11 Tips for Launching a Higher Education Instagram Account

If you're thinking of launching an Instagram account in the higher ed realm, here are a few tips to help get you started.

The word, "yay!" on an iPhone.

Create a 30-day content plan

You’ve likely already determined that the audience you are intending in reaching is on Instagram. So your next step is to figure out what you want to communicate with them. Or in other words, what are you going to post?

Before launching your account, I recommend creating a content calendar that has at least 30 days worth of content. To do this, create content buckets that you can pull ideas from (events, campus beauty, student/staff spotlights, etc.) that also align with your unit’s goals. Then, determine how frequently you plan on posting (five times a week, three times a week, etc.). Lastly, find your imagery and write your captions. When writing your captions, experiment with your language and emojis to create a stronger brand voice.

By creating a content calendar ahead of time, not only do you have 30 days worth of content, but it will help you connect your Instagram strategy to your goals.

Choose a search-friendly username

Screen shot showing the @coloradostateuniversity profile information. 3,572 posts, 103K followers, 2,120 following. Colorado State University. Education. Home of the #CSURams, where Green and Gold pride runs deep. Tag your campus photos with #ColoradoState. Website: colostate.edu. linkin.bio/coloradostateuniversity 900 Oval Drive, Fort Collins, Colorado

Now that you have a good idea of what content you’ll share, it’s time to set up your Instagram account, starting with your handle/username. Handles can be tricky; you don’t want it to be too long, but you also want it to be intuitive for your future followers to find when they search for you.

So, put yourself in your future followers’ shoes. What do you think they would search for when looking for you? If you plan to use an acronym, ask yourself if your acronym is well known by your audience. Consider including “CSU” in your handle so your audience knows they’ve found the right department/unit/college at the right university.

Pick a good profile picture

Next up, a profile picture. Here are a couple things to keep in mind:

  • Instagram profile pictures need to be square (320 x 320 pixels).
  • While the dimensions are square, Instagram profile pictures are displayed as circles. This is important to consider, especially if your profile picture has words, because you don’t want letters to get cut off. If you have trouble with your profile pictures and are looking for help, you can work with CSU’s Marketing and Brand Management team to create optimized profile pictures for all your social media accounts.

Fill out your profile

Your profile information displays under your profile picture and is a great way to tell future followers who you are. Here are a few important reminders for your profile information:

  • Description/bio: This is where you explain who you are and what you do. It’s a good opportunity to show off your brand’s personality/voice with some creativity. Don’t be shy to use a few emojis! Add your branded hashtag(s) here, as well. Be sure to include keywords that will stand out to your audience.
  • Public business info: Include public business information in case your followers want to get ahold of you.
  • Profile link: Similarly, include a link to your website. Instagram is a great way to get your audience to engage with you further on your other platforms. (I’ll talk about another popular way to utilize the profile link below.)

Link in bio


As I mentioned above, you can include your website in your profile link. However, another popular trend organizations and influencers have been doing is “link in bio.”

Since Instagram doesn’t allow you to post live links on posts, many Instagram accounts use tools that allow them to include multiple links within the single link in their profile (or, bio link). For CSU, we use Linkin.bio through Later. When CSU’s followers click on CSU’s profile link, they’ll see a grid similar to Instagram, but when they click on an image, Linkin.bio will take them to an external website related to that post. To drive our followers there, we include “link in bio” in our posts so our followers know they can find more information in our profile link.

If you’d like to drive your followers to multiple webpages/websites, consider looking into link-in-bio services.

Setting up your messages

Example of CSU's Instagram direct messages, showing the primary, general and request tabs.

One of the best ways to engage with your fans and followers is through Instagram’s direct messages.

Within Instagram’s direct messages are three separate folders:

  1. Primary: All messages appear in the Primary tab.
  2. General: The General tab was originally created by Instagram for messages you’d like to get back to later. Swiping to the left on a specific message will allow you to place them in the General tab.
  3. Requests: Messages in the Requests tab are from users who you have never engaged with before. You can either accept or decline messages in this folder. If you decline the message, it will be deleted from your account.
    • It’s important to note that in the Requests tab, messages are often filtered by “Top Requests” and “Hidden Requests.” To ensure you’re seeing all your messages, change “Top Requests” to “All Requests” and don’t forget to check your “Hidden Requests.”

Within Instagram’s settings, you can change a few things, including whether you want to receive requests or not. Turning off requests will send new messages directly to your Primary tab. You can also set up automated messages for both Instagram and Facebook so you can ensure a fast response rate.

Set up your Favorites feed

Example of where to find the Favorites and Following feeds, by clicking the Instagram logo.

Last month (March 2022), Instagram introduced two new feeds: Favorites and Following. Now, users can control whether they want to see content from their Instagram-curated feed, a feed only made up of accounts they follow, or content from a list of “favorites” that users can create. Both the Favorites and Following feeds are also chronological (OG Instagram users rejoice 👏)

We set up our Favorites feed to include a list of accounts we want to regularly engage with and/or like to keep an eye on for good user-generated content (UGC) opportunities.

Rather than searching for each account one-by-one, we can click over to our Favorites feed and find all the accounts within one place.

Don’t ignore Instagram’s many features

Screen shot showing Instagram's many features, like post, Reel, Story, Story Highlight, Live, Guide, FundraiserIf you’re new(ish) to Instagram, you might notice that Instagram is no longer the photo-sharing app it once was — it’s so much more. I mentioned in a recent blog post that Instagram is putting a large focus on video (to compete with the new kid on the block, TikTok), and if you want followers to see your content. you’ll also want to incorporate video, especially Reels, into your content mix.

Beyond Reels/videos, here are a few other tools to try out on Instagram:

  • Stories: Sharing photos/videos that are only viewable for 24 hours. Learn more about Stories.
  • Highlights: If you want your Stories to be viewable beyond 24 hours, you can add them to a Highlight. Learn more about Highlights.
  • Takeovers: We often allow students from different units/offices host takeovers on CSU’s Instagram Story to promote upcoming events and initiatives, and to share relevant information. This form of peer-to-peer communication has worked great for us! Consider hosting your own Story takeovers with students.
    • If you’re interested in hosting a takeover on CSU’s Instagram account, feel free to email me at Ashley.Schroeder@colostate.edu.
  • Collabs: If you’re looking to co-author a post with another account without having to post it twice, Collab is for you! Learn more about Collabs.
  • Live: Going Live on Instagram allows you to share a real-time experience with your followers. I’ve seen a lot of accounts do this, especially during events. You can go Live on your Story, but remember, Live videos disappear from your account as soon as you end the livestream. Learn more about Live.

Engage with your followers…but don’t be creepy

Instagram is all about engaging with your followers! But don’t be creepy about it. Our team only engages with our followers when:

  • Our followers tag us or the Colorado State University location in their post/Story/Reel
  • Our followers use one of our brand hashtags in their post/Reel
  • Our followers direct message us

We avoid engaging with our followers’ content that appears in our home feed (unless it’s a fellow CSU account) and never watch our followers’ Stories (again, unless we’re tagged in them. If you’re tagged in a user’s Story, you’ll receive a notification in your direct messages).

Promote your new Instagram account

This might be obvious, but be sure to promote your new Instagram account through your other channels: website, emails/newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Register your new account to be officially recognized by CSU

There’s one last (and important!) step to complete before launching your account, and that is to register your new account with the CSU Social and Digital Media team to be officially recognized by CSU.

You can find the application form here.

That’s it from me! I can’t wait to see your new Instagram accounts shine ✨ 👏