Photo-Synthesis: Integrating Instagram into Your Engagement Strategy

Keith Hannon is the assistant director for social media at Cornell University.

Consumers love it; professionals love to hate it. Thanks to Instagram, anyone with a smartphone can snap off filtered and fish-eyed photos at a rapid rate. According to an infographic by College Online, Instagram will hit 100 million users after just two years of existence. That growth is twice as fast as Facebook, three times faster than Twitter and four times faster than LinkedIn.  Here are a few other metrics that College Online highlights:

  • Instagram gains one new user every second.
  • One billion photos have been taken with the app.
  • There are roughly 58 photos uploaded each

[see full infographic here:]

“Do I have your attention now?” – Alec Baldwin, Glengarry Glen Ross

Now, before you download the Instagram app and create an account for your institution, let’s think about what these numbers imply. While our first reaction might be to create an Instagram account, snap a few photos, and then announce to the world, “We’re on Instagram! Follow us!”, we need to take a closer look at this photograph phenomenon.

These stats shouldn’t motivate us to take more pictures. We already know our constituents respond to the photos we post. What’s more important here is that THEY love TAKING photos. As a community manager, user-generated content is a precious commodity of which you can never have enough. The problem is it can be very hard to obtain. It’s one thing to ask your community to “like” a post but it’s another to ask them to go out, take pictures and upload them to your networks. The beautiful thing about Instagram is that they’re already there and are snapping pics at a rate that could have the “cloud” crashing down on us. All we have to do is say, “Don’t forget to tag your Instagram photos with ______________ (enter event hashtag here).” Once they do that, it takes very little time to search through all the photos that have been tagged.

Cornell University decided to hold an Instagram contest during its reunion this past June. We publicized this contest via social media just 48 hours before the start of the reunion and simply said all photos tagged with #CUreunion would be eligible for the grand prize, a $25 gift card to the campus store.  The results were very encouraging. By the end of the weekend, there were more than 150 photos of the reunion tagged via Instagram. These pictures were not staged by university photography or alumni affairs staff, but were taken by actual alumni participating in the reunion. Considering research has clearly shown people are more likely to engage with and share content that comes from people they know versus a brand, these are precious pieces of content. Now, to be honest, some of the participants probably had no idea they were entering a contest; they just tagged their photos because that’s what Instagram users do and that’s the beauty of it. You find something audience members are going to do whether you promote it or not and then capitalize on their interests.

Remember, when it comes to the latest and greatest in the world of technology, consider how you can use platforms to promote your audience before you focus on promoting your institution.  In the case of Instagram, the work is being done FOR YOU!  There’s no need to overwhelm your audience members by pushing them to follow your institution on yet another network.  Encourage them to use the app and then harvest their content to promote the event from the candid perspective of the attendees. Oh, and don’t forget to credit the source of the photos. It’s common courtesy even in the amateur world of smartphone photography.

One response to “Photo-Synthesis: Integrating Instagram into Your Engagement Strategy

  1. Thanks for this great post! I’m really interested to try the Instagram hashtag concept you talked about for our homecoming week (“The Chico Experience Week”) next month. I’ve been avoiding jumping on the Instagram bandwagon because our resources to maintain platforms are stretched enough as is, but this sounds like an even better approach than creating our own account.
    It sounds like you had a pretty good buy-in. Was this your first Instagram activity for CU? Any lessons or wisdom to impart for a first-timer?
    Thanks again,
    California State University, Chico

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s