vibe or culture, which tends to verge on positivity. Sometimes it’s the small things such as the fact there is only the ability to “like” a post or that users cannot see how many likes a post gets (which can be a source of online bullying) and maybe it isn’t anything particularly big. For me, it’s in its simplicity – take a photo or two, maybe a short video, upload it with a short comment and you’re done! There are no further complications when it comes to posts. It’s easy enough to switch off comments if that’s something one wants to do but it’s not necessary. (Although, make sure to have a good AUP.) Another small thing with Instagram is that all posts are the same size and always a square shape. This makes it really nice for embedding pictures on your school website. You can do it with most popular website tools such as WixWeebly, or WordPress but it seems easy enough whatever website tool you use. Your website now shows your most recent number of Instagram posts and you can always be sure it looks the same way because of the size of the images. As long as you are updating your Instagram feed, your website never grows tired.

Some people might like to look back at older posts on Instagram. This isn’t any better than Facebook or Twitter to be honest but it’s very rare to be in a situation where you might be looking for a picture from several years ago. Having said that, when it comes to graduations, often schools will use older images so it might be worth taking that into account and having a place to store school photos. You could use something like Zapier or IFTTT to instantly save any posts uploaded into a Google Drive for access in the future.

All in all, for schools, I think Instagram is best for embedding posts in a website mainly because of the size of all posts being the same, but also because of those little things – the positive vibe of Instagram. There are other nice things about Instagram that you might learn along the way such as playing around with colour schemes and so on but, for now, the basics are good enough. Having said all of that, I’d put Facebook a close second in terms of social media. Thankfully because they run under the same company name, you can set your Instagram account to publish anything you post on both platforms at the same time, which is handy. You may wish to turn off comments on Facebook if you feel the need.

I hope the above is of some use. I had intended to simply send you a couple of lines but I ran away with myself!