10 Ways To Grow Your Higher Ed Instagram (with FREE Checklist)


Social media accounts for colleges and universities are growing faster than any other industry in the US. It makes sense, because the most active social media users are in the 13-25 age range.

One platform rises far above the rest when it comes to engagement rates for higher ed: Instagram. In fact, colleges and universities are getting engagement rates from Instagram that are over 4x higher than the next closest platform.

Higher Ed Social Media Engagement 2017 (Source)

Higher Ed Social Media Engagement 2017.png

If you want to calculate your own engagement rates for comparison, here’s the formula to use:

Engagement Rate = [Likes + Comments] ÷ Followers

If you’re like most higher ed marketers, you have limited time and budget. If you are wanting to get the most possible engagement out of social media, it makes sense to prioritize Instagram. To help with that, we are providing you with 10 of our favorite higher ed Instagram growth strategies. While we save our best strategies for our clients, we still use the 10 strategies outlined below on a regular basis.

The best part? None of these strategies will cost you money.

We’ve summarized this post in a streamlined checklist, which you can download below.

High-level strategy

Before focusing on growth, it’s helpful to set your objectives and determine your goals. What is the main purpose for your Instagram account? Here are a few examples of common higher ed Instagram objectives:

  • Grow awareness of your brand

  • Drive traffic to your site

  • Boost enrollment via lead and app generation

  • Grow your followers/audience

  • Showcase your students

  • Share college news

  • Increase engagement and stakeholder loyalty

It would be nice to accomplish all of the above, but it helps to focus on one objective or prioritize a select few. If your main objective is to share college news, you will have a much different account management style than if your main goal is to generate leads.

If your main goal is to generate leads, apps, and visits in order to help boost enrollment, the best way to do so is to advertise on Instagram. To learn how we generate higher ed leads on Instagram, click here.

Once you prioritize your objectives, try to attach goals, metrics or key performance indicators to your strategy. How many followers do you want? How quickly do you want to grow your account? What type of engagement ratio is acceptable? How many leads do you want to generate each month? This will help you determine if your marketing efforts are successful.

Next, do some competitive research. Look at the accounts of your top 3-5 competitors. Can you tell what their objectives and strategies are? This can also help you determine what metrics to use as goals.

10 Ways To Grow Your Instagram

  1. Take advantage of all of Instagram’s features, including stories.

    • Instagram is more than just images. Carousel posts help you craft a narrative by combining several images into one post.

    • Instagram’s Story feature lets you create engaging, disappearing content similar to Snapchat.

    • Instagram Live is a free tool that few colleges are using. This allows you to be creative by moderating Q+A sessions, letting prospects “sit next to you” at the big game, or hosting a virtual tour.

      • You can promote your live video in advance, or make it impromptu. Either way, your followers will get a notification on their phone that you started a live video if they have Instagram notifications enabled.

  2. Create stories highlights to show stories for longer than a day

    • The downside - and attraction - of stories is that they disappear after 24 hours. Be sure that your auto-archiving feature is turned on (you can access this in your Story Settings). This will auto-save all your stories in the cloud, so you can always access them.

    • You can now go back and add your favorite archived stories to your highlight. These will be seen by your profile visitors, right above your images.

    • You can package similar themed stories together, give them a name, and designate a cover image. Use this to showcase elements of your institution that make you unique.

  3. Develop a posting routine

    • Major brands post 1.5 times per day on Instagram. In our experience, the average college posts much less often than that. The key here is to find a balance that works for you without sacrificing quality for quantity.

    • The best time to post on Instagram for the most engagement is between 8-9:00 am and after 4:00 pm on Mondays or Thursdays. Posting a video at 9:00 am gets 34% more interaction.

    • Experiment with different times to determine what works best for your audience. Be flexible and willing to adjust.

    • Pro Tip: No one wants to set alarms or reminders to make a post, so checkout services like Hoostuite and CoSchedule to automate your posts.

  4. Use one filter for all your images

    • A WebDam report found that 60% of the top brands on Instagram use the same filter for every post.

    • Using the same filter can give your college feed its own look and feel that helps create recognition and familiarity.

    • Pro Tip: In your Instagram app, you can reorder and even delete filters to make things easy on yourself and those who are posting.

  5. Use selected hashtags

    • Hashtags help Instagram users discover content and accounts to follow. By making yourself more discoverable on Instagram, you have a better chance of attracting new followers, getting more likes, and increasing engagement.

    • Posts with at least one hashtag average 13% more engagement than those without.

    • Use hashtags that are likely to be used by your target niche.

    • Integrate your social media and enrollment efforts by creating specific hashtags for incoming classes. You can use these hashtags in viewbooks and admissions communications to encourage prospects to use them on social media.

  6. Don’t be shy about following others

    • Following prospective students is a great way to gain exposure and encourage follow backs, especially if you are not a nationally known institution.

    • People get a rush when a brand follows them. Be sure that you are only proactively following prospects in your core target audience. If you do, there’s a good chance that user will check out your profile.

    • Follow other institutions that are doing well on Instagram to provide inspiration.

    • Follow your faculty, staff, and current students. These groups will really help boost your engagement rates.

    • Follow your feeder schools, businesses, and organizations that you are partnered with.

    • If you’re worried about the optics of following too many people, you can always unfollow later to trim your list.

  7. Curate and repost from the Instagram community

    • In your search bar, select the Tags tab and enter your college name. This will show anyone who is posting about you.

      • This is also a great place to start ‘social listening’. It helps you be aware of what types of unsolicited messages and opinions are being expressed about your brand.

    • If you want to repost (or “regram”), the best practice is to message them beforehand and ask if you can regram their image. It starts a positive dialogue, and the vast majority of people will say yes and will appreciate the extra exposure you are providing them.

    • Regramming takes the pressure off of you to create a perfect image every day. Students and visitors on your campus are likely taking lovely photos all the time.

    • When regramming, let your followers know how they can be considered for regramming, like using a certain hashtag that you monitor.

  8. Monitor locations and geotags

    • Browsing by location can help you see all the posts that were made from your campus.  

    • You can search for a specific place, like an athletic field or recital hall. If there is no geotag for a popular spot on campus, you can create one through Facebook’s “Create the Location” setting. Simply go to create a new post on Facebook, click “Check In” and enter the spots name while you are there.

    • You can also search posts and stories made “near your current location” if you’re on campus. If you’re at a big game or event, search near your location to see if you can regram someone who got the perfect shot.

  9. Identify your influencers and work with them

    • These can be influential students, alumni, staff, or faculty. They don’t have to be a celebrity; someone with a thousand followers and good engagement can really help boost your brand.

    • Customize your settings to get notifications when they post.

    • Pro Tip: DM influencers and develop a relationship with them. If they are local, ask them to post from campus or invite them to a photo-worthy event. Ask for their size, send them a sweatshirt (everyone loves free stuff!) and ask them to tag you when they post in it.

  10. Use the “See link in bio” to drive traffic, run a promotion, or generate leads

    • Instagram doesn’t currently allow click through URLs in posts. One way to get around that is to use the “see link in bio” approach.

    • Example: Your new viewbooks arrive. You can feature them in a post and let people know they can request one by clicking on the link in your bio. That link can drive them to a landing page where you collect their information. You may generate a qualified lead, or reach an influencer like a parent or teacher.

    • Many institutions use a link to an Instagram-specific landing page or with a specific UTM tag in order to track the number of clicks on the link in their Instagram profile.

Hopefully this list adds value to your Instagram efforts. Remember to grab our free download that streamlines this post into a checklist.

Have any of these growth tactics proven successful for you? Did we miss any? Feel free to share your favorite approach in the comment section below.

After you’ve mastered these techniques and you’re ready to graduate from account growth to serious lead generation, we can help!

If you missed the free checklist download, you can grab it by clicking on the button below.