How to use Instagram for schools

I first visited this topic last year in a blog article on why schools ought to be using Instagram, but it’s time for an update. More users, more advertisers, mobile friendliness – there are many compelling reasons Instagram should be part of your school’s communication mix.

Now, if you want to know how to start using Instagram at your school – start here.

Instagram allows you to easily use pictures and videos to tell and share your school story. It’s more popular among students than any other social media channel these days, and it’s a great way to build your school community around something just about everyone regardless of their age likes to do – and that’s look at pictures.

In less than a year’s time, the number of Instagram users has tripled, having surpassed the number of Twitter users. (Facebook purchased Instagram three years ago to compensate for a weak mobile app and to expand its reach to the younger market. So between Facebook, which is still growing among adult users, and Instagram, which automatically feeds to Facebook, a school can cover a whole lot of social media users.}

It’s probably fair to say this up-and-coming social media has arrived, so how can your school start using it to connect your school through photos like the District of Columbia Public Schools is doing with its effective use of a school Instagram account?

1. Build a team

Your first step in using Instagram at your school is to get some help posting photos. Assemble a team of staffers who understand your mission, are willing to participate and contribute, and are willing to share the responsibility of helping manage the Instagram process.

Getting a team together will also help generate interest and accelerate use of Instagram as an ongoing way to share school happenings. Remember, more than one person can take and share the pictures; collaboration is important so you’re not saddled with running the whole show yourself.

You can appoint various team members to be responsible for certain content areas and submit photos accordingly. Like a photo editor running your school’s own photo publishing empire, you can designate or ‘assign’ individuals to cover both planned events and ad hoc photo opps.

Like a photo editor running your school’s own photo publishing empire, you can even designate or ‘assign’ individuals to cover both planned events and ad hoc photo opps.

Also, while there are some cool photo enhancement apps out available to stylize and dress up your photos, don’t overdo it and don’t worry if the photos aren’t picture perfect either. People like authentic scenes.

2. Put together an Instagram plan

Part of your team’s first task is to determine if your school will have more than one official Instagram account. I recommend having just one account to start, but if your team has a high degree of participation and enthusiasm for the channel, you can create and manage multiple Instagram accounts. You might want to create one for each school, or certain departments (e.g., athletics, theater, arts, band) and designate those as official school accounts.

Remember, individuals (students and staff) might also be contributing and sharing through their own personal accounts, so you want to make it easy on your photo-snapping contributors to switch from one Instagram account to another. Similarly, if you’re the designated master Instagram editor for your district – managing multiple account across or within schools – you’re going to want to be able to toggle easily from one account to another.

Managing multiple accounts via your phone can be accomplished using any of a number of apps – either free of charge or just a couple of bucks. Some of the most popular ones are Fotogramme, Latergram, Multigram and Gramatica for iOS, Padgram for Android.

While Instagram is designed primarily as a mobile-only app, power users may want to consider checking out Gramfeed, which is a desktop app that enables you to manage multiple instagram accounts and easily download images from Instagram.

3. Schedule your Instagram posts

While much of the beauty of social media is the spontaneous nature of sharing ideas and images, you should also understand that you can plan and schedule your Instagram posts. For the busy school communications professional whose day doesn’t end when the last school bell rings, you might want to look into some tools for scheduling instagram posts.

Using tools such as these can go a long way to ‘extend’ your Instagram reach at times when you know real-time posts won’t be occurring. You can keep positive sharing happening after school hours, over the weekend and anytime you want to reach your school community. Instagram scheduling tools are especially important when you want to be strategic with your photo sharing (e.g., promote an event, announce achievements, share results.)

Remember too that your school Instagram activity is not all about generating original content from and about your school, but sharing photos from those following your school. “Re-gramming” is a vital strategic tool for your school to use to share important and cool content you want to link to your school.

Be on the lookout for the kinds of imagery and ideas you want to share with your students, faculty, staff, parents and the community, then “re-gram’ them.

4. Instagram is just the tip

I like to think of Instagram as an appetizer or tease to entice visitors to drill down for deeper information if they so choose. While a photo can stand on its own as it’s own story (see the old adage: a picture is worth a thousand words), it can also serve to push viewers to a deeper dive on where that picture was taken, or what the picture is about.

Give your audiences a taste of what you’re talking about through use of a cool photo and a snappy caption. Just like Yahoo or MSN does it on their homepage, the right image can go a long way in keeping people in your content space. Also, be sure to tag (link to names) people in your photos. When tagging photos, if you don’t see the person’s name in the dropdown menu, tap ‘search for person’ to find them.

5. Build your Instagram following

Like the rest of your social media, Instagram content is easy to share across other channels.

Whether it’s a quick pic on the spot, or a photo you’ve scheduled to post in advance, a quick adjustment on your Instagram settings menu you can automatically distribute that same content to your choice of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and other popular social media. Simply go into your profile, select ‘Share Settings” from the “Preferences” menu and choose the other social media to which you want to feed your Instagram post.

The use of hashtags (#) on your photos and videos will also help spread your posts. Hashtags, remember, help group your content by category. Use the caption field to include a hashtag (e.g., MapledaleTitansHoops)

Remember, besides sharing images and ideas, your goal with Instagram is to gain followers, so automatic sharing and hashtags are real workhorses in helping spread the word.

Post it, and they will come.

Private schools and colleges have been using Instagram to help with everything from gaining students to boosting attendance at events. One university even uses it as a flash poll to survey students.

In his education blog, Brendan Schneider, admissions and financial aid director at Sewickley Academy, a Pittsburgh PK-12 day school, asks school online marketing specialist Mike Leembruggen to answer the rhetorical question if schools should even bother with Instagram. Of course they should; so should any public school or district.

Like Schneider, who is also a former board member of the Association of Independent School Admission Professionals, Leembruggen also works with independent schools to help them reach their enrollment goals. Instagram is an engaging way to build relationships with not only prospective students, but all your audiences.

Instagram should not, of course, be limited to just private schools and colleges to get the message out to prospective students. It’s a powerful medium in the the social media mix for public schools to depict and share great images, stories and ideas that can help engage students, parents and community.

Is your school ready to start using Instagram?





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As co-founder of Campus Suite, Steve believes behind every great school is great communication. His tech savvy and passion for design fuel his desire to help administrators understand, embrace and seize the power of web communications.

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