Bringing Instagram to Life at Ithaca College

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.

Ithaca College Instagram sign overlooking Cayuga Lake.

Ithaca College Instagram sign overlooking Cayuga Lake.

Ithaca College Instagram Sign overlooking the Athletics and Events Center.

Ithaca College Instagram Sign overlooking the Athletics and Events Center.

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.

15 responses to “Bringing Instagram to Life at Ithaca College

  1. Hi Micheal,

    Great idea – I’ve just started a new job in Marketing at a local college and part of my responsibilities is looking after our social media accounts and increasing awareness of them.

    Just looking at ways we can create this and if it can be done in-house. Did it take long to produce? We have graduation in a few weeks and something like this would be brilliant to capture the historic event.


    • Hey Chris,

      Thanks so much! I believe they took somewhere between 4-6 weeks to create once we had all of the specs finished. Hope you have time to make them, they’ve been really popular here.



  2. Hi Michael! Did you secure these signs down in any way? Or were they heavy enough that you weren’t worried they would fall down/be taken? They look great – thanks!

    • Hey Laura! They’re pretty large (over 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide) and fairly heavy so they’d be hard to steal. That said, we weigh them down with sand bags to make sure they don’t blow over and to deter theft. It’s not much but we did leave them out on campus for three straight weeks this summer during Orientation and nothing happened to them. Hopefully that continues (knock on wood).

    • Thank you Al! The frame is painted wood and the face is either plexiglass or Lexan (we had both on hand in our shop). The frame is a little over 7 feet tall and about 4 feet wide.

  3. Hey Michael – absolutely love this. Been doing a bit of searching, any chance you can pass on the supplier you used for these Instaframes?
    Jack from UOW in Australia.

    • Thanks so much Jack! We actually made these in-house. We created the specs and have an amazingly talented crew in our facilities department who are able to bring them to life. The vinyl lettering is the only thing we had printed at a local shop off campus.

  4. Pingback: Newsletter: Social Media Links of the Week, May 9 | University Communications Social Media Blog·

  5. Mike – very, very cool. We’ve used cut outs before, but this design idea is fantastic. Probably “borrowing” the design and throwing it into our rotation for our commencement next week. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you very much Brian! Definitely “borrow” away. Anything we can use to connect our students to social media in the real world only strengthens our relationship with them.

  6. What a creative idea, Michael! Thanks for sharing. I bet this would also be very successful at big campus events like commencement or welcome week. I hope you don’t mind if I “borrow” this idea and apply it at GVSU in the future 🙂

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