Tough Topics and New Platforms: Using an Instagram Story to Help Sexual Assault Survivors

Presented by Jon McBride

Sexual assault is a topic that is becoming a larger and larger part of the online conversation, both on college campuses and off. Jon acknowledged that this Instagram story has given him the opportunity to learn more about sexual assault, even re-titling his original presentation title, changing “victims” to “survivors.” Headlines often highlight incidents of sexual assault on campus, but far less frequently highlight when a campus provides services for those who need support.

Jon recognized that changing a policy on campus doesn’t mean that you’ve changed the culture. While administrators change the policy of a campus, communicators are in a unique position to help influence and change the culture. To get a student’s perspective, Jon turned to his student worker Summer. As a freshman, she knew there were some challenges surrounding the issue and felt that it was a “taboo” topic on campus. A climate survey revealed that students wanted to help carry the discussion but didn’t quite know how.

Jon and his team then turned to Instagram Stories. They chose Instagram because of the demographics of their users — current students — instead of Facebook. They crafted a five-minute long video for the story. While this broke the “rules” of social media, they felt this was an important topic which required that time.

Watch the video here.

The video ends with a call to action, “Send us your questions — we’ve got experts available to help answer.” Jon explained that the Direct Message feature was key to this request. The team knew they would receive personal and private messages, many that only the social media team were not qualified to answer.

They enrolled the help of campus partners and developed a “response room” as well as predicted some questions that could be asked when the story went live. As questions came in, members in the room helped to craft a response that was ultimately finalized by the experts. Jon noticed patterns in questions, especially sentiments such as “I’m worried about my roommate.” Appointments for the crisis center were being made right inside of Instagram. Resources were being exchanged. This story gave light to a challenging topic and allowed students to connect with these members of campus in a new way.

Jon shared some interesting results from the day the story went live:

  • 24,000 story views
  • Over 100 DMs
  • 11 DMs were from those in crisis
  • 23 DMs were clarifying questions
  • 51 DMs were a thank you for doing the story
  • Both the Title IX Office andSurvivorr Advocate Office saw an influx of reports after the launching of the story

Jon shared six takeaways:

  1. Use the right voice(s)
    Jon’s students helped to communicate resources on campus in the story, and Jon emphasized their tone in the final project. They stressed the importance of this topic while being relatable for students on campus.
  2. Addressing the right audience
    The campus climate survey gave important insight to Jon’s team, that students wanted to learn more about how to help those on campus.
  3. Utilizing experts
    The experts on campus who focus on this topic every day provided information and input on the script. It was not written only by Jon and his team.
  4. Taking time to get the script, filming, and editing right
    It took roughly two months for the team to create the script, and they used their campus videographer for filming. They wanted to find the balance of the story being well-produced, but not over-produced. Jon wanted students to feel as though this video was something a little bit different, and therefore important.
  5. Promoting with purpose
    Jon and his team knew the story needed to be promoted as much as possible, but with intention. He tapped into student groups, faculty, and staff that would have a particular interest in the topic. Jon, in an effort not to appear too “self-congratulatory,” avoided writing a press release on the effort. Ultimately, his campus partner as part of the Title IX office did, which lead to a media explosion on this story. Jon also looked to his social media ambassadors to help spread the word via Twitter and Instagram.
  6. Working with university leaders
    Jon chose to build the story and then bring it to leadership, comparing the entire process to showing someone a rendering of a building. When you can see the building, it makes more sense, compared to only talking about it. Leaders were able to see the completed video — the idea already brought to life — to make buy-in easier.