Why your institution should be on Instagram

Kellie McMullin and Mandy Reinig on why universities should make the most of the photo-sharing social network

September 13, 2016
Panel of social media interaction tools
Source: iStock

If your university is not on Instagram, it should be. These words have been echoing through the halls of universities worldwide over the past couple of years.

Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has grown to more than 400 million users, 90 per cent of whom are under the age of 35, and more than 60 per cent of whom live outside North America.

Therefore, to recruit, reach and engage our students, Instagram seems to be the social network where we will find them.

One major reason why Instagram has become so popular among the younger generations is the visual nature of the application. It is all about images, both moving and still, and if you are able to come up with an effective posting strategy for your institution, you will reach prospective students, current students, alumni and the community around you and be able to show them just how beautiful the educational experience you offer truly is.

The key, of course, is being able to take your strategy and post content effectively. Here are four tips on using Instagram to its fullest potential for your institution.

First, you need to showcase the beauty of your campus and its surrounding community. Show prospective students exactly what they will see when they come to your institution, and also what they can find in the local community that they will join. Post photos of buildings, current students doing activities on campus, restaurants and scenic views of the city and show your audience just how special an experience they will enjoy.

Second, hold contests to encourage engagement. One excellent way of creating content on Instagram is to have a competition that encourages your followers (and hopefully their followers, too) to post photos or videos on a certain theme and to offer them the opportunity to win a prize (everyone loves a prize!).

Third, use hashtags effectively. Come up with a unique and engaging hashtag and use it whenever you post. Instagram has a very intuitive algorithm for searching hashtags; if you can create one that your followers will continue to use, it can build an active community around your posts.

Fourth, celebrate your students. Follow your students on Instagram and be sure to like and comment on their posts (especially the ones involving your institution). When you make your students feel like they are part of your community and part of the conversation, you will find that prospective and current students alike will be more engaged and active as followers.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so you can tell the perfect story about the uniqueness of your institution with only a few posts on Instagram.

Kellie McMullin is manager of international learning, Nova Scotia Community College


Reducing the degrees of separation

Instagram has become one of the most widely used social media channels in the world – so how then does the platform fit into the world of international education and how do you, as an international education professional, have your voice heard among all the other noise that students are hearing?

I would say it is as easy as creating an Instagram account for your office but, if it was that easy we wouldn’t need to do so many sessions at conferences or need blogs such as these. 

Unfortunately, the reality is that to truly be able to reach students effectively you must have a strategy that includes measurable goals and objectives, material that is attractive to students versus what you want them see, and the ability to be consistent. Additionally, you need to know that all great social media strategies include quite a bit of trial and error. What works for one does not always work for another. Also, what works for this year’s students may not work for next year’s students. 

While this process can be frustrating it can also be fun since it allows you to be creative with the material you are posting.

When engaging with the student population one of the best ways to engage with students is to use students’ photos, tag students, and generally engage with your students. Then, what I like to call "the degrees of separation effect" happens. Not only do your followers see the post but their followers do as well, increasing your reach. 

For the most part, students are extremely agreeable to having their photos reposted on an institution’s account. However, Instagram does not make it easy to repost, so I highly recommend using a repost app. 

Hashtags are vital to using Instagram, more so than any other social media channel. A good number of hashtags to post is anywhere between five to 10. 

Hashtags make it easy to create a buzz over an event or even your office. You can easily find out how often a hashtag has been used by using the search tool on Instagram. Some examples of great hashtags within the field of international education include: #intled, #studyabroad, #worldtraveler, #exchangestudent, #seetheworld, and more. 

Students searching for these hashtags will be able to see your posts.  Don’t forget to include your institution's hashtag too. 

Remember, Instagram is really about creating a visual representation of what you want your students, or potential students, to see, experience, learn, and do through your institution. Today’s students are unable to grasp what you want them to achieve through texts or brochures. Instagram provides the means to do this without requiring too much time especially if you employ the assistance of student workers. 

Take advantage of what Instagram has to offer – however, make sure are able to maximise your efforts by using some of the strategies listed above. 

Mandy Reinig is director of Study Abroad at Virginia Wesleyan College


A session on “Social media 3.0: harnessing the power of Instagram” will take place at EAIE 2016 on Friday 16 September.

The 28th annual conference of the European Association for International Education takes place in Liverpool from 13 to 16 September. The conference, which focuses on internationalisation and cooperation between European universities, will include sessions on issues affecting institutions across the continent, including the refugee crisis, Brexit and universities’ use of social media

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