When it comes to building a social media presence, universities are faced with a unique set of challenges because they’re selling an education instead of a physical product. Additionally, their audiences range from prospective applicants, to current students, to successful alumni.
But despite this unusual set of needs, universities have pulled inspiration from other business’ use of social media. Last fall, we spoke with experts and looked behind the scenes at some of the top universities using a wide range of networks, spanning from Facebook, to Twitter, to Instagram.
With more than 90 percent of its user base falling between the ages of 18 and 34 years old, Instagram has quickly become a powerful platform through which universities can share news, events, and images of daily life on campus. Below we look at some of the different ways the world’s top universities are using the photo-sharing app to meet their marketing goals.
Show Off Your Campus
It’s not always possible for every prospective student to arrange an on-campus visit — or maybe your campus is so large that even current students aren’t familiar with every nook and cranny. One of the best ways to show off the seasonal beauty at your university is through a smartphone’s lens.
Schools like the University of Nottingham, Stanford, and Boston College use Instagram to share captivating photos of their campuses throughout the year. From unique architecture to beautiful study-break locations, followers get a sense of what life is like on these university campuses.
Highlight Student Activity
School grounds are just one aspect of the college experience. A great way to demonstrate what campus life is all about is to highlight student activity — and what better way to do this than by putting your students behind the camera. The London School of Economics Students’ Union has its own Instagram account where it shares colorful pictures of elections, freshman registration, and the many different activities students can get involved in.
But even if you don’t want to turn your account over to students, you can still showcase different student activities across campus. For example, MIT used Instagram Video to show off students singing in the lobby. Yale congratulated the School of Engineering & Applied Science on its 2013 Formula Hybrid International win. Johns Hopkins celebrated graduation with a couple of friends. As you can see, there are countless ways to showcase student life on campus.
Share Your School’s History
Many universities take advantage of the popular #ThrowbackThursday (or #tbt) hashtag on Instagram to highlight their history. This is a great way to share historic photos and build your school’s digital legacy. The University of Oregon, for example, offers a look back at how students and staff survived college without the Internet. Other schools, like Dartmouth College and Baylor University, share flashbacks of what college life was like in the early 1900’s.
This is also a great opportunity to celebrate alumni. On the University of Southern California’s Instagram account, you’ll find photos of couples who met in college and graduated together. Illinois State University shares backstage candids of famous alumni celebrating the school’s theatre performance. Tackling both history and alumni, Florida State reposts old yearbook photos from the class of 1900.
Give Students a Hashtag
Encourage your students and visitors to extend your reach by giving them a hashtag to use in their Instagram uploads. Baylor University, for instance, recommends that students add “#mybaylor” to photos that they’d like to share. Additionally, the school launched a separate hashtag campaign called “#MyBaylorSummer” in which students are encouraged to share their summer plans — whether it’s summer school, studying abroad, an internship, and so on.
Australia’s Griffith University integrated Instagram images into its student graduation ceremonies using the hashtag #griffithgrads. Students “enthusiastically” embraced the campaign and captured more than 500 photos, which were displayed on the big screen prior to the start of each ceremony.
Selling an intangible product, such as education, requires a focus on building a community around a shared experience or interest. Whether you plan to focus on campus life, university news and achievements, or simply user-generated content, remember to share what makes your school unique. It doesn’t matter how you tell your story, just that you are telling it. Visuals can be a powerful tool for inspiring and motivating prospective students, and Instagram has certainly proven its worth.
Jennifer Beese: Jennifer Beese has worked as a community manager and social media strategist. When she’s not writing, you can find her studying anatomy and physiology—she literally has a skeleton in her closet—or under the stars with her telescope.
A lot of inspiring ideas from this blog post - thanks for sharing, Jennifer! I'm also proud of the content shared and engagement created on Grand Valley State University's Instagram page: http://instagram.com/gvsu#
I'm proud of what we've done at the University of Florida on Instagram, especially the #GatorNationIsEverywhere campaign: http://instagram.com/uflorida
@brucefloyd You should be very proud, Bruce! You guys have a solid social strategy and I'm loving the#GatorNationIsEverywhere campaign. What a great way to get students (and alum) involved!
Any plans for Sprout to support Instagram? That's the one thing holding me back from using Sprout. :)
@jesselavery Hey Jesse! Instagram is definitely on our radar and know it's something our customers would love to see added, but we don't have any immediate plans just yet. Our product development team is always assessing when and how we would add other networks, where we could add value, and what's feasible, so will keep everyone updated once all those stars align!