Instagram From Scratch

The Challenge

I knew the college needed Instagram, and I’d known it for a while. It’s a great tool to connect with current and prospective students (think recruitment), and it’s gotten to be an expected piece of any well-rounded social media strategy.

That being said, I’d been putting it off because:

A. I had little help.

B. I had little time.

A common complaint in the communications world I know, but a valid one.

My challenge was that I knew that in order to do Instagram right I’d need to not just throw it on student works or interns entirely, but actively manage a student-focused approach with a set strategy in mind.

So with limited time and resources, these are the questions I asked:


To figure it all out, I asked for the help of the people I wanted to connect with most: students.

The Solution

First off, I used what students I had around me to develop a target-audience rich strategy and save time.


  • Our office student worker spent hours researching other university and liberal arts college Instagram accounts. He generated a top list. This saved me oodles of time.
  • I stopped into a liberal arts student ambassador meeting and asked them to help me identify the best ways to reach students. They gave me great tips that became my strategic foundation.


  • To continue my path of using what little time and resources I actually had, I waited until a lull in the school year – which happened to be the end of fall semester.
    • This was a time where I could really focus to create a thoughtful strategy.
  • I put everything together into a strategy outline and met with Chase from CSU’s Team Social. He gave me even more great tips and helped me polish the strategy.

Great Content

  • So what came out of this research and brainstorming process with students and with Chase was a very target audience-based strategy with great content creation techniques, including:
    • Takeovers – students agreed that giving their peers a voice was a great option.
    • Art of the week – Chase pointed out that visual and performing arts are huge content opportunities, and getting students’ work out there would be invaluable to both them and us.
    • Behind the scenes – I made our ambassadors the Instagram helpers, asking them go give me behind the scenes shots of what’s going on in their world.
    • Scenery – if all else fails, I could snap a scenic shot. We do happen to be in one of the most beautiful university locales in the nation after all.

The Launch

After all of this, I was ready to launch. Here’s a few tactics I used to gather and keep followers.

  1. Prizes.
    • I offered two low-cost prize packages to followers. I advertised the prizes on the college’s other social media accounts and on our flat screens.
  2. Connecting.
    • I talked to the ambassadors and asked again if they would send me ‘behind the scenes’ type photos. They did that a bit.
    • I reached out to all of my department communication liaisons to see if I could get students recommendations for Instagram takeovers. I planned to utilize one student from each program. The liaisons helped me out immensely with referrals.
    • I reached out to students who I had worked a bit with in the past to fill holes in takeover referrals.
    • I made it known to department chairs that I was interested in photos of students and faculty, so they started rolling in intermittently.
  3. Boots on the ground.
    • I walked through the art and art history department halls to shoot photos for our student art of the week series.
      • I have had absolutely no problem getting great shots every week and have started creating a bond with the department, as they see me wandering around with a camera a lot.
      • I always give the student and department due credit, which benefits them regarding publicity; I’ve only heard positive feedback.

How To Do Student Takeovers Without Giving Up Control

After getting referrals, I set up a system (think Excel spreadsheet – ultimate organizing edition) of contacting and scheduling in students.

I sent out an email to each student congratulating them on being recommended to represent their program, offering them open weeks, and giving instructions. I only did about 3 emails a week to not overwhelm myself, starting in the first week of school. I let students get settled before starting takeovers, usually 2-3 weeks into the semester.

Some didn’t say anything back, but most did – 3 out of 4 actually. I now send a reminder email a few days before each takeover. They receive instructions in the initial email as well. They are instructed to simply send me 3-4 photos of their life as a student, with captions, by the Monday of their takeover week. I introduce them and put the photos up on the account. It keeps our account safe and secure. All has gone GREAT so far.

Student Content = Great Results

So here’s a few photos, all from my students, that have been great inside views of their lives I would have never gotten on my own. Seventy-five to 100 percent of my content is generated by students or faculty/staff who are along with them.

Cool story behind the snowboarder photo: one of our photography students grabbed this shot in Aspen during X Games practice and I reposted it for our Art of the Week segment – because I tagged the location and hashtagged #xgames, I got about a half dozen OLYMPIAN SNOWBOARDERS AND XGAMES MEDALISTS liking the photo! Whoa.

Check out our profile and follow along if you’d like: @CSULiberalArts

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