Recently Wayne State was featured on College Recruiter’s list of top 10 colleges on Instagram. It got me thinking about the importance of micro communities. A lot of schools follow every new shiny thing that comes their way. That approach gets people to think they are “leading edge” but six to twelve months later, when the community or the internal resources dry up, the school is left with wasted resources that could have been used to build a more solid and engaged community.
I initially posted about our first 48 hours on Instagram as a litmus test. Since then we have been keeping up a continuous growth of followers and interactions. More importantly for us is the ability to connect with students, alumni and the community on a personal level. Looking back at the last six months on Instagram has allowed us to validate its ability to accomplish that very goal.
We started the journey by “looking into the pond” during the first 48 hours which turned in to “getting our feet wet” during the first six months. Over the past six months we’ve kept Instagram isolated from our other social networks. This is by design and because we didn’t want to set up false expectations. The photos we posted were meant to grow the Instagram community and nothing else. If the community could stand on its own, we knew promoting it other places would only accelerate its growth.
Growth of followers vs engagement per photo
The graph above shows our growth in followers (blue) over the past six months from 0 to 1,000. The lines in green are photos we posted and their “interactions”. We consider an interaction a “like” or a comment on a photo.
Looking at the graph we were able to develop some insights about our reach. Instagram is an interaction based media, if you don’t post people don’t notice you. So keeping a constant stream of photos is important to the growth of the community (duh). The second is that we suffered from the same “shiny thing” syndrome that we were trying to avoid: lots of photos, interaction and growth initially then after three months we dropped off. Although we never dropped in followers, we didn’t grow at the rate we should have been.
The real secret to gaining Instagram followers
Since we were not promoting our account beyond the network itself, the only way to “advertise” that we were part of the community was to actually be a part of the community. This may seem like a novel concept to some but it is by far the first thing overlooked when resources are tight. “Let’s just push out content” is heard too often around meeting room tables. Our secret isn’t a secret at all, the largest factor to our follower growth didn’t come from our photos, it came from us liking, commenting and following others.
Listening and engaging when appropriate by far had the largest impact in our follower growth. We consider the photos we post as a secondary benefit to being on Instagram. Students are tagging us or geo-locating photos around campus at a rate of one every fifteen minutes. That is far more content than we could ever, or would ever, want to post.
Where we go from here
From here is the long road of supporting and interacting. That includes:
- Integrating Instagram into our social dashboard (Socialy)
- Promoting the community photos on Digital Signage
- Driving more traffic to our newly launched profile page
- Involving the campus community in our posts
- Continuing to find those things that connect students and alumni back to campus