Instagram is a visually led platform with 500 million daily active users. As ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ there is no better channel to tell a story to your audience.
Instagram is used to show the more authentic side of the University experience. It can display what makes Herts great, the inner workings, the students and the activities.
Primarily the audience on this platform includes Undergraduates and Postgraduates, with a lesser focus on Corporate, Alumni, Staff and Academics.
Building a brand
Your brand identity is how you want to portray your business to your customers. Keeping your Instagram brand identity consistent means your target audience is being exposed to key messages and visual branding repeatedly, which can help to build brand recognition.
To build a strong brand identity on Instagram, you should firstly define your profile. The three areas of focus here are your profile picture, profile description or ‘bio’ and website link.
- Your profile picture should be your logo and should match the logo on your website and other social media platforms. For personal profiles, we would recommend a clear image of yourself. Your profile picture is displayed next to in-feed posts and stories, so it’s important this drives brand recognition.
- The profile description tells visitors who you are and what to expect if they follow you. This has a 150-character count so needs to be short and snappy.
- The URL provides an opportunity to drive those who visit your Instagram profile on to your website. You may choose to use a URL to the most popular area of your website or use a link service like Linktree to connect audiences to all your content with just one link.
You should also consider how your brand identity is represented in your posts and stories. You should aim to build consistency by using your brand colours, as well as the same fonts, filters and tone of voice.
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Need to knows
Potential students use Instagram as a way to virtually see the campus, the students, lessons and the surrounding area. You can show this all off in one place, ensuring all imagery is accurate, authentic and honest (i.e. no fake student models or stock photography). Always keep your grid feed authentic and relevant to your audience. For in the moment showcases of what’s going on Instagram stories works best.
When posting pictures of posters, ensure these are digitally created and in line with your brand identity. This will ensure the post looks of a high quality and drives better engagement. Poster-style content should stay within Instagram stories to keep the experience-led aesthetic on your profile.
If there are influencers already attending Herts or thinking of attending, consider using them as “student ambassadors” to promote the brand and further a peer-to-peer conversation. As student ambassadors can help amplify messages about the university it is important that they are both authentic and a good fit with our values.
Don't over edit
Originally, Instagram was meant to be an unfiltered look into people's lives. Although most images on the platform today as a whole are photoshopped and edited, there is still an expectation that it is a more authentic and honest look at a brand. Don't over edit your images but ensure the they are quality images. If in doubt, ask the Studio Team who will be able to help.
Settle on your tone
Be authentic! Get to know your audience and what resonates with them as this will define your tone.
Instagram is often viewed first thing in the morning or just before bed. As such, the tone of most posts is motivational and inspirational, encouraging users to get excited about what life (or the university) has to offer. It is also a fantastic medium to display a sense of pride. Be sure not to deviate out of this tone too much and avoid any hard sales on this platform!
Instagram’s default ‘box’ view can often be forgotten. Always consider the correct Instagram specifications when creating assets, as this is often an afterthought.
Posts will always show as square on a profile but can be off aspect on your feed. If you post off aspect, make sure the image on your profile will fit appropriately (with videos you can choose the cover image specifically for this).
For Instagram Reels, consider how the video will begin to play when it is in portrait, as well as the video when this is cropped to square in your gallery.
Keep text minimal
Instagram is a visual medium. Audiences don't come to read too much text. Include enough for context only.
Use other media
Instagram is full of amazing imagery, but this is not restricted to video and photo. Consider creating and using GIF’s, Boomerangs, Stickers or Stories.
People use hashtags as search terms. Consider which hashtags you include, without going overboard. It is recommended that you ‘hide’ hashtags by moving them a couple of lines down. This separates them from your post message.
Use appropriate hashtags only. Don't try to “hashtag hijack”.
Tag your posts
You can also tag a location of a post. Locations also work as search terms, so it is important to include this with every post. For example, if a user searches "University of Hertfordshire", they would also see any post tagged in that location. Please manually do this for each post.
Know Instagram’s algorithm
This means learning to post at the correct times and establish a regular post schedule (including both when to post stories or share posts from other people). By doing this, your followers will begin expecting content from you at these times. A good rule of thumb is to post no more than twice per day and at least twice per week. See 'ideal posting' section for more information.
For Instagram stories, use GIFs that are appropriate for the situation. For example, if you are talking about Subway on campus, using a Subway official GIF is acceptable.
Dos and don'ts
|✅ You should always
|⛔️ You should never
|Showcase the campus, the students, lessons and the surrounding area.
|Don’t use too much text.
|Showcase events, societies, factions, and areas of the university.
|Don't over edit or photoshop images.
|Ensure all imagery is accurate and honest.
|Don’t be too salesy.
|Keep the tone motivational and inspirational – but most importantly authentic!
|Never use stock or faked imagery.
|Use influencers that the represent the University's values.
|Don't deviate from the brand personality and platform tone.
|Use other media (i.e. GIF’s, Boomerangs, Stickers or Stories).
|Don't just recycle old posts or posts from your other social channels.
|Allow posts to be cropped badly in your Instagram gallery (particularly cutting off words or people)
|'Hide' hashtags by moving them a couple of lines down.
|Ensure all assets are the correct specification.
|Check spelling and grammar.
|If in doubt, consult a second opinion.
|Ideal word count
|399 (w) x 150 (h) px
|150 (w) x 150 (h) px
|1080 (w) x 1080 (h) px
|1080 (w) x 566 (h) px
|750 (w) x 1334 (h) px
When to post
It is always important to remember not to post for the sake of posting something. If you’re not saying something with your post, it's not worth posting. You could throwback to another post as an alternative to keep the conversation going.
|Twice a day
|0-1 time a day
|Once a day/every few days (max 4 days a week)
|Thursday or between 2pm and 3pm other days of week.
|Although posting once a day is ideal, this should never be at the expense of quality, hence the recommendation above.
Although this is a great place to start, use the platform analytics to discover what works for your audiences (i.e. how often, what days, what time, etc.). Instagram analytics are only available to business profiles. They can be accessed from your page. Go to the top right menu (cog icon on desktop, 3 lines on mobile) and select “Insights”.
Undergraduates will heavily rely on social media for information and updates, both serious in times of crisis (such as a cyber-attack) and for more casual information (such as about events or societies).
You can also expect undergraduates to speak candidly about the University on Twitter and Facebook. Do not be afraid to engage with them and the community on there.
What are their preferred social media platforms?
Instagram and TikTok will be their most popular choices. They will expect content to feel authentic, so it is important that it features and/or is created by students.
Undergraduates use Instagram as a way to keep up to date with the latest things happening at the University (i.e. upcoming events, festivals or workshops), or to simply engage with content they enjoy. We are seeing increased engagement in things like Instagram Live Q&As so there is a shift towards engaging with the platform for information, but which is more tailored to their specific needs and questions. With the creation of Threads, linked to Instagram, we have seen some of our Undergraduate audience also join us on this new platform.
Undergraduates are not on LinkedIn too often, but when they are there, they are looking at internship and work experience opportunities and to increase their connections.
What about prospective students?
There is also some overlap between undergraduates and prospective students. Prospective students will be largely interested in seeing on social media how the student life and experience are represented.
However, there are distinct times of year when prospective students will be engaging with the University in greater numbers. Be sure you are not neglecting this audience for topics such general research, open days, prospectus/course information and clearing – in line with the campaigns around recruitment that will be running.
Prospective students will rely on a university’s social channels to help them gather a sense of the brand, which will in turn help them make decisions around applications. Research shows that social media is the first place they will look (before the website) for information and to start forming an opinion of the University. They will also use Instagram as a way to virtually see the campus, the students, lessons, facilities and the surrounding area, to give them a sense of what it will actually be like to study there.
Postgraduates will have pride in their university. Connecting with them through social media allows them to personally interact with the brand. This could be through engaging with content but could also be by sharing their own content which relates to the University, e.g. photos of themselves on campus or with friends.
What are their preferred social media platforms?
Just like undergraduates, postgraduates would be relying on University Twitter accounts for up to date information, and would engage with Facebook in a similar way.
Postgraduates are likely to be somewhat more active on LinkedIn than undergraduates, investigating work opportunities and building their profile. Utilising LinkedIn to highlight professional opportunities for postgraduates can therefore be very effective, and any help you can provide to help them grow their network and visibility will be appreciated by them.
Similar to undergraduates, Instagram should be used to showcase any new events and offerings around the University, but again, postgraduates will also engage with content they simply enjoy (e.g. beautiful campus photography, campaign content around Black History Month).
For postgraduate students who are already familiar with the University, there could be an opportunity to engage them with new courses or offerings, so consideration should be given to how to share this information most impactfully across the relevant channels that doesn’t come across as overtly sales led.
Corporate and enterprise audiences
Our corporate audience encompasses anyone who engages with our social channels who isn’t a student or prospective student. This could include parents, local government stakeholders, research partners, funders, ex staff, alumni and local residents.
Our enterprise audience is part of our corporate audience, but it is more specifically commercial partners, businesses who have a relationship with the University (e.g. incubator businesses, those who employ one of our apprentices, those who have received coaching support.
The awareness and engagement with the University brand will vary as this collective audience is diverse in its relationship with us. It is therefore important that information is being disseminated clearly and accurately.
What are their preferred social media platforms?
Because the corporate and enterprise audience is so diverse, there is engagement with all of our social media platforms in different ways.
For example, we currently use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to talk primarily to students, but that doesn’t mean that a local government stakeholder or alum isn’t interested in how we do that and the information we share.
LinkedIn is a key channel for our enterprise and alumni audience to engage with us. The University currently uses it to engage directly with businesses, for example to promote our volunteer business support scheme. It is also a key channel for alumni to build their professional network and profile. Similar to postgraduates – any support we can provide to connect alumni to opportunities via LinkedIn will be appreciated by them.
What about tone of voice?
Although the core University social media channels are primarily targeted to students currently, there are opportunities to engage directly with corporate and enterprise audiences, and where that is the case we recommend the tone should be professional, but also honest and informative so that there’s an alignment with the student focused tone of voice (if your social media accounts are also talking to both audiences).
Use of emojis or colloquial language isn’t recommended, or too many exclamation marks! Aim for ‘professional and positive’.
Staff and academic audiences
Staff and academics will have an overview of all social channels but will be heavily reliant on Twitter to receive up to date information, not just about the University but about issues affecting the sector (Twitter is widely regarded as the best source of breaking news).
However, staff and academics should never use social media to break news or news that has not been confirmed by the university (PR are the first contact for this). We would encourage news being shared via internal channels first (e.g. HertsHub, UHQ emails) and that social media is a way to amplify that and ensure that it reaches more of our audience, where appropriate.
Staff and academics also use Twitter to promote research and other interests. This can be a rich area for retweeting on behalf of the University, showcasing some of the work of the staff and academics. LinkedIn is used currently but not as consistently or actively by our staff and academic community.
How do I engage my fellow staff and academics in using social media?
This group will have a presence on LinkedIn, for more professional and career specific interests, but as a key business engagement platform, staff advocacy on this channel can be a remarkably powerful tool. However, not everyone will know where to start.
To encourage more engagement with LinkedIn from your fellow staff and academics, ensure you:
- Leave prompts for their input.
- Ensure you’re not sharing offensive content
- Lead by example, with more senior members.
- Ask or motivate their involvement (motivations include elevating their own personal brands by association, driving more and faster revenue generation and more connections).
- Educate them to empower them. There are misconceptions that LinkedIn is just somewhere you go when you’re looking for a job, and those that have been at the University for a number of years probably already have a rich internal network of contacts and don’t see the value. Highlight the benefits of being present on LinkedIn, beyond job hunting, e.g.
- Keeping an eye on competitor institutions
- Keeping abreast of key research sector or industry news and opinions
- Accessing training and development opportunities
- Building a captive audience for sharing of research etc
- Leave them with confidence their input is valued and teach them the basics of posting in association with the university, such as:
- Tag the university
- Ensure you have permissions
Similarly, Twitter can be an excellent platform for sharing research and keeping abreast of industry or research sector news. At present there is good engagement with Twitter amongst the academic community, but this could be amplified by regularly tagging the University in posts, linking to relevant areas of the website and encouraging sharing of colleagues content amongst teams or departments (via personal Twitter profiles or professional), to increase breadth of reach.
What about tone of voice?
Our communication style internally is honest, informative and clear. This is particularly true in the UHQ emails, and for content created for staff on HertsHub. These principles should apply to engage with staff and academics on social media too. Even when the subject matter or content relates to complex research, a clear tone of voice and message works best to ensure it resonates with a broad staff/academic base and is relatable for all.
There is a temptation to want to convey the complex in a complex way, but this is not recommended for any of our audiences. Social media is a place for snapshots of digestible information which can prompt audiences to delve deeper, but they should still get a clear sense of the theme/story from the content of your post, regardless of platform.