Instagram and international students: How do universities use their accounts?

Instagram and international students: How do universities use their accounts?
How do universities keep their Instagram pages interesting for international students? Source: Shutterstock

Earlier this year, it was announced by The Verge that Instagram now has one billion users worldwide.

With so many users signing up to social media accounts like Instagram, it’s clear to see that universities worldwide are under pressure to embrace its growing popularity.

As the image-sharing platform enables users to market their brands, universities often hire a team of creative experts to compile a storyboard that emits a true representation of their campus and community.

In a bid to become ‘instafamous’, these academic institutions battle it out to become the most followed and favoured by students across cyberspace.

Amid accusations that universities can purchase followers and ‘likes’ online, Instagram is cracking down on these activities and eradicating fake user accounts one by one.

As the chances of universities cheating to get their account noticed decrease with new technologies that eliminate inauthentic activity, they have no choice but to rely on creative tactics and tools to take their follower count to the next level.

Depicting an authentic view of their academic institution may be a challenge for some. Source: Shutterstock

After swiping through university Instagram accounts to find out my favourite five for Canada, the US and UK, I’ve started to notice a few tricks of the trade that many of these institutions use.

Through this analysis, I’ve compiled five strategies that I believe are commonly used and inspire the eyes, hearts and application forms of international students…

Student takeovers

By handing over the password to their social media accounts, universities have created a ‘student takeover’ trend.

This is where a selected student posts images and descriptions of their daily life in order to give the viewer a behind-the-scenes insight into what their life is like. This technique works so well because it resonates with both current and future students, giving the latter a sneak peek behind the campus curtain.

The issue with this method, however, may be a question of validity. How true is the picture these students paint? Are they being told what to post by the university’s marketing team? We’ll never really know…

Furry fans


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Mountaineer Nation, meet Caesar. 👋😎 #WVU #instaWVU 📷: @_iconickk

A post shared by West Virginia University (@westvirginiau) on

The internet loves videos, images and memes of cute furry animals doing adorable things.

Latching onto this trend, many universities have furry fans or mascots of their own and like to post pictures of them among university merchandise or in support of an important campus event.

Capturing these lovable creatures means gives the university’s Instagram page the chance to be seen by animal lovers around the world – not just international students. And one of these posts going would be an a-meow-zing moment! (Cringe.)

Relatable journeys


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#TerrierTuesdays: When he first came to BU Jed Caluag (CAS’19) got used to having to point out his home on a map. Most people he encountered in Boston were unfamiliar with Guam, a tiny island and U.S. territory in the Pacific. With his Instagram account, @jedcal is hoping to change that. His passion for photography was passed down from his father, a professional photographer who inspired many of Caluag’s hobbies, teaching his son taekwondo and chess as well – both of which he has excelled at. He been training in taekwondo since the age of 5 and later joined Guam’s national team, competing across the globe. “It’s more than fighting, it’s a way of life,” he says, reflecting that the sport’s emphasis on tenets such as courtesy, perseverance and self-control have influenced his own values. Now a fourth degree black belt, he’s brought his skills to BU’s own team, competing with the Men’s A Team and bringing home the gold medal in sparring last year. Caluag is no stranger to international competition having also made Guam’s national team for chess and competing in both the World Chess Olympiad and the World Taekwondo championships in his senior year of high school. This mental logic has helped him out in his computer science major, with travel photography and content creation to feed his creative side. When he graduates, he says he’ll miss life on-campus the most and credits @BUFSA with creating a “home” for him at BU. “It’s so easy here to see your friends. I realize how valuable that is and how difficult making friends might be after graduating and moving to a new city,” he says. Caluag specifically has his sights set on New York, where he spent his summer interning as a software engineer at ADP. He hopes to continue with his content creation on the side and one day become a travel photographer and influencer, traveling the globe sharing his experiences. His advice to fellow Terriers? “Get involved in as many clubs and communities as you can. You’ll feel a sense of belonging right away and it’s the quickest way to make friends.”

A post shared by Boston University (@bostonu) on

This tactic doesn’t really need explaining after reading the student story above.

By expressing relatable journeys through ‘instaworthy’ images and incredible anecdotes, universities go one step further and focus on the adventure that one international student has gone through to get to where they are now.

It gifts learners with an insightful glimpse and brings out the institution’s compassionate side. Showing they truly care about students will surely boost their reputation.

Campus close-ups

Another classic method is campus close-ups. With serene, nature-based posts, the university looks to be a tranquil space to all prospective students.

As you can see in the image above, the beauty of the river and the building shines through without the need for much of a description.

Plus, everyone will want a picturesque campus as a great selfie background to show off to friends back home. Pretty posts with sunsets, beaches and woodlands really work!

Marketing the merchandise 


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Let’s go, Wildcats! The student section is rockin’ during this Thursday Night Throwdown. #IBelieveInUNH

A post shared by University of New Hampshire (@uofnh) on

Incessant images of merchandise heighten brand awareness and lead consumers towards the product.

Current and future students from the university featured above may see this post and want to be part of the team. This increases the chances of them buying a t-shirt as an emblem of unity and a lifelong souvenir.

Complete with a go-getting caption, you can almost feel the community spirit luring you in and making you want to be part of the team.

After all, isn’t that the ultimate goal for universities? To use Instagram as a platform of persuasion and gain as much student interest as they can?

These five techniquesare a necessity for any university seeking a high-impact social reach. But this is the digital age, and advances happen so fast that people will soon have to think outside of that Instagram photo box…

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