What you need to know about adding Instagram to your school’s social media strategy.
A few weeks ago, my 15-year-old daughter competed in a music festival. I was so excited to see that her band teacher posted about it on the school Facebook page! When she got home that day, I said, “Did you see the nice FB post about the competition?” She stared back blankly. That’s right, I remembered, she doesn’t have a Facebook account. Neither do most of her friends. Their parents all do, and I’m friends with many of them there.
As a parent group, we follow our school pages, allowing us the opportunity to stay updated on school events and be a part of our children’s classroom experiences (assuming, of course, the school page is being managed effectively, which ours only sometimes is, but that’s for another blog). We also update our own timelines with “mom brags,” memes about how the kids have stolen our sanity, and the occasional “mom of the year” story—an anecdote that really demonstrates we’re the exact opposite, like leaving for school drop-off without one of the kids (hey, it only happened once!)—all with the knowledge that our tweens and teens probably won’t see our posts. I showed her the FB post on my phone and asked if she wanted help setting up an account. “Nah,” she said, “He posts everything for us on Instagram; that post was probably mostly for the parents.”
Our tech-savvy students aren’t spending as much time on Facebook or Twitter as they used to. The reason? Their parents have invaded! A growing number of our students have turned to Instagram for their social platform of choice. In fact, 63 percent of 13 to 17-year olds use Instagram daily. Studies do show that young people begin to use Facebook more as they get older, but they aren’t giving up their Instagram accounts. What’s more, younger parents are more likely to have both, and the number of existing Facebook users who are adding Instagram to their daily social media use is growing. If schools are going to adhere to the old marketing adage, “fish where the fish are,” then it makes perfect sense to consider adding Instagram to your online communication toolbox.
What Is It?
Instagram is all about photo sharing. It’s a mobile-based platform, meaning you post photos straight from an app on your phone or tablet, not a desktop computer. It’s your go-to photo-sharing platform when you’re on the go! Instagram easily partners with Facebook, and schools using both can expand their audience by reaching parents and students alike since each platform tends to attract a different age group. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. With Instagram, you can do more than just tell followers how great your school is—you can show them.
Is It Safe?
Keeping your students safe online is a top priority. Like all social platforms, Instagram can be misused. It’s up to school personnel to ensure your Instagram account is set up properly, safeguarding your students’ privacy online. There are a few things to consider when setting up your school’s Instagram profile:
- Privacy Setting: I would argue that personal accounts should always be set up as “private” accounts, meaning only people you grant permission to can follow your page, but Instagram business profiles (which is the type of account schools should be setting up) default to “public,” meaning anyone can see the photos you post there. Because of this, Instagram should be considered just as public a platform as your website. If you wouldn’t post a particular photo or video on the school website for everyone to see, you shouldn’t post it on Instagram. The fact that it’s a public account brings us to our next point…
- Make very sure that you have photo releases on file for every student. Parents need to know that you may feature their child on your school’s public social media pages, and they need to be okay with it. And even with those photo releases on file, remember not to post the last names of the students you portray there. No name is even better. Don’t have a school-wide process for parents to give photo permissions? Check out these free templates:
- Location Share: There is a feature on Instagram that allows you to share the mapped location of where you took the picture. To ensure safety, turn this feature off both in Instagram and in the settings for the device you’re using to make your posts.
- Stay in control of what photos post to your school Instagram account by selecting just one or two administrators to manage your posts. Page administrators should be the only ones who can log directly into the account. Other staff members can contribute photos by sending them to Dropbox or Google Drive (something I highly encourage) so the account managers can moderate which photos get published.
Using Instagram Effectively
Because Instagram is a mobile-based platform, it’s ideal for use on the go. As your school social media manager, you can attend an event—like a basketball game, for instance—where you can take a few photos or short videos and upload them straight to your school’s Instagram right then and there. A fun caption, a branded hashtag (we’ll talk more about that in a minute), a few photos or a video (60 seconds or less), and you’re good to go! Here are five tips for leveraging Instagram’s unique and fun features:
- Engaging photos & video
Instagram is all about the visual. The best advice I can give when it comes to choosing content is to not only know your audience but to place yourself in their shoes. If I’m a parent of a child in your kindergarten program, what do I want to see? The answer is pretty simple: I want to see how my child is learning and growing in your care. Give your audience a taste of what’s going on inside the classroom, how your teachers interact with the kids, and how the administration supports the staff and students. Most of all, reassure them that they’ve made a good choice in trusting you with their child’s education. Post photos of your students working and playing, videos of story time and show and tell, and parents and other community members volunteering on campus. Your Instagram feed should reflect your school’s unique personality, so be sure to feature programs that set you apart like STEM, IB, or Special Education. Not only will these images speak volumes about your current students having made the right choice by enrolling at your school, they will attract prospective students whose parents are looking to learn more about you.
- Compelling captions
If the photos and short videos you post are the meat of your Instagram feed, the captions you include are the potatoes. Crafting an effective line of text to go with your images can be the difference between likes/comments and, well, no likes or comments. Since Instagram’s algorithm favors posts with more engagement, your captions play a key role in pushing your posts up higher in your follower’s feeds. Visit Hootsuite’s blog, “How to Write the Best Instagram Captions: Ideas, Tips, and Strategy,” to see eleven tips for crafting the perfect Instagram caption.
- Use (but don’t overuse) hashtags
Hashtags were originally created as a way for users to search related posts; by now, they’ve developed into a bit of an art form! Your captions should include hashtags, but you’ll want to use them wisely. Use them to target your audience, spread your brand, and help your posts show up in searches that relate to your school, but don’t use so many that they clutter up your caption, making it a chore to read. It’s an excellent idea to create an original hashtag for your school. It can be generic, like your school’s name or mascot (#GoTigers), or you can create a hashtag for a specific event (#RPSFunRun). You can even center a schoolwide social media campaign around an original hashtag like South Valley Junior High School in Gilbert, Arizona, did. In addition to using it on their official school pages, they encourage their students to use #PostingThe Positive when they share on their own Facebook or Instagram pages to help combat all the negativity that often circulates on social media. According to a study by Simply Measured, Instagram posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6 percent more engagement than those with no hashtags.
- Follow and tag
Chances are very good that the businesses and organizations in your community are already on Instagram. Spend a little time searching for them there so you can follow their pages. This will often result in their following you in return, and it’s an excellent way to circulate your school’s brand around your area. When you have the opportunity, tag these pages in your captions simply by placing the “@” sign before their page’s name (i.e. @mimphx). Tagging fellow Instagram users is a nice way to give them a shout-out when they get involved with your school. Did a local restaurant host a “food around town” night, donating the proceeds to your school? Snap a photo at the event, post it, and tag their business in the caption. Making friends out in the community is an important part of every school’s public relations strategy.
- Schedule ahead of time
Instagram is really about sharing in real-time, but that’s not always practical for schools. In the past, school personnel have shied away from the platform for this reason alone. Unlike Facebook business pages, Instagram doesn’t offer the option of scheduling posts into the future. However, there are third-party platforms you can use to schedule Instagram posts. Learning to use a scheduling tool is an extra step and takes a bit more time upfront, and some of these platforms charge a monthly subscription fee, but school social media managers may find that the ability to schedule posts ahead of time is worth it, saving them time in the long run. Check out these scheduling tools to learn more:
Ask For Help
Instagram is a fun way to share school photos, and what’s more, many of your students and parents are already there! If building a tight-knit school community is your goal, Instagram can help you do just that. But, that doesn’t mean you have the time for it! Just because you as an educator use social media personally, it doesn’t necessarily mean you want to be running your school’s pages. Frequent posts, engaging content, keeping up with best practices—those things take time and ongoing training, and we know that you and your staff are busy enough as it is. Here at School Webmasters, we work continuously to ensure we’re offering our clients the most relevant online communication services possible. Social Media is ever-changing, and we must change with it! We’ve recently added Instagram management to our list of services—something we’re really excited about. The addition of Instagram is a game-changer, so we’ve re-arranged our management packages a bit to make room for this platform. We all know it can be hard to ask for help, especially when it comes to using tech tools that our children seem to be using so effortlessly! However, using Instagram as a part of your school’s communication, public relations, and marketing strategy is hardly child’s play. E-mail me to learn more about how School Webmasters can help your school use social media to tell your stories and build community. I look forward to hearing from you!
Anna Nolan, Social Media contributor