Essential Instagram Marketing Strategies for Higher Education

Date posted: May 24, 2017

Higher Education Marketing

Is Instagram now the most important social media site for student recruitment? Launched in 2010, the platform has amassed over 700 million users in under seven years—twice the audience of rival platforms Snapchat and Twitter—and now even rivals parent company Facebook in terms of its relevance and ubiquity, particularly among younger users.

Additionally, a recent report from Trackmaven  revealed that higher education institutions on the site averaged over 10 times the amount of interactions per post as they did on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

And while most schools have established an active presence on Instagram at this stage, the increasing popularity of the site has also resulted in increased competition, making it essential to continuously review and evaluate your posting strategy to ensure that you continue to get the most out of the platform.

With that in mind, this blog will look to explore some of the most proven and effective methods for engaging prospective students on Instagram, and how you can use them to maximize your potential visibility on the site. Read on to find out more.

The Incredible Rise of Instagram: An Overview for Recruitment Professionals

From the very start, Instagram’s growth has been extremely impressive. Originally developed as a mobile app exclusively for iOS users, its photo filter options made it instantly popular among smartphone users who had been dissatisfied with the quality of mobile cameras at the time.

The platform had its first million users within a few months of launching, and over 50 million by the time it was acquired by Facebook in April 2012. Facebook’s sizable resources and user base helped Instagram go stratospheric, eclipsing other visual social media sites like Pinterest and Flickr and becoming the ‘go-to’ app for photo sharing.

Instagram user growth

Source: Buffer

The last 12 months have been particularly successful for Instagram. New features like the Snapchat-inspired Instagram Stories have seen it gain a sizable share of that site’s market, and its user base has now grown 75% in under a year and a half.

For schools, however, it isn’t the just the size of Instagram’s audience that is impressive. The site has proven to be especially effective at driving brand awareness and engagement, and it has quickly become an essential tool for connecting with prospective students online.

Its highly visual nature also makes it much more universal than other social media sites, making it especially useful for attracting international students. In fact, a recent student survey conducted by Hobsons even showed some correlation between the amount of Instagram followers UK universities had and their international enrollment numbers:

Instagram international student recruitment

Source: Hobsons

However, Instagram’s continued success has brought some new challenges for schools. Increased numbers of users mean more competition and decreasing organic reach, while the site’s move away from a chronological newsfeed to an algorithm-based model last year has also made it harder for schools to maintain their visibility on the site.

Simple but Effective Instagram Marketing Strategies for Higher Education

While Instagram has changed a lot over the years, the basic best practices for generating engagement on the site have remained largely the same, and schools that follow a few tried and tested guidelines are still the most likely to achieve success.

Above all else, Instagram is still the place where internet users go to see striking, eye-catching visuals, and this should be the top priority when developing Instagram marketing strategies for higher education. Showcasing the natural beauty of your campus or local area with well-chosen photos or video footage can be an excellent starting point, and Instagram’s range of filters and photo options mean you are never short of interesting new ways to present your surroundings.

Example: This post from the University of Pennsylvania captures one of their more beautiful buildings in a unique and unusual way.

University of Pennsylvania Instagram

Even if you have a very small campus, you can still look to your location to help you create arresting visuals that capture what makes your town or city special, and get prospective students excited about it as a study destination.

Example:  This post from The English Studio, an ESL school based in London, depicts the view from their classroom window. Complete with an iconic red double-decker bus, it captures the bustle and atmosphere of the city perfectly.

While you should be looking for the most visually appealing shots possible, it’s important to try and avoid creating images that seem overly staged or manufactured. Your photos should tell a story, capturing great snapshots of the student experience and getting prospects excited about what life at your school will have in store for them. Keeping your eyes peeled for sharable moments is the key, ensuring that you don’t miss out on something that could really resonate with the Instagram audience.

Example: This amazing post from Cornell University captures a community art project by a group of students called Lifted Cornell, which involved simultaneously raising a series of balloons with handwritten notes students had composed tied to them. Not only is the photo visually arresting, but it also showcases one of the diverse campus activities that students can take part in.

Cornell University Instagram

Like Twitter and Facebook, Instagram uses hashtags to categorize posts, and these can also be extremely important when it comes to amplifying the reach of your content. Try to research popular and trending hashtags on the site to find ones which are relevant to your post, and include them in your text to maximize your potential visibility.

Example: This post from Stanford Engineering uses the #IAmAnEngineer hashtag, which was adopted to promote diversity and inclusiveness in the field. The post features a relevant and insightful interview from one of the school’s female lecturers.

Stanford University Instagram

In addition, while you should always maintain an appropriate tone, don’t be afraid to use a little humour in your shots. Instagram is a fairly casual, informal social platform, and prospective students who seek out your school can be very responsive to light-hearted posts.

Example: California Institute of Technology has a little fun here with its statues of Richard Feynman and Albert Einstein.

California Institute of Technology Instagram

Engaging Your Wider School Community on Instagram

Instagram has proven to be one of the best sites for fostering community and interaction among users, with 95 million photos and videos shared per day, making it a natural channel for schools to engage with their wider online community.

Actively encouraging both current and past students to share their photos and videos with you can be a great way to increase your visibility and presence on the site, while also helping you to generate plenty of usable content for your page.

Example: CultureWorks, an ESL pathway program provider in Ontario, got this great photo from one of their students that captured a slice of Canadian winter life.

CultureWorks Student Instagram

Running photo or video contests among students can also be a great way to drum up interest in your page among students and increase the amount of interactions you get on the site, and many schools come up with very interesting, creative ideas for competitions.

Example: The English Studio ran a contest that encouraged students to create videos of themselves reciting a line of Shakespeare, an idea which chimed perfectly with both their course offerings and location. As you can see, the contest got a great response, with several students submitting entries.

English Studio Instagram Video

English Studio Instagram Contest

Instagram can also be the perfect place to showcase your alumni. You can feature posts from past students talking about their time at your school and how it helped them, or use the site to promote any alumni-student mentoring services you offer.

Example: This post from University of Toronto highlights alumnus Leonard Simpson, a successful entrepreneur who also volunteers as a mentor for students at the school.

University of Toronto alumni Instagram

Featuring current students can also be beneficial, giving prospective applicants the chance to hear about your school from a voice they can identify with, and helping them to get a better sense of what life on your campus is really like.

Example: This student story from the University of Chicago features a current undergraduate speaking about the housing and accommodations on campus, giving prospective students an authentic opinion on the school’s facilities from someone they can really trust.

University of Chicago student Instagram

Why ‘Stories’ is Essential to Your Higher Education Instagram Marketing Strategy

One of the biggest factors behind Instagram’s massive growth over the past year has been Instagram Stories. The tool, which is very similar to Snapchat Stories, allows users to post showreels of photos and video into a feed separate from their main profile, which disappear after 24 hours.

While it has been criticized for copying Snapchat’s functionality, the growth of Instagram Stories has been simply phenomenal, attracting over 200 million daily active users in just over six months. Snapchat, meanwhile, has just 161 million daily active users.

This could potentially be quite a good thing for schools. While many institutions have found some success on Snapchat, Instagram offers a far wider, more diverse audience, and has traditionally been more brand-friendly than its rival.

Unlike the more stylized, pristine posts that dominate the rest of the site, Stories was designed as a way for Instagram users to share more spontaneous, less polished content. With that in mind, schools looking to use the feature as part of their Instagram marketing for higher education efforts should focus on creating fun, informal posts that capture the daily happenings of their school. Special events such as graduations, student social activities, guest lectures, and conferences can be particularly good sources of content.

Like Snapchat, Instagram Stories also offers a range of filters and overlaying text options, and schools should take full advantage of these to present their posts in unique and creative ways.

Example: This story from Brown University takes users inside a cheese and wine mixer for seniors at the university President’s house.

Brown University Instagram story

Instagram Stories also offers a number of distinct advantages over Snapchat’s version of the feature. For instance, snippets of your school’s Stories can be featured in your main Instagram feed to promote them to your followers, making it easier to get your posts noticed. Instagram also allows users to pause or rewind individual Stories, making them far more user-friendly, particularly for less tech-savvy viewers.

Measuring the Effectiveness of Your Instagram Marketing Strategy

As the site’s popularity continues to grow, competition will become even more heated, making it vitally important to measure the success of your higher education Instagram marketing campaigns on an ongoing basis through Instagram Insights.

The comprehensive analytics suite is similar to Facebook’s tool of the same name, and offers insights into everything from views and interactions on particular posts, to specific demographic information about your followers such as their age, gender, and location.

Continuously monitoring the performance of your posts will be the key to ensuring your approach remains effective, and will help you to identify areas where you need to improve. Nonetheless, provided you focus on eye-catching visual content that resonates with your student base, you should continue to see great results from your recruitment efforts on the site.

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