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With currently over 130 million active users, mostly aged 18 to 23, Instagram is the one social media platform educational institutions can no longer ignore. But small colleges and community colleges with already limited social media resources wonder if it is worth their time. So, should your college also be on Instagram?

As with any social media platform, before taking the Instagram leap, you need to determine whether or not it is right for your school. Is your target audience using this tool? If your students are older or mostly returning students, it’s likely you don’t have to worry as much about it. Also, as with any platform, you will also need to determine whether or not Instagram fits your social media marketing strategy: what are your goals? How will you manage your account? How will you gauge your success on there?

Still, even if you’ve replied “no” to all these questions, Instagram may still be right for you if you answer “yes” to the following: Is your school struggling to find relevant visuals? If so, Instagram may well be the solution. Indeed, Instagram is great to:

  • Find unique visuals of your campus in real-time. Real-time is really the keyword here. After all, this is where Instagram got its name (“Insta” for instant). The platform is great to get a multi-focal perspective on any given event organized –or not-by your college. Using hashtags, you can see what is being shared instantly.
  • Find and curate student-generated content that you will be able to share later on. Commenting and Liking student-generated content, but also sharing it, is a great way to show new angles of your content without putting in the effort. If your students are using Instagram, and since it does not leave any room for staging, you will get more authentic shots that will amount to 3rd-party endorsement, an important component of student marketing.
  • Experiment with your college’s branding without much consequence. Instagram allows you to show what makes your school peculiar, even if it is not consistent with the general branding effort. In that sense, it is the perfect place to play around with what makes your college unique for your students. For example, University of Michigan shares its fairy doors. That’s not what it is famous for, but a great way to show the singularity of your campus.  It is the perfect spot to try new colors, new patterns, new angles that would be harder to do on the more popular and more “mainstream” Facebook and YouTube accounts.
  • Use as a curator: Instagram allows you to pick through all kind of visual content. Once you have decided the type of content you wish to share on your account, you are free to share content aligned with it. Follow hashtags or create your own and find content that you identify with your brand or find interesting. Remember to ask for permission first before reposting, as legally; the rights belong to the “photographer” (in that case, people who took the pic).

Fairy Doors

To leverage the hashtag feature on Instagram, create hashtags around your college’s brand and promote it throughout campus campus. Include it in your Instagram description, have it printed on cards and hand them out on campus and use it on Twitter. Have various students pose with a card of the hashtag and use it as your Instagram avatar and share on all your accounts to make it even more visible.

A few examples of what some colleges do on Instagram

Here are a few uses to inspire you

          1. Simply enhance your presence

Some schools simply know they need Instagram because their students are there. They love to have another, fun, easy way to get interactions with their students. It also allows them to keep a close eye on what is happening on campus. They follow their students’ favorite hashtags and see what is being said about them.

Example: CTC only uses its account to reinforce its branding and student recruitment. As you can see below, they are only trying to share fun images with their students. Look at the wise use of some of their posters to be featured on their profile. Impossible to ignore that Boeing Tour, isn’t it?


          2. Show your campus in a different light

Many colleges Instagram to have an insider eye on campus. They offer a sneak peek to people who find it first. What is happening behind the scene at the Admissions desk, or during the preparation of an event? Some challenge their students to find the mascot hidden on campus or share pictures contrasting seasonal views of their campuses.

Example: Brock University often challenges its students by asking them to pinpoint where exactly a picture was taken on campus. Brock also uses the video feature to show unique spots on campus.

Brock U

Brock U Instagram

          3. Hold a photo contest using your hashtag

Encourage students to share their favorite spots on campus. Remember that their accounts must be public for entries to qualify. Invite them to share and tag their pics using a specific hashtag. This will give you lots of visuals to use and to pick from. Unlike Facebook, Instagram allows users to apply filters that usually give all shots a more artsy, professional finish. Don’t forget to cross-promote throughout social media profiles to advertise for the contest, to announce finalists or winners.

Example: Queens University. Queens University invited students to share pictures with them using: #queensu. As a result, many shared pictures of the campus, queen’s building, and some videos.

Queens U

          4. Connect with your alumni

Carlton University

Carlton U

Carleton University its Instagram account to connect with Alumni: it regularly posts old pictures using the hashtag #CUThrowback

However, don’t get too carried away with this great resource! Whatever you do, don’t flood your other accounts with photos. Share the best, but leave most of it on Instagram.

How have you been using Instagram?