Is Instagram now the most important social media site for student recruitment? Launched in 2010, the platform has amassed over 1 billion 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 almost all 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 Rise of Instagram Explained for Higher Ed 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.
In 2016, the platform launched Instagram Stories – borrowing from Snapchat’s Story functionality – which skyrocketed Instagram’s growth. In just six months, 200 million people were using Instagram Stories. Now, over 500 million users create Instagram Stories daily.
Since reaching the one billion monthly users milestone in 2018, the platform has only continued to grow in popularity. Some marketers even suspect that Instagram will overtake Facebook at this rate.
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.
In fact, it may just be the most socially engaging platform, as brand engagement on Instagram is 10 times higher than on Facebook and 84 times higher than on Twitter. 80% of IG users follow a branded account.
Instagram’s highly visual nature also makes it much more universal than other social media sites, making it especially useful for attracting international students. A 2017 student survey conducted by Hobsons even showed some correlation between the amount of Instagram followers UK universities had and their international enrollment numbers:
However, Instagram’s continued success has brought some new challenges for schools. Increased numbers of users means more competition and decreasing organic reach. Since Instagram adopted an algorithm-based model in 2016, many schools have found it difficult to maintain their visibility on the site, and the algorithm has only became more selective with time.
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.
Spotlight Your School’s Location
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.
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: IH Madrid frequently showcases the beauty of its surrounding area by sharing photos of popular landmarks in Madrid.
Showcase Life on Your Campus
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 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 shareable moments is the key, ensuring that you don’t miss out on something that could really resonate with the Instagram audience.
Example: This McGill University post showcases a fundraising effort for local organizations fighting homelessness. By highlighting your school’s volunteer initiatives, you both uplift the work being done on campus and show prospects the kind of causes your school is fighting for.
Since Instagram is a great way to mark memorable moments, don’t forget to share photos and videos of noteworthy campus events.
Example: Video content is increasing in popularity across a number of digital channels, and Instagram is no exception. This video from Algonquin College captures the school’s convocation ceremony.
Don’t be Afraid to Add Some Humour to Your Posts
While you should always maintain an appropriate tone on Instagram, 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: During the 2018 World Cup, Caltech had some fun on their IG by featuring some well-dressed doggies.
Use Hashtags Strategically
Like Twitter and Facebook, Instagram uses hashtags to categorize posts, and they can be a key part of your Instagram for higher education strategy, serving to amplify 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.
You may also want to create branded hashtags for your school. This way, you can encourage your students to use them also for further visibility. It will also make it easier to track when your students are talking about your school online.
Example: Geneva Business School uses a number of different branded hashtags such as #BeGBS #GenevaCampus and #GenevaBusinessSchool, which its students use as well.
Instagram’s algorithm favours specific hashtags, so this strategy could pay real dividends for your school. While it may take awhile for them to catch on, they will greatly help your reach on the social network in the long run.
Engaging Your School Community Through 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: EC English got this great snapshot of Gnejna Bay from one of its students. Whenever you repost a student’s photo, make sure to tag their account, as EC English did here. You can also use the hashtag #regram to make it clear that you’re sharing a photo from another account.
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: This contest from the University of British Columbia encourages students to share their favourite study spot in hopes of winning a gift card. In return, the University’s student life account will receive a boost in followers and comments – which will spur continuous growth.
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 Margaret Atwood, the famed Canadian novelist, along with the fact that the original manuscript of her prize-winning novel is stored at the University’s library.
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 talking about getting involved on Campus. Through the Chinese Undergraduate Students Association, this student was able to strengthen their connection to their cultural heritage.
By focusing on student voices, you offer prospects insight into your student life from a source they are likely to trust.
Instagram Stories Strategies for Higher Education
One of the biggest factors behind Instagram’s massive growth has been Instagram Stories, which allow users to post showreels of photos and video into a feed separate from their main profile, which disappear after 24 hours.
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 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.
Example: This story from Brown University takes users inside a cheese and wine mixer for seniors at the university President’s house.
There are also a number of different interactive features you can add to engage with your prospective students such as polls, quizzes, and more.
Example: This story from Liden & Denz, a language school based in Russia, uses Instagram’s quiz feature in their stories to test their follower’s knowledge of the country.
In the same area of Instagram where you create your stories, you also have the option to livestream. Instagram Live takes the personable, down-to-earth quality of Stories to the next level by allowing you to record and share a video in real time. Like stories, these streams are only available for 24 hours after posting.
Instagram Live enables schools to directly connect with prospective students from afar by allowing prospects to be part of your events, or even directly engaging with them.
Example: Through Instagram Live, Old Dominion University answered pressing admissions questions from its prospects. Live Q&A sessions allow schools to address as many prospective student concerns as possible in a highly accessible format.
If you haven’t experimented with Instagram live yet, there is ample evidence to suggest why you should. A recent vimeo study found that 80% of people would rather watch a live video from a brand than read a blog, and 82% prefer live video to social media posts.
Measuring the Effectiveness of Your Instagram Marketing Strategy
As the site’s popularity continues to grow, competition on Instagram for higher education will become even more heated, making it vitally important to measure the success of your 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.