Making authentic connections: Admissions on Instagram
- Colleges need to meet prospective students where they live and play—and increasingly, that place is Instagram
- While it may seem counterintuitive, admission counselors and recruiters should connect more deeply with fewer people to build meaningful relationships
- An effective Instagram strategy has four steps: identifying new Instagram accounts to target, finding micro-influencers, messaging prospects directly, and delivering value
Institutions know the importance of social media engagement with students at all points in the student lifecycle. But let me illustrate, using a fictional school, an increasingly typical example of how admissions offices are finding more success on some social platforms than others.
State University’s Undergraduate Admissions Office manages Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. SU does a wonderful job of updating, uploading, and adding content in real-time. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are “the places to be” when trying to build community with prospective students.
To conduct a quick test of how powerful these platforms can be and which platform performs better, SU ran a side-by-side comparison of Facebook and Instagram. A recruiter uploaded a photo from a high school recruitment event in the morning. The photo was posted on both Facebook and Instagram at 11am.
Later that day, when the recruiter logged off, the Facebook photo had three likes. The same photo on Instagram had 89 likes.
This data, increasingly typical in my experience with admissions offices, sends a clear message: Prospective students are paying attention to schools on Instagram. And it’s ever-important for recruiters and diplomats to meet prospects where meaningful interactions take place.
Schools should deploy an Instagram strategy that is swift, smart, and savvy to deepen prospective student relationships.
Why Instagram strategies are successful
Utilizing Instagram effectively is about more than posting school-related pictures. The goal is meaningful engagement. The goal is to connect with prospective students and other community members following or liking the school’s photos. The goal is to problem-solve: How can a recruiter or diplomat solve prospective students’ challenges?
Admission counselors and recruiters spend an inordinate amount of time processing applications and scaling their work to informally connect with broad audiences of prospects to transact in the shortest amount of time.
The admissions office must reverse that. While it may seem counter-intuitive, admission counselors and recruiters should connect more deeply with fewer people to build a relationship that lasts a lifetime rather than the temporary lifespan of a recruitment transaction.
How to engage with prospective students on Instagram
The key is to connect first.
Once a school connects and provides value (perhaps by sending the student a study guide to support a future Advanced Placement exam), and given an authentic opportunity, it’s time to ask for an application.
In order to optimize this strategy, admission recruiters should begin to connect with five accounts a day on Instagram within the prospective student community. As recruiters become more comfortable with this tactic, they should raise their goal to 10 per day with a goal of reaching out to 25 prospective students a day by the start of the next month.
A four-step Instagram strategy that delivers results
Maybe your school already has an Instagram account, or maybe it needs to create one and start its network from scratch. Either way, there’s no reason you can’t begin to see meaningful value within 30 days of implementing your school’s presence on the platform.
Below are four simple steps for incorporating an effective Instagram strategy into daily practice:
- Find New Instagram Accounts to Target
Do a quick Instagram search by location, hashtag, or user. Your office can also start by searching hashtags for the most used terms in the industry against your school’s location. Recruiters can do the same as they travel out of state to connect with new, prospective students. A simple search for “admission” or “admission application” against the city or town the office would like to target will provide recruiters the accounts of people in the area who are actively trying to solve their admission application challenges.
Start examining each account paying attention to the top and most recent posts. The key is to find “micro-influencers” – accounts that have smaller “followers” but tremendous engagement with your school, the subject you hope to engage others with, or that happen to live nearby.
- Find Micro-Influencers
The admission counselor, recruiter, or diplomat should spend 30 seconds scrolling through their feed to understand each user’s likes, dislikes, and overall activity.
Pay attention to each prospect’s engagement. Even if the account only has 95 followers, but every single post that user creates has 40 likes and 12 comments, a recruiter should reach out via Instagram Direct Messenger (DM).
If the relationship between users’ following and their engagement is strong, that means they have their audience’s attention. At this point, the relationship and the intent is not to ask for an application, but to ask “What can we do for you?” or “What seems to challenge you right now?”
This is where the undergraduate admissions office can really start to be creative through curiosity. Once the admissions office serves and supports this “micro-influencer,” their community of followers will know.
- Direct Messaging
Recruiters should try as hard as they can not to spam or mass communicate with the Instagram community of followers they’re working hard to build. The Instagram community is where it is today because it was built organically and with authenticity. Do not copy and paste messaging to random accounts. This is the time to bring value to one prospect, one account at a time.
The admissions office staff must change their thinking and consider what a prospective student actually needs. What are they struggling with? What challenges them? This is a chance to provide value, and this is the time for recruiters and admission counselors to put their creativity and curiosity to good use.
The key to this tactic, and this is THE key tactic, is to provide more value to the prospective student during the time they have more leverage. And at this point in time, the prospect has the leverage. They can block you. They can ignore you. But they won’t if you provide value.
The undergraduate admissions office's value proposition is “how can we serve and support you,” or better yet, the office can come up with ways to solve problems prospective students haven’t even thought of yet.
This leads to direct messaging. Once the undergraduate admissions office feels comfortable with the game plan to personally reach out and build its community one student at a time, it’s time to engage. Once on a user's Instagram account page, look to the top of one of their posts and find three dots, click and select “send message.”
- Execute and Deliver Value
Recruiters from the admissions office will need to send at least five messages a day to get their Instagram strategy going. Then scale up to 25 times a day in the next month. Getting one “yes” will build the foundation and confidence of each recruiter as they develop these new digital and social media outreach skills.
Engagement will build speed, and speed leads to momentum. One “yes” gives the admissions office the chance to deliver on the value it promised.
This is an admission counselor’s or recruiter’s chance to demonstrate creative skill and execution—on a platform that’s personal, in a way that’s authentic—that supports the office’s mission to serve and support prospective students.
For more thinking on enrollment and retention strategies, explore our content.