Smart Sharing: Posting Student Media for Motivation and Marketing

In my very small hometown, our local newspaper celebrated student achievements, even small ones, by publishing lots and lots of photos. Nice older folks in my community would clip those photos and articles and mail them to the students with congratulatory notes. These days, we do the same thing with social media and “likes.” This year, I’ve created an Instagram account for my studio. Parents can easily share links to a post with grandparents and friends, and this makes it convenient for them to support the student.

I plan to use Instagram 1) as a way to celebrate small student successes by posting photos and short videos, 2) as an instructional tool, and 3) as a way to shape my “brand” as a teacher. Instagram is my tool of choice this year because it seems to be the best option of the social media formats popular with my students. Also, the 60-second limit on videos means that I won’t be tempted to spend too much time creating masterpieces. In fact, I can snap a picture or short clip with my phone and upload it within seconds, so it’s super easy. I’ll continue to use a private YouTube channel for things that need to stay private or longer videos.

The use of social media as a motivational and instructional tool is obvious, but you might not have considered how it can help advertise your studio. First, it gives you a means to demonstrate that you aren’t teaching your grandmother’s piano lessons. Pictures that include students playing off-the-bench activities or using an ipad show that you are innovative. Video clips that feature both classical and pop styles show that you are versatile. Clips of your cat and dog play-fighting next to the piano show that you are human. Secondly, a social media outlet such as Instagram allows you to make contact with others who might either enroll in lessons or refer you to others.

If you decide to use Instagram for your studio, I strongly suggest that you keep your studio account dedicated to studio stuff. Have a separate account for your personal posts.

Before you jump on the social media bandwagon, it’s wise to take some precautions to protect both your students and yourself.

1.  Obtain the parents’ permission on a media release form before posting your students photos or videos.

Schools now require parents to sign a media release form indicating that they do or do not consent to their a child’s photo or video being used in online media. This is required by the Family Educational Rights And Privacy Act (FERPA). Some states also have additional laws. As a small business, your best practice is to comply with any federal and state laws that the schools must obey. If parents don’t wish to grant permission, then don’t pressure them, and don’t post! Your media release form can also serve to protect you and should mention that no compensation will be given for the use of student photos or videos and that you are not liable for others’ illegal use of your photos or videos. Your best option for creating this form is to consult an attorney. If you don’t want to go that route, at least do some research online by searching for “sample media release form for minors.”

2.  Obtain the child’s permission before posting and promise to delete any posted material if the child changes his/her mind.

The digital rights of children is another evolving topic, and it touches on their rights to use digital media as well as their rights to consent and privacy. Never before has it been so easy for parents and piano teachers to upload photos and videos without the child even knowing, much less consenting. If I sense any hesitation from a student about sharing their picture or video, I won’t do it. Don’t post anything that you and the student are not willing for the whole universe to see. I hope it goes without saying that you should only post media that reflects positively on the student.

3.  Don’t include any identifying information.

Don’t use a child’s full name, and don’t link your posts to any of their social media accounts. I use pseudonyms only. Don’t provide any geographical information or tagging. Turn off the geotagging feature on your smart phone’s camera. Don’t allow background images to give away your location. I take more precautions about this than my daughter’s school does, and I point that out to my studio parents.

Adult Students

If you teach adults, it’s a good idea to create a media release form for them as well. Again, this is the right thing to do for the student, but it also protects you and your studio from potential liability.

If my precautions haven’t scared you off, I hope you’ll consider embracing social media in your studio this year. If you’re using it already, I’d love to hear how you’re incorporating it and how it’s working! Please feel free to comment!