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Be it through regular Facebook updates or tweets about campus news, universities are now turning to social media to connect with the public on a much wider scale. The latest platform that universities are experimenting with is Instagram, which allows users to take photos on their smart phones, apply exciting filters and add hashtags, and then share these images online with their followers. Amy Mollett and Nazreen Fazal investigate how universities are sharing glimpses of campus life.

This piece originally appeared as an Editor’s Column on LSE Review of Books.

With colourful photos of student fairs, the campus as the seasons change, and shots of basketball games with rival institutions, Instagram is fast becoming an exciting platform through which universities can share news, achievements, and shots of daily life on campus. But it’s not only for its novel approach to photo-sharing that universities are using Instagram: the social media platform is growing faster than Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest combined, and with the majority of users in key university student age brackets, it certainly makes sense for universities to consider Instagram’s merits.

As part of a ‘Higher Ed Instagram audit’ we undertook to help LSE Review of Books get ready to launch its own Instagram account, we focused on looking at some of the most common ways in which universities around the world are using this photo-sharing platform.

1. Universities are using Instagram to showcase their beautiful campuses and surroundings

Most university Instagram accounts share photos of historic campuses set in scenic locations. Many post shots of the wonderful effects of seasons in transition; in rain, snow, or sun, these universities always look beautiful! University PR and Communications teams can use Instagram in this way to connect with nostalgic alumni and show off to prospective students.

The University of Nottingham gives us captivating photos of their incredibly green campus (look out for the photos of Trent Building just before sunset!). Princeton University also offer spectacular photos of their campuses. Another worthy mention is the University College London account which displays some impressive shots of their famous portico.

by @tdunne609 "C'mon sun do right by the people #melt #snowfreeliving #princetagram"

2. Universities are using Instagram to share events and public lectures

Sharing key pictures of a panel discussion or audience interaction on Instagram is a great way to inform followers of the different events organized by the university. Going along the lines of live tweeting, some of the universities share pictures with interesting quotes from the speakers. Harvard University and Yale University frequently shares pictures of prominent speakers who grace their university. Yale School of Drama, in particular, often posts photos of alumni who have gone on to become major film actors. Harvard offers pictures of events in the field of scientific breakthrough and technological innovation.

“No matter where you're from, your dreams are valid.” — Lupita Nyong’o '12 MFA

3. Universities are using #ThrowbackThursday on Instagram to share their history

Many of the American universities share historic pictures of their university, old year book photos of prominent alumni, and other such glimpses of their university heritage, under #ThrowbackThursday. As the hashtag suggests, these pictures are shared on Thursdays and are a great way of sharing with followers a university’s rich and colourful legacy. Throwback Thursdays offer some very interesting flashbacks: students in the library in 1927, a literature class from 1979s, a ‘50s Halloween Party, and the 1900 men’s basketball team. Some universities also use the hashtag to showcase some of the best talents to emerge from that institution, for instance Bill Gates, from his Freshman yearbook, shared by Harvard University. University of Oregon offers great ‘back in the day’ photos too, showing how students and staff coped without the internet.

Back in the days before Blackboard, professors posted students' grades in the hallways. #throwbackthursday #tbt. Photo courtesy @uoregonlibraries, University Archives.

4. Universities are using Instagram to showcase student activities

While it is interesting to see photos of events and panel discussions, what potential students might actually want to see is how exciting their student life at that institution could be. And what better way to show this than share pictures of students having fun! The LSE Student Union account offers colourful pictures of election campaigns, freshers’ registration stalls, and the different places students can explore in London. From Feminist Nail Art in the new Student Centre to Zumba in the student gym, this account shows what LSE students do when not studying. University of Nottingham features again with fun pictures of bake sales, charity runs, the Taekwondo club in action, and the Quidditch Society (yes, it exists).

Thanks to everyone who took part in The Nottingham Karnival Mile yesterday #SportReliefMile #SportRelief #Karnival #nottingham #uniofnottingham #uniofnotts #universitypark

5. Universities are using Instagram to connect directly with alumni and followers

Lastly, universities use Instagram to reach out to students old and new. Some universities ask their alumni, staff, and students to send photos of their favourite aspects of university life. The University of Southern California has an exciting account with Valentine’s Day photos of couples who met in college (and graduated together), images of a mother and toddler wearing matching varsity jackets to the game, and lots of photos of  ‘Tommy Trojan’ – their popular yet unofficial mascot. University PR and communications teams can employ this strategy to build a sense of community and affection for the university, perhaps most effective during drives for donations.

@gallaghergirl13 walking with her 2-year-old daughter to the Coliseum for a Trojan game. "Fast-forward, she's 18 and just applied to Thornton. Love USC, love family traditions." #uscphoto

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the Authors

Nazreen Fazal is Assistant Editor of the LSE Review of Books. Nazreen graduated from the University of Nottingham (Malaysia Campus) with a First in International Communication Studies with English Language and Literature. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Comparative Politics at the LSE. Nazreen blogs at Penguin Peeks.

Amy Mollett is Managing Editor of the LSE Review of Books. Amy graduated from the University of Sussex with a First in English Language, and completed a Masters degree in Social Policy and Gender at the LSE. She joined the PPG in September 2010 as Book Reviews Editor on the British Politics and Policy at LSE Blog, before moving on to manage the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog until the launch of the LSE Review of Books in April 2012. She is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image credit:  @tdunne609yale@uoregonlibrariesuniofnottinghamuscedu (publicly available through Instagram)

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