You can’t swing a share of Kodak’s bankrupt stock these days without hitting someone who is talking about Instagram, the billion-dollar app that expanded to the Android platform from iOS. It’s becoming a hot topic in University PR shops too, and we asked a few experts to weigh in on the uses in Higher Ed.
Nick DeNardis, associate director of web communications at Wayne State University; host of EDU Checkup
I think Instagram’s growth has intrigued everyone. The initial offering, an iOS-only app with completely internal notifications, felt like it was setup for failure but that private community proved otherwise. Instagram isn’t successful because of its hipster filters, but from its speed and connections. Following individuals give insights into their daily lives; following tags allow ideas to spread and geolocation brings a sense of history to this simple app.
When Instagram first came out, we thought it was neat and a few of us used it personally but we couldn’t justify the resources to sustain it for the university. Once the Android client came out though we started to pay more attention. We knew we had more Android than iOS Web traffic so we thought we’d give it a shot. We committed 48 hours to see what kind of fan base we could get. Luckily no one had our account name yet — a huge relief. In the first eight hours, we had 15 followers without doing anything. Nine photos and 48 hours later, we had 86 followers and 62 likes on our photos. This 72 percent engagement rate had us sold, we decided to stick with it and post a new photo each day. With more than 500 followers in under 2 months and a consistent 15-20 percent engagement rate, we’re hooked.
Our Instagram strategy is to show off the unique and quirky things about our campus (http://www.gramfeed.com/waynestate) that students and alumni can identify with. Photos outside of that criteria have had almost no engagement. Beyond our students the tags and geolocation of out photos get the greater community interacting with our campus. We have existing outlets for photos but we haven’t found this level of engagement, even with the same photos on our other social networks. For us it’s a no brainer; we are riding this wave of activity.
Bruce Floyd, social media specialist, University of Florida
I’ve been using Instagram as part of my stable of social media platforms since March 2011. I was drawn to this particular service because of its narrow focus. The users are people that enjoy photos, which made it dead simple in terms of developing content. The other accounts we use extensively – Twitter and Facebook – seem a bit more open ended and, in the case of Facebook, there’s a lot of work involved in coming up with optimal content.
With Instagram, our fans want photos representing the University of Florida. Many of them are former graduates who are looking to reconnect with the university, and images are a fantastic way to do that.
I feel that our use of Instagram has paid off so far. Since our promotion of the #UFGrad hashtag on Instagram, we’ve averaged 244 likes on our individual images.
This narrow focus – and the fact that it’s a mobile platform – can make things difficult. For instance, it’s not a great platform if you’re trying to drive traffic to another place. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. The only engagement you can get is a ‘like’ or comment. Since our goal is essentially to reinforce the brand, it works out well. Also, it’s a challenge to get people to find your account, because there is no way to give people a direct link to it. I do wish there was a way to make it easier to share your account with others.
Georgy Cohen, principal at Crosstown Digital Communications and co-founder of Meet Content.
I am a huge advocate of the power of narrative and how it can support our marketing and institutional objectives. To me, Instagram is a great convergence of all the things you need to create an effective story: emotion, compelling content, and community.
Instagram is all about moments, and moments are uniquely effective units of storytelling. Moments invite us in, saying a lot in a little space, conveying meaning, impact and feeling. Through Instagram, we record the most notable slices of our lives in real-time and invite people to experience them with us, making the world feel a little smaller in the process. When captured in an image, the moment is accompanied by a sense of time, activity, scene, location — in short, context. The text (captions, hashtags, tagged friends) enhances that context, and comments and likes enhance it even further. Combined, these traits make Instagram an extremely potent content platform.
So, what does this mean for higher ed? The killer app here is emotion, because moments evoke emotions, and emotions spark actions. If we can meaningfully engage with members of our community by celebrating our shared moments as they relate to our brand, we will build stronger connections and ultimately drive more meaningful actions down the line.
About the Contributors
Nick DeNardis is the Associate Director of Web Communications at Wayne State University. As host of the video blog, EDU Checkup, he reviews higher education websites from the point of view of a first time visitor, while critiquing the design, information architecture and code of the sites. He is a staff writer at .eduGuru, a higher education marketing and web development blog. He takes an active role in the higher education web community by sharing his thoughts and real world analysis in the Wayne State Web Communications Blog. He is also an officer for Refresh Detroit, a group of web professionals whose goal is to promote web standards, usability, and accessibility and to spread the knowledge of web design in the Detroit and Ann Arbor Michigan areas. He is also the technical director for TEDxDetroit, a once a year conference to spread positive ideas for the world from Detroit. With a background in computer science, Nick has always been interested in user experience and accessibility. Part of his work at Wayne State includes reviewing and benchmarking other university web sites. His personal web philosophy is to keep things light, simple and agile, always striving for simple solutions to complex problems. Nick is currently pursuing his MLIS degree from Wayne State University.
Bruce Floyd is the University of Florida’s social media specialist with over 15 years of experience working with web technology. He previously worked for the UF Web Administration office as a web manager and usability researcher. Bruce’s two degrees – B.S. in Psychology and Master’s in Entrepreneurship from the University of Florida – have prepared him well for leveraging social and new media platforms for use by marketing and communications in the University Relations office. His ultimate goal is to show the University of Florida as an accessible, friendly and helpful organization. Bruce currently manages the top level social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and acts as a consultant to other campus units interested in maximizing their online presence. When he’s not at work tweeting, you’ll find Bruce at home, likely tweeting.
Georgy Cohen is principal at Crosstown Digital Communications, a fim committed to helping educational institutions more effectively tell their stories online. Previously, she was manager of web content and strategy at Tufts University, where she oversaw a range of content initiatives involving the university website, online news, social media and multimedia. Georgy is also co-founder of Meet Content, a blog and resource that aims to empower higher education to create and sustain web content that works. She is a frequent speaker, writer and consultant on topics relating to web content and digital communications, in higher education as well as other fields. Georgy’s background is in journalism, including a three-year stint working in the fast-paced online newsroom of The Boston Globe.