How Colleges Should Use Instagram

Published January 7, 2018
by Meg Gowell

This is part of our Higher-Education Marketing guide to Leverage Social Media and Increase Higher Education Prospects. You can also check out How To Use Facebook and How to use Twitter or Pinterest as a college or university. Check out the infographic, but make sure to learn more about how it all works below!

Instagram has been around for almost exactly 7 years. In that time, the platform has grown by leaps and bounds and become one of the most popular social networks especially for the younger demographic. At the same time, it is also one of the more difficult platforms to work with for large-scale social media plans. In order to use Instagram successfully as a college or university, you have to think about how to use and structure content. As part of a larger social media plan, it is also important to make posting to Instagram as systematic as possible. Finally, you should understand the best ways to restructure content for other platforms and the best ways to gain new prospects from your followers.

Why Using Instagram Correctly Matters

As a social network, Instagram grew extremely quickly and now has over 300 million active users. The platform also surpasses Twitter and Pinterest in terms of younger users. A total of 53% of all online adults between the ages of 18 and 29 have an Instagram profile. Almost half of all web users between the ages of 12 and 17 access Instagram monthly. In order for this younger demographic to follow your profile and see your posts, you have to optimize what, when and how you post.

While other social networks are projected to decrease in users in the next few years or already are losing users year or year, Instagram is consistently projected to grow. Even more importantly, you are likely to see more engagement on Instagram than on Twitter. The highly visual nature of the platform engages users and encourages them to stay active. While posting to Instagram regularly takes more time than other social platforms and is harder to plan ahead, it’s one of the easiest outlets for new followers to find you…if you do it right.

How the Instagram Feed Works

Instagram arranges content in a variety of ways that make it easy for users to find photos they would like. The default “Home” feed shows posts from users you follow based on recency. However, given that there are far fewer daily posts to Instagram than say Twitter, it is more likely that followers will see your post. Even if you don’t have a ton of followers, you can still get your posts in front of new users by using hashtags correctly.

In the “Search” tab, users can search by a specific hashtag or for a specific profile. You can also browse trending tags or explore posts. The “Explore Posts” option shows content from users that you don’t follow but whose profiles Instagram thinks you will like. You can also find new content on the “Activity” tab. This tab includes both activity on your profile and activity by users who you follow. You can see what photos people you follow liked and who they followed. Overall, Instagram makes it easy for users to find new content and to see activity from people they follow.

How Instagram Makes Posting Difficult

Although Instagram is a great platform with huge opportunity for colleges and businesses to increase their social presence and to get in front of new prospects, posting can be less than simple. As the name might suggest, Instagram was created as an instant and in the moment platform. It is meant to showcase things and events happening right now. Which is great for the average user who can just take a quick photo and show how awesome their life is.

For colleges or really any business with a larger social media plan who plan out content in advance, it’s more difficult to plan ahead for Instagram. First, you can’t schedule posts like most social platforms allow. Second, you have to post from a smart phone…well, actually from an Android or an iPhone. Third, you need high quality photos in order to get engagement. All of these drawbacks make the barrier to regular posting higher than for other platforms. As a result many businesses and colleges don’t post regularly and don’t have a concentrated social plan for the types of posts they create.

What Types of Content You Should Post

Photos and videos are the only types of content that you can post to Instagram. Since it is such a visual platform, having bright, quality photos are the best way to get more engagement. Editing photos with filters is a great way to make them look better. One of my favorite apps Pic Tap Go has great filters and lets you layer filters over each other for an even better photo. Before you even begin using filters though, make sure you take photos with plenty of light and great composition. Take the time to style your shots for even more engagement.

You don’t have to just take photos of events though. Create photos in Photoshop that highlight different programs to help you plan ahead and post more regularly even if there isn’t something amazing happening on campus that day. You can post quotes with cool pictures behind them or post recipes for a culinary program. One type of post I have used for cosmetology and skin care schools is a graphic for a weekly face mask recipe with photos of each ingredient. When in doubt, photos of food are always a hit. Videos are also an option for Instagram but they have to be 15 seconds or shorter so you need quality shots that get your message across quickly.

How to Structure Your Content

Posting often on Instagram is the best way to attract new followers. For most colleges and universities, I recommend posting at least twice a week and preferably every weekday. Posting daily is even better but it means that someone has to post on the weekends. The best time to post is in the late afternoon. While some studies show that posting during off work hours is likely to get more engagement, you are the most likely to get in front of students when they get out of class. If your audience is mostly older, working adults, however, then posting after work hours may increase engagement.

In order for new users to find your profile, you also have to utilize hashtags. The optimal number of hashtags for an Instagram post is 11. While that number can seem like a lot, if you consistently post photos with 11 hashtags that are relevant to the picture and your school, you will gain followers. As you type hashtags when posting in the Instagram app, it shows the total number of posts that include that tag. This is a great way to determine if the hashtag is relevant or if there are so many posts that yours won’t be seen. Instead of just posting #college, try to think of hashtags that are more relevant to your specific image.

Ways to Restructure Content for Other Platforms

Since Instagram content is almost entirely quality photos, it is great for reposting to other social platforms. Photos typically generate the most engagement across all social platforms. The ones that you post to Instagram should already be high quality and edited. That makes them even better for other social networks. Instagram posts can generally be at least one Twitter post and one Pinterest post. Given that you should not post to Facebook too often, you may not be able to post every Instagram photo to Facebook. However, you can pick some of the best photos and fit them in.

Within the Instagram app, you have the ability to connect your Facebook page and your Twitter account. Many people who have personal accounts on all three social networks do so in order to share content to all three platforms simultaneously. However, I do not recommended it for business accounts. The biggest reason for this is that content needs to be structured different on each platform and if you share to all platforms at once you can’t do that. Using 11 hashtags is great for Instagram but not what you want to do for Twitter or Facebook. Your captions should also be different lengths for each platform. Taking the time to share posts to each platform separately will lead to better posts.

Leveraging Instagram Followers

As with any social platform, you have to find ways to get followers to leave the app and come to your site. Within your profile you can include the link to your website. This link does not however have to go to your homepage. I often recommend that schools use their blog page as the URL. However, this only works if you regularly post to your blog and want to drive traffic there. Otherwise you can think about other landing page options or create a specific page where you want to send followers.

While you can’t post links to original articles like you might for other social platforms, we recommend creating photos that go with blog posts for Instagram. Include a caption that explains the blog post and what it has to offer and then end the post with “{link in profile}.” That’s where linking your profile to your blog comes in handy. If you post to Instagram about the blog article the same day that you post the article then it should naturally be at the top of the blog. You send followers to your blog with a specific goal in mind – to read the newest article. Once they are on the blog, however, they can see all of the other original content you have. As always, make sure your blog pages have clear sign up or information request forms to gather prospect data.

Important Takeaways for Using Instagram

While Instagram is one of the more annoying and difficult platforms to use in terms of scheduling posts and posting regularly, it also provides a ton of possibility to colleges and universities looking to connect with prospective students. It is relatively easy to get in front of new users and gain followers if you structure content correctly. By committing to posting regularly and to actively finding posts that will interest your target demographic, you can create a large follower base.

Similar to other platforms, posting original blog articles is generally the best way to leverage your followers into prospects. Try and create photos that will encourage followers to click on the link to your blog or to learn more about your school. The most important takeaway, however, when using Instagram is that you need high quality photos in order to gain traction. Find ways to plan ahead and consistently post great photos that will engage potential students.





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