Technology, Marketing, and Influence: Why Education Needs to Keep Up With The Rest of The World.

Michael Cohen

Saturday evening after the Jewish Sabbath, I turned on my smartphone to a flurry of notifications. While the volume was a bit more than usual, it was the nature of the conversation that really caught me off guard. You see, for the past 5 years I have been heavily engaged in an online education community that might not always agree, but tends to trend on being positive, supportive, and constructive when engaging with other educators in the space. This weekend, however, was a sobering moment where I said to myself, “well, the honeymoon is over”, as I read educators publicly trashing other educators in the name of [insert noble cause here]. So what is the big deal with brand influence’s infiltration into the education world? Are brands and influencers of limits in education?

Let me tell you a story. In 2013 I created this:

This logo was the start of my journey, my brand, and the resulting influence and recognition associated with The Tech Rabbi. It was a blend of my 7 years of experience in industries associated with Design, Media, Marketing, and Communication. Did I start The Tech Rabbi to be famous? To be recognized as an influencer in the space? Did I do it for the blue check next to my Twitter handle? Can I say no? Will you believe me? Did the response, recognition, and engagement with my ideas, actions, and hard work supporting teachers and students give me something I don’t deserve? You see, my experiences before becoming an educator, (this is my 8th year so not quite a “veteran”) taught me a lot. It taught me to be creative and resourceful, but not at the expense of being a good person, an honest person, and a helpful and kind person. That is what makes people gravitate to you, learn from you, help you, and give you the space to create a powerful network and community. It also taught me a lot about how the internet and social media works.

The bottom line is that

the internet and social media have absolutely leveled the playing field and democratized who controls information, and who can share their ideas.

I will say it again but pretty:

The drive behind this article is to share my thoughts in 3 areas:

  1. What makes an Industry Influencer
  2. Why it is important that education supports teacher influencers like every other industry
  3. Why it is important that educators teach and support student’s ability to use the power of social media and the internet to make an impact

What this article is not focused on is a) current laws and rules in place preventing teachers from purchasing or receiving goods or services that they in turn bring into the classroom, b) the potential ethics violations of companies courting teachers, and c) an in-depth discussion of inequity in the Edtech space.

What makes an Industry Influencer

It is an absolute fallacy to say that someone can wake up one day, buy millions of followers, web traffic, and back links on Fiverr, and build a lucrative business long term. It is a joke to think that this will result in them being recognized as an influencer and have dozens of companies flocking to pay them or provide them with free services or product. Why? Two words: Social Proof. You do not succeed in social media by publishing garbage and low quality content, unless that is your industry. Since I enjoy being wrong, please share in the comments which “influencers” have proven these statements false. Since they are “influencers” and “public figures”, it is acceptable to involve them in the discussion due to their public and notable work.

If a company, institution, or enterprise hires someone based on Twitter followers, than shame on them. Especially in education, where we demand sources, evidence, and credibility, from our students. How then could education fall prey to a social media fraud? Where are the articles quoting them? Where is their Ted Talk? Where are the conference sessions featuring them? While someone might be able to fool the naive teenagers on Instagram by renting a mansion and sports car to perpetuate their entrepreneurship lifestyle, that is not real, and those thousands of likes mean nothing outside of the world of social validation.

True influencers work hard. They don’t have influencer and thought leader in their bio. Take Guy Kawasaki for example. He invented the term “Brand Ambassador” by spending the better part of the past 30 years creating the concept through his creative work with Apple, Google, Motorola, and now Canva. True influencers put in the time, put out the content, and genuinely desire to help in a way that brings value to their audience. While you might not agree with their ideas, you can’t take away the fact that there are people that consume their content and value it. Here are some resources to better understand how the rest of the world views Social Media Influencers and Brand Ambassadors:

Forbe’s view on Social Media Influencers

TheNextWeb’s thoughts on Influencers

Quartz shares some harsh realities in the Influencer space here

Can you do it short term? Absolutely, just take a look at Eduardo Martinez or the latest in bank fraud. At the end of the day short term wins don’t last, and the long term results are devastating. Is it possible for someone to fraudulently gain in their industry? Of course? Is this a rampant epidemic in the Education world that deserves serious discussion? Please.

The bottom line is that Education like all industries have their Social Media Influencers. While some of them might be out of touch with the classroom, or even using teaching, a generally modest profession to exploit it for financial gain, there are dozens of good, passionate, and genuine influencers in the space. And that is the great thing about Social Media and Influencers.

Those that succeed succeed, their supporters don’t care what you think, and if no one is bothered by you, then you aren’t doing much.

While you are free to spend your time criticizing Social Media influencer and Brand Ambassadors, I would recommend investing energy in using these strategies and platforms to share what you have to offer. If your ideas stick they stick, and no one can take that away from you.

Why it is important that education supports teacher influencers like every other industry

I don’t have time for double standards. If you are against Social Media influencers, brand ambassadors, or individuals accepting sponsorships (although I agree that they must publish and announce this information) then that is fine. Get off the internet and continue to do what you are great at by teaching students to love and succeed in their learning. If you value the notion of connecting students to the real world, giving them evergreen and actionable skills to succeed in life, then you need to stop segregating education and the rest of the world. Just like every industry today uses technology to achieve better results, every industry today uses influencer and ambassadorship to promote ideas, causes, or solutions. You can disagree, criticize, or virtually kick and scream, but this isn't going away, and it looks like it is here to stay in education as well.

So what are we doing to set standards and improve whats wrong in the influencer space? Most of it is on the companies that should ensure that all legal, moral, and ethical standards are in place. In education, it is on the teacher to ensure that just like any tool, method, or approach, it is something that directly supports and improves students academic success and love of learning. To say that it is wrong to “test” tools and strategies on our kids is absolutely moronic. That is why education is in the place that it is today. We have purged the educational process of risk, failure, and the unknown thereby putting our students at a life long disadvantage of dealing with the real world that involves all of the above. Should that be at the expense of academic success? Should that be at the expense of students learning to read or gaining foundational knowledge? Absolutely not, and I do not believe there is a single teacher that is genuine and caring who would think, say or do anything to harm students or their success. Your thoughts on their teaching practice and strategies is a different subject. So is it wrong that a teacher who has worked hard at creating and curating content and publishing it online should be approached by a company looking to see how their product like a 3D printer could enhance or add to their success? Really? Is it wrong for an inner city teacher with a near full class on free or reduced lunch to have the same opportunity? No. Because it isn't about the location, circumstance, or technology. It is about all educators knowing and understanding that if they are passionate, talented, and willing to put in the time, they can use social media to influence and leverage that influence to support the teaching profession, and their students chance at amazing learning experiences. If you think that 3D printers don’t belong in any classroom and question technology’s role in teaching and learning, let’s talk.

Why it is important that educators teach and support student’s ability to use the power of social media and the internet to make an impact

We talk a lot about #FakeNews and how the internet has given a very old industry ::cough:: Propaganda ::cough:: the space to generate misinformation and lies on a mass scale. What we aren't talking about or teaching is a new type of Media Literacy. One where we teach students how to deconstruct and contextualize the way that social media allows us to curate reality.

This video takes the cake in presenting the dynamics between social media and reality.

That is why beyond critical that we teach out students how to analyze and understand social media. In less than 3 minutes I can research and know for certain the level of influence and engagement someone truly has in their industry. Lets go for a walk.

  1. — A great free tool that analyzes twitter followers with pretty solid accuracy. Look me up on there. Not bad.

2. Effective Google Searching — If you google someone with 50K followers, they should have some sort of engagement off social platforms. This can come in the form of youtube videos, blog articles, or interviews that reference this person. If all you find on the front page is their own social media profiles then once again social proof reigns supreme.

Two simple steps to debunk the fake from the genuine. Now what about the positive? What about the unbelievable power of social media and the internet? That is where we need to focus our energy on our students. How can we help them discover the way in which the internet and social media can help them promote, or even monetize on their hobby, passion, or skills? Now what if they don’t have internet access at home? Then what? Rather than point out inequity, what are we doing to fix it? Can I fix it? Am I allowed to be part of a reality that hasn’t affected my family since they fled Russia in the early 1900’s with the shirts on their back? I hope so. Is my advice naive? Ignorant? Maybe, so I welcome a dialogue to better inform me so we can work together. How are we leveraging or creating libraries, public creation spaces, or co-ops? Think for a moment that is 2017 and war torn Syrians can somehow gain access to a smartphone and WiFi to share their story, but our inner cities can’t? I know it isn’t that simple, and I know I don’t have all the information, but for those that do, what are we doing to fix this?

With $5,019.32, on Amazon I could build a creative space that could support 5–10 people at a time with all the tools they need to create a podcast, vlog, or blog to share their gift with the world. Seems like a lot of money? Let’s crowdsource it right now.

5 lighting studios, 5 Macbooks, 5 microphones both shotgun and lavalier, 5 point and shoot 720p HD digital cameras, and tripods.

If you can develop the plans to make such a space a reality, I will donate $100 to the cause to help young minds to produce content. Then we will succeed in scaling innovation and attacking inequity in an actionable way. If you’re in a space where a $100 million makerspace was donated, keep on trucking. Once again,

So if we can face inequity head on by leveraging the internet and social media than lets do it.

These idea are meant to be food for thought so take them with a grain of salt. I am an educator, designer, a storyteller, and someone who wants to change the world. You can create reasons why my ideas are not valid. I will find people willing to work together to change the world for the better.

Michael Cohen

Written by

Cultivating Creative Practice in Education - Designer, Problem Solver, Storyteller, M.S.Ed, Apple Distinguished, Creator — The #EducatedByDesign Project

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