Marketing for a college can sometimes be tricky. How do we show a prospective student everything the school has to offer? How can we give them an authentic glimpse into what really happens on campus? Social media had answered many of these questions for us in higher ed marketing and we thought we had it figured out. We were sharing what was happening on campus while it was happening, giving prospective students a look into our little worlds. But we are marketing people, so the photos were sometimes too good, distracting from the captions that had the information we wanted prospective students to see – meaning we sometimes missed the mark on getting the full message across. We were covering the biggest productions on campus like Commencement, and missing out on the smaller day-to-day experiences our students were having.
Not to mention we weren’t really engaging our current students – the people who make up the largest part of the college experience. We needed a way to answer the prospective students’ questions: are these the type of kids I could eat with, live with, learn with? We began to further engage our current students on Instagram – after all, they were our largest group of followers. We began posting more pictures from the smaller, everyday events happening on campus, and promoting events happening on campus or in residence. Our numbers grew! Our students loved to see themselves and their friends and classmates become “Instagram Famous.”
We still wanted to do something more. In a meeting on an unrelated subject, a former student brought up the idea of a student takeover – allowing a student to “take over” one of our social media channels for the week. My colleagues and I thought it through, and with the help of our student intern, launched our Instagram takeover program. We began with a one-day takeover on Tuesdays and we used #gcutakeovertuesday so that anyone could follow along. I had an initial meeting with the student and we would talk about what they did on Tuesdays, what they loved about the school, etc. I charged them with thinking ahead about their day and what they would want others to see, reminding them that this was their day.
It took a semester to work out the logistics, and it was a learning experience for me. How could I get the student to give the most appealing view from their perspective? I had to talk them through it, get a sense of who they really were, and give them the encouragement to show their true authentic self to the public world. And through these conversations, I learned more about the students that we ever had before. Maybe I am biased but we have AWESOME students here. The things they were accomplishing in a day, their personalities, the interactions with their friends and faculty – it is all so fascinating! It wasn’t about the perfect picture or the wittiest caption – it was all about them.
We have been doing the Instagram takeovers for over a year, and they have become a part of campus life. The small glimpses into a student’s day are priceless, and the people they interact with throughout their day have been anyone from the university president to the chef in the dining hall. Students have competitions to see who can get the most likes, but they also encourage each other and follow along on their classmate’s student takeover day. Students use this as a way to promote game days, events that they are involved in, or causes that they care about. One takeover took place on the day of our State of the University address. At the end of the president’s speech, he encouraged the campus community to check out Nick’s student takeover on Instagram. To this day, that has been our most liked takeover.
What started as an idea to create authentic content for our social media channels began a new trend on our campus. I receive recommendations all the time from coaches, faculty, and students on who should be the next student takeover. Now when I sit down with a student to walk through their day, they have already thought about what they want to show. As I write this over summer break on our nearly empty campus, I am excited to see what lies ahead for next semester!