This blog was updated on 22 December 2020 as Instagram continues to rise in popularity with new features such as reels.

The question on many education marketers’ lips is what is the next big social media platform for student recruitment?

Net Natives recently hosted a Postgraduate event in London with talks from the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn and HEFCE and during the panel session, speakers were asked exactly that. 

Although the popularity of TikTok has boomed in 2019, Instagram is still a major competitor and is ever-present in the student recruitment market. As Facebook Business Partner, we’ve already been given the heads up on the latest advertising developments of Instagram which you can read here. But what is the most engaging content and when are students engaging with the platform? Below outlines my content top tips for education institutions when using Instagram.

Instagram is essentially a mobile app (we’ve already seen how important mobiles are for student recruitment here) which allows you to take photos, add filters and share them with your social network. With more than 300 million monthly active users and 73% of its user base between the ages of 15 and 35, it is likely that at least some of your target audience are spending time on the platform.

If you’re wanting to build brand presence and generate awareness for existing students, prospective students, as well as alumni, it is certainly a platform that should be considered, alongside TikTok. If you’re looking to create a compelling content strategy on TikTok, then watch the webinar on-demand.

Now, for top tips on how best to maximize engagement on Instagram, keep on reading.

Top Tip No. 1: Complete Audience Research

Use Instagram to find out what prospective and current students are already saying about your institution. Search hashtags and location tags that are relevant to your institution to determine what is already being said, and use this to shape the themes you choose to promote.

Once this is done, you can establish audience personas and communities. PG/UG students, home/international students and alumni will all be looking for different information. The key is understanding who the content is designed for and using specific imagery and copy that will appeal to that audience.

Paul Jackson summed this up perfectly in his 2015 Brighton SEO talk, “It’s not about what you want your target audience to know about, or what interests you. It’s about what your target audience wants to know about and what interests them” (my emphasis).

Net Natives regularly qualify through copy to target niche audiences on social platforms. We ran a campaign for one University to target Widening Participation students and were able to qualify by copy by posing questions such as ‘are you concerned about the costs of University?’ ensuring the students who were engaging with the ads were of the correct demographic.

Establishing audience personas based on research and adapting content accordingly is essential.

Top Tip No. 2: Think International

Campus shots are crucial for international students and should form part of larger seasonal content. Images of your campus provide you with an opportunity to take advantage of the multiple editing features on Instagram, allowing you to show off your campus in the most attractive light possible.

Net Natives carried out research into the most engaging types of content on Instagram, and campus shots were the sure winner. Below highlights a few examples.

Note, this post also mentions rankings – something which is crucial when advertising to international students (namely, China.)

Note the ‘London is our campus’ hashtag – I will move on to the importance of hashtags in top tip no.4

Though campus shots tend to get the most engagement from users, location and campus themed content should form just one of your ‘themes’ of content. Is it your location, environment, or influencers that are a key driver for your prospective students? Ensure you post images that have a mixture of themes and keep content varied to appeal to specific communities at specific times. Look at what’s working for content published by the university as a whole and then use what’s working and apply that to instagram specific content.

Likewise, it’s imperative your content has an easy call to action for international students (note; you can’t post links into the description of an image, links can only be placed into your profile bio). Rather than employing aggressive ‘apply now’ messages think about ways to promote ‘find out more’ messaging and change the link in your profile accordingly, dependant on what it is you are promoting.

Top Tip No. 3: Run Photo Contests

Of course, campus shots are important for engaging international students but as mentioned, it’s also crucial to ensure your content has variety. We recommend thinking outside the box; photo contests work especially well.

Let your followers know how they can participate; you can either encourage them to follow you, tag 3 friends, repost the photo and so on. You should choose rules that will help you reach your goals. In other words, if you would like to gain followers, we would recommend using rules like ‘follow us to enter’. If you’re looking to raise awareness of your brand then you might want to think about getting entrants to repost your photo to their timelines and mention your Instagram name and hashtag as part of their submission.

Net Natives often run competitions on social media platforms for our education Clients. Whether it’s giving away tickets to a sporting event or access to a tangible product, competitions provide prospects with exciting content to engage with, and in turn, are likely to generate more awareness of your institution and ultimately, conversions. Thinking about running a competition? Contact us for further insight.

Top Tip No. 4: Promote Across Platforms

Of course, Instagram is a platform like no other, however, it is still imperative you promote the content across platforms. Think about transferring content across platforms by using the same hashtags. However, ensure you take into account platform best practice and norms when using the same content as it may need to be adapted dependent on the platform, for example, shorter copy on Twitter than Facebook.

Not only will this provide you with more market share, it will enable you to work out the difference in engagement across platforms. Here at Net Natives, we employ an agile approach, creating campaigns across platforms and optimizing budgets to the platforms that are generating the highest number of conversions.

Top Tip No. 5: Post at the Best Time

The platform may seem fairly daunting for education institutions as it remains largely vague when it comes to tangible and accessible data. As of yet there is no real way to assess the effectiveness of instagram posts other than the number of likes/comments/shares (see iconoshare). For this reason, it might not be the best platform for measuring conversions, but certainly is a great platform for brand awareness and engagement.

Below highlights engagement from three universities across their instagram activity over the past year. The larger the circle the more content that is posted whilst the greener the colour the more engaging the content is, in terms of likes and comments.

The majority of content is posted between Monday-Friday 8am-4pm which is no surprise considering these are working hours, however what is interesting is that posts get the most engagement in the morning and surprisingly, weekends see barely any engagement at all.

It is important to think about when potential students may be on social platforms. International students for example will be viewing platforms at a different time to UK students so posting in UK working hours might not necessarily be the most appropriate time to maximize engagement levels.

If you’re interested in finding out when students are engaging with your institutions’ specific social media platforms, don’t hesitate to get in touch here. Our insights experts offer a range of Social Media Audits and Data Analysis to help you improve your social media content.

Top Tip No. 6: Tell Stories

The beauty of Instagram is that it provides your followers with content they can’t get elsewhere. Unlike any other platform, it is a visual only platform and allows for playful communication. Take advantage of this and use it to tell stories and post student portraits relevant to different communities.

University of Stanford has some great examples of using images of students to tell stories to engage prospective students:

Think about telling stories in terms of your institution’s history and use #throwbackthursday, interview alumni to highlight to your followers where they are now or document a sport’s team amazing success.

This leads back to thinking about what it is that your prospective students want to see, and what’s better than providing them with relatable content in terms of what current students are doing.

Net Natives have run hundreds of student testimonial campaigns to help aid conversions. Telling stories of specific students makes content far more relatable and encourages users to think ‘that could be me’; an invaluable response.

Top Top No. 7: Use Video

Video consumption is growing rapidly, and by 2018 it is predicted that 70% of all website traffic will be video consumption. It is therefore more important than ever that you are creating engaging video content which can be used across platforms.

Instagram have recently launched new app, Hyperlapse, which allows users to capture high-quality lapse videos even while in motion. Think about using the Hyperlapse app within Instagram to take a time lapse video of a train journey from the city centre to campus for example, or a video of students collecting their certificates on graduation day. Check out this great Hyperlapse GIF for inspiration.

For more insights into social media and how you rank against competitor institutions, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch, and make sure to join our newsletter for the latest in content marketing and student recruitment.

Article by

Holly Rich

Media Planning Manager