Why online clout is a tweet thing

20th June 2014 at 01:00
TESS finds the most influential education bodies on Twitter

The most influential person in Scottish education on Twitter is the man in charge - but a grass-roots collective of teachers has the most followers, TESS can reveal.

The magazine's analysis of key education organisations on the microblogging site found that education secretary Michael Russell exerted the greatest influence. His "Klout score" - a way of measuring impact according to the quantity and quality of a person's engagement with their followers - was 80, with the next-highest score belonging to Skills Development Scotland, with 60.

Mr Russell owes his Twitter success in part to the photographs he shares on the site. Under the Twitter name @Feorlean, the MSP regularly shows off images of his scenic Argyll and Bute constituency.

But Pedagoo, an online community started in 2011 by a group of teachers in Scotland, has 15,296 followers - some 5,200 more than Mr Russell on 10,103. The only other entrant in our list that can boast a five-figure number of followers is Education Scotland (@EducationScot) with 10,446.

TES Scotland (@TESScotland) has more than 6,400 followers, while TES in England (@tes) has 94,000.

Pedagoo (@Pedagoo) was set up as a way of getting Scottish teachers to share ideas and now attracts followers from outside the country. Perhaps its most striking success has been the #PedagooFriday project, where teachers end the week by tweeting their classroom highlight from the past seven days.

Co-founder Fearghal Kelly (@fkelly), an East Lothian biology teacher, said: "It has exploded to become a weekly flood of great ideas and positivity which simply wasn't possible before the dawn of Twitter. It is strange to say it out loud, but I've had numerous fantastic professional conversations through Twitter with colleagues I've yet to meet."

One of the most prolific tweeters in Scottish education is Robert Macmillan (@robfmac), a principal teacher of social studies and citizenship in Fife and vice-president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association. He believes that other bodies can learn from Pedagoo's online success.

"Twitter is to me something that they must embrace," he said. "If people are spending increasing amounts of their time online, it is into this space that organisations have to move. Failing to do so may mean failing to maintain relevance."

Mr Macmillan acknowledged that it was important to maintain vigilance around "destructive and harmful behaviours" such as cyberbullying. He also warned that teachers could accidentally find themselves contravening codes of conduct by posting ill-advised pictures or comments. But he urged managers not to overreact.

"I'm a Twitter optimist," he said. "The opportunities for help, support and learning that it gives far outweigh any disadvantages. If anything, the problem that people face is one of curating the best and most relevant links, blogs and articles. Twitter links to an almost limitless online library."

Ben Marder, a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh's business school who specialises in social media and marketing, warned that organisations with a low online profile risked being regarded with suspicion. "[Nowadays] people don't trust you unless you're on Twitter and Facebook," he said.

Mr Marder added that if an organisation's work was fairly unexciting it might find it enough to "just be there" online and provide a few updates, but it could also look bad if the body made no effort to interact with the public.

He added that when Twitter took off, everyone "jumped on the bandwagon" and there was "a land grab in trying to get loads of followers". Now there was a greater awareness that it was important to share interesting content, he said.

Another regular tweeter, Glasgow education director Maureen McKenna (@maureen0207), had some more words of advice. "You do have to be careful, and I think before I tweet, but I find it has been a great way to celebrate the achievements of the city and lets people get a wee insight into some of the things I do in a day," she said.

The city council was encouraging schools to promote themselves through social media, and a small number had teams of pupils responsible for tweeting. "This does carry risks but I think senior pupils can cope with this responsibility, and what a terrific learning experience for them too," Ms McKenna said.

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