To Sell Is Human


Reading time: 6
Amazon Associates

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
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In a climate of social media consumption, how can individuals profit from good use of their social channels?

Having blogged for over 10 years, I can now see thousands of educators ‘selling their wares’, from promoting blogs with plug-in advertising tools, or read this, follow and retweet, to simply sharing a book they have written or the details of a conference they will be speaking at. Although this is all under the umbrella of ‘sharing best practice’, what we are doing, is what Daniel H. Pink calls ‘selling ourselves’.

Teachers are selling …

In this post you will learn how to start making an additional income; enough to pay for your fuel each month.

Some teachers in the U.K. will find this uncomfortable reading, whilst other people’s ears will prick with interest and find Daniel H. Pink’s book, To Sell Is Human resonate with their social media use, even if they are unaware of their behaviours. A book which describes why and how “Parents are selling their kids on going to bed. Spouses sell their partners on mowing the lawn. We sell our bosses on giving us more money and more time off, and in astonishing numbers, we go online to sell ourselves on Facebook, Twitter and online dating profiles.”

I’d argue that teachers sell in the broadest sense: Listen to me, choose my subject or come along to my after-school club. Of course, this is defined as relationships and what we do as part of the job, but at the sharper end of the wedge, we could argue that performance-related pay, threshold applications and your next job interview is all about ‘selling your strengths’, even though money does not exchange hands, it’s about moving to a stronger position of influencing others.

What you may or may not have noticed, is that the hyperlink above and behind the book image contains a unique hyperlink identification which tracks back to my Amazon Associates account; where a blogger can create a link generated by Amazon to earn referral fees – from any product! If you open the link and study it very carefully, you will be able to see my referral tag ID. It’s all about understanding the code…

This is the opportunity social media tools now provide to everyone. Below I explain how I started sharing content and how I learned how to monetise in exchange for my time, passion and expertise. Oh, and the small issue of having hundreds of thousands of social media followers – this helps too – but with the day job, it comes at a cost.

How did it start?

The term ‘micro-celebrity’ was first coined in 2001. If you look hard enough, you will see many U.K. teachers promoting books, blogs, resources for sale; startup conferences on Eventbrite and promoting content on their YouTube channels.

There was a period of time, probably around late 2013 when I published my first book (be careful of that promotional hyperlink!) when my capacity to create and share content on @TeacherToolkit started to outweigh the physical time I had available. What also started to happen, was educational companies would ask me to share their products. I’d either negotiate a ‘freebie’ for my school in return for ‘tweeting or blogging’ about the software or product and all I would have to do, is share before, during and after ‘how our teaching staff had used the product’.

For me, sharing this content was in addition to the day job demands and was always completed after school hours. It felt great to save tens of thousands of pounds for the schools I worked for, but it gradually became a second job and an additional workload for me. Worse? When sitting around the leadership or governors’ table, it soon became a conflict of interest which only I was aware of and consciously had to start to manage. Over a period of time, I would ask myself: “Do I secure a freebie for the school and produce the additional work after hours or say “no to a discount” for the school in order to get my life back?” In return, I could focus on the day job and my family at home, keeping blogging as a hobby rather than as a duty.

Humans have been selling for centuries …

Although humans have been selling their wares since time began, I’ve argued for several years in the education community that the rise of the social media teacher is gradually learning how to sell. Over the pond, teachers have become millionaires from sharing resources on Teachers Pay Teachers, with many teachers becoming YouTube stars or global sensations thanks to the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize!

For those die-hard readers, you will recall a spat I had with the TES in 2013/14 that led to me to move my TES resources to TT instead. This decision lead to a meeting at TES HQ, discussing with the TES bosses how I was making a small income from blogging and no longer needed to use their platform. I may not have been the sole reason for the TES launching their resources for sale channel for U.K. teachers in July 2015, but I suspect I was one piston in the engine. (The full backstory is here if you are interested…)

Selling power that is three-fold, knowledge, positional and financial. That those with the most knowledge in their field can become very influential; those in positions of power e.g. a person with the ‘most followers’ or a headteacher can make all key decisions or people with financial gusto who can make things happen e.g. charitable donor.

Conscious free content

In early 2015, I started to say no to companies to avoid any future conflict of interest. My response? “Do you want me to purchase your product as a deputy headteacher for the school, or share your product as a teacher blogger?” If it was the former, it was a ‘no’ and if it were the latter, I started to ask the company to speak to me ‘outside of working hours’.

So a new chapter began … from making a clear separation from blogging and school leadership, I felt happier, conscious free and the blog started to make an income which supported my post-redundancy-period, cleared my debts and eventually paid for our first family holiday in 5 years. It was an accidental journey which I now understand how it evolved; this is something I will be writing about in my doctorate.

Over the past 3 years, the TT social media channels (post-2015) and this blog surpassed my capacity and now has a team of freelancers and bloggers to manage all the demands for content and exposure. I suspect a few other teacher bloggers and social media users will find this journey familiar. I can recognise many other U.K. teachers who do this online, but I won’t list them here.

In short, this website had outgrown me and I opened it up to other writers in 2017.

Amazon Associates

I started using Amazon Associates in October 2015 to share my books and the many other book copies that authors were sending to me to share on social media. The free copy of the book was offered in return for promotion and/or writing a 700-word blog post. This process would take several days of reading and writing in exchange for a book. I soon learned how to monetise the free copy and decide which books to promote (or not) versus my time commitments.

I then moved to Amazon links only, simply to share the book online in return for a copy. If you’re not familiar with Amazon Associates, it is one of the first online affiliate marketing programs, launched in 1996. Amazon users can make money by advertising products from Amazon.com by creating and using links that customers click-through to buy products. As a result, Associates can earn up to 10% in referral fees. It’s free and easy to use.

You can view my earning summary below and how the rates are calculated. In the last 12 months, I have generated:

  • Clicks = 25,425
  • Ordered Items = 921
  • Conversion rate = 3.62%

Amazon Associates

If you know me well, get in touch and I’ll share with you the figure that counts. You definitely need a loyal group of followers, a large audience and the time to share Amazon products regularly. I manage to share a book once or twice a month – and I believe I could treble the numbers if I shared two or three times a week. It’s just not a priority.

How to use it?

  1. The first thing you need to do is to sign up for an Amazon Associates account and read ‘Getting Started‘.
  2. After logging into your account, click on “Product Links”.
  3. Search for the item you want to link to and access the “Get Link” button.
  4. Click on “Shorten URL with amzn.to?” You can add a shortcode feature into your web browser.
  5. Copy the link and paste into a post on Facebook or Twitter.
  6. This will copy your unique identifier code into the URL. It’s that easy!
  7. Here’s an example of me sharing a book I am reading with an Amazon identifier URL – free will.
  8. Here’s a sponsored example of me sharing a book as part of my @TeacherToolkit work – the TT website gets paid, and I also earn from sharing the product using my Amazon URL. N.b the hashtag #ads is included for disclosure and transparency. Today, many companies like The Times and TES now declare articles with are ‘sponsored’. This is a relatively new phenomenon in the digital media landscape.
  9. There is also an Amazon Influencer Program which is relatively new. I’m not eligible, but all in good time …

When teachers lose their job in a high-accountability culture, or simply aren’t paid enough and still pay for resources out of their own pockets, I hope this small solution helps pay for the petrol as it did for me. Every little helps …

I’ve put off writing this blog for 3 years, simply because the dialogue in the U.K. is not yet comfortable with teachers making a secondary income. Just like a music teacher who once made a quick £50 from playing (a school concert tune) in a pub on a Friday night, teacher bloggers are now making a secondary income from blogging and sharing content. It’s a new landscape we need to get used to …


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