Over the past four years, Instagram has become one of the most dominating social media platforms in the world. Out of all the brands that are using Instagram to gain more reach, universities have one of the most active audiences. 90% of Instagram users are younger than 35, and 53% of adults ages 18-29 use Instagram every day. This makes it an ideal platform to reach and engage with potential students, especially those who are using social media to research universities. Here are 6 tips to optimize your university’s Instagram account through branding, engagement, integration, and ads.
Before creating or revamping your account, it is imperative that you fully understand your brand. You must first know your university’s point of view. What does your school stand for? What are your key messages? By realizing these pivotal ideas of your university’s brand, you will be able to create consistent content that will ultimately establish and build your brand.
Once your key messages are created, it’s important to maintain an authentic brand. Know your voice. What would or wouldn’t you say? Authenticity is key to keeping your audience engaged and trusting the brand. To keep the voice consistent it helps to set rules on topics that are allowed or off limits.
Build Your Brand
An Instagram account may get some views by simply publishing content, but without implementing the proper hashtags, universities are missing out on the majority of their audience. Hashtags are the powerhouse of Instagram. Hashtags allow people, influencers, thought leaders, and marketers to search through different topics and brands and potentially find your university’s profile. Hashtags are also useful for finding users and influencers within higher education to interact and build relationships with.
I recommend using hashtags to find your audience and see what they are already saying about your institution, then use this information to mold your content. It is advised to use an average of 11 hashtags per post for the best engagement. Be warned, however, that using too many hashtags can make your account look spammy and attract the wrong following. To keep your content consistent, it helps to maintain a list of regularly used hashtags. I advise making three lists:
- Brand specific: Hashtags you create just for your university. These can be as simple as #YourUniversity or more community focused like #BullsNation or #GoBlue.
- Industry: Use tools like Buzzsumo or SproutSocial to find the top hashtags within higher education. Hint: #highered and #onlinelearning are big contenders.
- Trending: This means anything from posting a #tbt to celebrating #NationalCoffeeDay. Using trending hashtags will help extend your reach by putting your content in front of an audience that hasn’t discovered you yet.
Cross-Promote Creative Content
Creating original content on a consistent basis can take a lot of time and effort. Remember that content from your university’s website, blog, or other social media platforms can be curated and used as Instagram content as well. You can also use Instagram to push traffic towards your other websites and vice versa. Add follow buttons or embed the feed on other profiles to bring your audience to your account and build your Instagram following. By creating cohesive content all around, you can keep your presence on social media consistent and active.
The University of Michigan does a great job highlighting current students and alumni’s work and their stories. They are able to uphold the U of M brand by sharing the quality of their student’s work and the good they are doing around the world. In the example below, Michigan uses a quote from the student to make it more personal.
When creating content for prospective students, remember that many of them will not be from your state or even country. Use this to your advantage and share pictures of campus life and the surrounding city to fully capture the beauty of your university. To increase engagement, repost a student’s picture of their favorite study spot or campus shot on the way to class. Boston University does a great job at highlighting the beauty of Boston and their campus. The majority of these posts come from current students as well. They also use this type of content to highlight their history and instill the fact that they are a well-established university.
Capitalize on the Power of Video
Video has taken over all social media platforms, and Instagram is no exception. Using apps like Repost, you can even repost videos from students or organizations to highlight the work of your university. Columbia University has done just that with their video content. They have implemented video content to highlight their sports teams, guest lecturers, and even research work done by students. This is an example of a great Instagram post. Columbia reposted the video and tagged the owners, engaging with their audience and extending their reach. They also used brand hashtags like #columbiauniversity to categorize the video as well. This post is very successful in showing off the work Columbia students and organizations are doing and inviting its audience to engage and share the content.
Engaging with your audience is the most important activity you can do on Instagram. By liking, commenting, and even reposting pictures on Instagram, you are bringing more views and potential followers to your profile. Instagram gurus have created the 5/3/1 engagement rule to optimize your conversations. Like 5 pictures, comment on 3 with a @mention of the creator, and, in turn, gain 1 new follower.
To create even more engagement, start a discussion. This can be as simple as asking a question in the picture’s caption or starting a contest that requires other users to comment with a correct answer, tag friends, or post a picture of their own. By inviting students to engage with your content, they are more likely to interact and share it with their followers, ultimately, extending your reach and growing your audience. To learn more about increasing your university’s social media engagement, click the link below.
Instagram’s latest feature allows universities to reach even bigger audiences: Instagram ads. Instagram uses information about users’ activities on Instagram and Facebook as well as information from third-party sites and apps to determine which ads appear on their feed. This means if a high school student is following or searching for different colleges using any of these platforms, your ad will appear in their feed.
Thanks to Facebook owning Instagram, ad targeting and analytics are also available. They use the same conversion pixel to allow optimization of ads, track results, and retarget the best potential students. Learn how to maximize the performance of your ads by clicking the link below.
7 Tips for Maximizing Your Facebook Ads Performance (Or Instagram)
Audrey Willis is a recent graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. With a background in journalism, public relations, and graphic design, Audrey lends both creative and analytic skills to the marketing team. Her passion for innovation and connecting like-minded individuals is driving Circa’s social media strategy into the future.