February 27th, 2012

Should Professors Use Facebook to Communicate with Students?


Nearly 85% of faculty have a Facebook account, two-thirds are on LinkedIn, and 50% are on Twitter according to research from Faculty Focus. But, professors’ use of social media shows we are behind the relationship curve when it comes to connecting with students. Only 32% have friended undergrad students and about half (55%) connect with some students after graduation.

Some faculty may be hesitant to friend students on Facebook. To do so on an isolated basis can send the wrong signals, and I know some faculty prefer to keep a clear line between the role of teacher and student. So, why might instructors want to connect with current students on Facebook?

First, it’s where students are. With the help of the students in our upper level marketing courses, we recently surveyed over 500 students regarding their social media use. Over two-thirds (69.8%) are on Facebook every day. In case you’re wondering, 63% also have Twitter accounts and half (49.8%) check them daily. As teachers, our job is to communicate with students. Sure, we can communicate with them in other ways. But, if you want to speak to your audience in the way they prefer and in the way they communicate with each other, you’ll connect through social media. That’s what I do and I learn a lot from my students that way as they often post industry-related articles on Twitter or Facebook to my attention.

Second, anyone who studies marketing knows that social influence is a primary factor in consumer decision making. If you want to influence others in any meaningful way, you must provide value within their social circles. Granted, the kind of value faculty may offer students via social media is questionable. Even if we think we are cool, odds are pretty high we are not. But, students don’t expect us to be cool. They know we are their instructors, not their peers. That means their expectations are pretty low. That said, what makes a good friend is often just being there. If you’re not there and not aware of what’s going on in their lives, you will have a harder time relating to them.

Third, you can overcome sending the wrong signals to students by inviting all students in your classes to friend you on Facebook. They are smart enough to know they can do so and still screen who sees what on their posts. So, no need to worry that they will be afraid you’ll get too close to them. By the same token, you can designate students into specific friends lists that you can choose when you want to post to them or not. If you don’t know how, just ask a student.

I can see how instructors in large, survey courses with perhaps hundreds of students wouldn’t want to follow this advice. I wouldn’t either. But, most of us teaching in upper-level courses have students in a dedicated major with relatively high overlap with our interests. Faculty already on Facebook tend to post comments, articles, and highlights related to the discipline and that provides an instant connection with our students. This leads to the next reason to connect with students through social media.

Fourth, the number one best way I’ve found to keep track of our graduates is through our Facebook group page for our major. We can post job openings, graduate news (like congrats on new positions), and activities within the major all in one place. A huge plus is that current students can connect with grads from prior years in the Facebook group for networking purposes.

I’m sure you can still be an effective teacher without connecting with students on Facebook. I can also understand why some of my colleagues may not want to engage with students on social platforms. But, if you’re looking for a way to communicate with them the way they communicate, learn something about what’s going on in their lives, and to stay connected after they graduate, then inviting the class to join you on Facebook is a good start.

Kirk Wakefield, Edwin W. Streetman professor of retail marketing, Hankamer School of Business, Baylor University.

  • George Phillips

    "As teachers, our job is to communicate with students. Sure, we can communicate with them in other ways. But, if you want to speak to your audience in the way they prefer and in the way they communicate with each other, you’ll connect through social media."
    This article reminds me of a Faculty Focus article that featured this line from the 1990's grunge band, Nirvana:

    I feel stupid, and contagious / Here we are now, entertain us.

    I know I sound like a dinosaur, but I have to take issue with this. My job as a teacher is to educate students, and I use many different communications techniques to do that. I sometimes wish all I had to do was "communicate," but the difficult, sometimes frustrating task of educating is much more complex (and interesting). Oversimplifying the teacher's job does a disservice both to teachers and students. If the teacher's job is simply "to communicate with students," then what, pray tell is the students' job? To be "[spoken to] in the way they prefer"?

    I'm sorry, but it sounds like a race to the bottom.

  • Samra Bufkins

    I teach social media in all my strategic communications classes, but I do not use Facebook for any course-related interaction. For one thing, our university has expressed concerns that FERPA violations could occur when using systems outside the university system. Most important, I use my Facebook account for my personal, social interactions. I do not send friend requests to current or former students, but always accept their friend requests. I agree with Sanford, Google + might be the way to go, but I haven't required it this semester.

    I require Twitter in all my classes and this has become an excellent tool for sharing articles and discussing news issues in real time outside of class. I also send out grammar tips when I'm grading and answer general student questions about assignments or course material. I've even canceled class via Twitter. Students are required to participate in several tweetchats in order to network with professionals in the fields of PR and advertising, but I do not require Facebook in any of my classes. I'm not planning on changing that, either.

  • belledelettres

    I believe that being a teacher does not protect you from cyberbullying on facebook by students. I have not had personal experience of this but what I have heard sounds ghastly. I sometimes use wikispaces with my students and I do email them. It is easier to change your email address than your facebook identity.

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  • FalconSlingshot

    I have a friend who uses Facebook for all her classes – each class she teaches has its own Facebook page which the students 'friend' or 'like'. The students can post relevant items and see posts from the instructor and others in their class. She 'cleans' the class page after the term ends.

  • Social media does imply a social aspect to communications. I wonder, myself, whether effective instructional use of social media might differ in some significant ways from marketing uses. Teaching a course is not the same as marketing a product, in other words. And some functions of academia should not be subject to popularity contest kind of ratings. On the other hand, everyone in the working world these days does need to address the social media phenomenon thoughtfully.

  • otto

    I don't want to be in the position of "friending" my students. I am not their friend; I am a professional educator. Most of us have a school-provided communication medium such as Blackboard or TWEN with which we can post information accessible to all members of the class, and can maintain a discussion forum where they can post questions and receive feedback. Students should be encouraged to use this method of communication and save the social media for sociability.

  • tarkussuganda

    I could not agree more. As a professor in the developing country, I found that it is difficult for our students to speak up in the class whatever we hard to encourage them to do so. When I use social media (we create group of each class subject in facebook) they are involved in the discussion very well. I also used survey monkey or a pop up test using a face book. Seem to me they are enjoying the class subject more. I am not affraid of being too close with them because I become more familiar with them and their daily problems. They know how to use facebook properly, at least when they communicate with me and with group members. Of course, using social media I can trace them easily after they pass my class, or even after their graduation.

  • Dale

    I agree. I encourage students to connect with me on both FaceBook and LinkedIn. While it is true that we sometimes see the more human-side of ourselves that is outside the professional persona, it is becoming increasingly harder to keep those faces completely distinct in this day and age anyway. Best to err on the side of caution in general with communications and stay thoughtful and professional – whether it is in email, on the phone, over skype, or in a more public venue. I find the benefits outweigh the risks. Besides, I learned a long time ago, if you want something to be really private, meet someone over coffee – everything else is out there in the binary universe somewhere.

    I think that often faculty do not want to connect because of the difficulty is presents in setting appropriate boundaries. To me, that presents me an opportunity to demonstrate that what happens in the classroom and what happen happens outside the classroom are different roles. It allows me an opportunity to show how I can be kind to and interested in a student's personal challenges, even if they have failed my course. The two are separate things.

    If education is indeed to be life long, then developing strong relationships with students is important. Connecting through social media is a way I can accomplish that without having to go hang out with them at the bar. That, the Dean would probably frown upon.

  • Reshma

    As a part of management to communicate with 800 students I do use face book and at times find it very easy to convey my message. A page of the college has been created and the societies working in the college paste on their announcements, rules and regulations and all. We can also get to know about the different activities students are involved in and at times their some conversations/postings identify some college related issues, that you might not come to know about otherwise.

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  • Elita

    I teach an introductory course to 300+ students and have a course specific Facebook page for my students. It’s been working really well-we made a series of Jing videos showing the students how to adjust their privacy settings to their own comfort level. But I would have to say that the single biggest contributing factor to its success is my teaching assistant who monitors it regularly and encourages students to post. She’s also modeled what type of posts are appropriate, etc

  • muhammad koesmawan

    my name is Koesmawan, professor of management in Achmad Dahlan School of Economics. I am the opinion that facebook is rather something what I want ti say and what I don't want to say. The enjoy if FB whean someone react to comment my status with full of Joy.

  • Hello Kirk:

    I appreciate the timeliness of this article and I have to admit that I was immediately concerned when I first began reading it.

    What was of great concern and something I would take issue with is the following from your article:
    Third, you can overcome sending the wrong signals to students by inviting all students in your classes to friend you on Facebook. They are smart enough to know they can do so and still screen who sees what on their posts. So, no need to worry that they will be afraid you’ll get too close to them.

    Are you certain that students will properly screen their information?

    It’s not a matter of sending the wrong signals – it’s about maintaining professional boundaries. Facebook contains too much personal information about instructors and students. I live in Missouri and there has been an attempt to pass a law banning students and instructors from connecting on Facebook.

    What possible benefit would Facebook serve? Why would you want students to know about your personal life?

    I utilize Twitter to connect with students (and educators) because I can maintain professional boundaries. Probably one of the most professional social networking websites available is LinkedIn. The profile you create is professional in nature and there are professional groups to join that promote professional networking.

    As someone else has commented, we are not students’ friend, we are their educator.

    Dr. J

  • Kate

    Absolutely not! I am a student and do not have Facebook. I removed it around a year ago after seeing just how superficial and narcissistic people can be when on that network. I do not wish to be bullied into having a profile and for my days at university to revolve around communication via facebook. Students have email for a reason – use it! Otherwise ask questions face to face as you should already be doing. Facebook is not a private network and has many faults – therefore I choose not to be apart of it. It has no place within a university context.

  • If any one is using social media to connect with their students, would you mind filling out this survey? http://goo.gl/LOv3G

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