Michael O’Neill (@mikeoneill76) is the social media strategist at Ithaca College
Part of the fun of guiding the social media efforts at an institution is figuring out new ways to enhance the experience of students and alumni. After all, social media professionals are in a unique position to interact with most, if not all, of our constituents on social media, and those interactions undoubtedly impact their perception of the institution.
It should come as no surprise to anyone in higher education that most students are constantly connected to the digital world. By some estimates, students spend as much as 7 ½ hours a day consuming media and virtually all students have cell phones. At Ithaca College, we try to tap into this natural connectivity and have our students share their campus experiences throughout their time at the college. We encourage them to share pictures when they move into their residence halls, when they attend various campus events and when they don their caps and gowns to graduate.
We know a portion of their campus experience happens on the screen of their phones, so we encourage them to upload images as keepsakes and share them to show what it’s truly like to be an Ithaca College student. One of the most popular ways to share images is through Instagram. Almost half of all cell phone owners, ages 18-29, are on Instagram, so it makes sense to assume that current students and prospective students see and are influenced by photos of our campus on Instagram.
I often wonder how we can tie that digital world, which they’re so immersed in, back into the real world. This is something colleges and universities frequently do through digital means like including Twitterfalls or Tagboards at campus events, but it’s a very different experience when you can give current and prospective students something physical to touch.
A few months ago, I was inspired by a great project in London by the artist Bruno Ribeiro (@nitchows). He created physical Instagram cards with different colored plastic films in their middles and placed them around the city, with the intent of getting people to see the city the way they would through Instagram.
The Ithaca College campus is known for its amazing landscape views, and I wondered if we could apply this concept to our campus. I didn’t want to take away from the campus’s natural beauty, and consequently, I didn’t want to add any colored films into the middle of the signs. I also knew from running our weekly #HowISeeIC Instagram takeovers that students get really excited when they are featured in our posts, so I knew we wanted the signs to be big to include our scenic views and multiple people (students and their friends), without pushing either out of the frame.
My brainstorm became four, seven-foot tall Ithaca College Instagram signs. The signs were detailed to look exactly like Instagram posts as displayed on the popular social media platform. We created vinyl labels on the signs to further mirror actual social media posts. The number of “likes” on the signs represented the year the college was established and symbolized our unofficial goal to increase the number of likes on our posts (our posts haven’t received that many likes yet). The hashtags on the signs, along with the instructions on the back, encouraged students to share resulting pictures on their social networks. For future events, we plan to add temporary hashtags to the signs, corresponding to specific events.
After scouting out the perfect places on campus to showcase the sizable signs, we strategically debuted them during Ithaca Today, our annual weekend for accepted students, which includes campus tours. The signs were popular with the members of our class of 2018. When they posted the photos to their social media accounts, they also helped expose their friends to the beauty that is Ithaca College. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we had perfect weather that day, with clear skies and warm temperatures.
As we make plans to use the signs for additional events such as the last day of classes, new student orientation and alumni weekend, I have no doubt that students and alumni are going to enjoy seeing their campus through our in-person Instagram.