Instagram takeover: letting students do the work

For a week in March 2016, we gave control of Sheffield Hallam’s Instagram account to the SHUinsiders – a team of seven students who blog and post about student life in Sheffield. This post is about how we did it, what happened as a result, and what we learned from doing it.

I’d been thinking about doing a student takeover of the University’s Instagram account for a while, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, our follower growth had plateaued at two or three new followers per day. Secondly, putting students in the frame is at the heart of our approach to Instagram, and giving them the reins seemed like a great way of extending that. The challenge was finding the right students to do it.

Having worked with the SHUinsiders for a few months, and having got to know them as individuals, it felt like the time was right to take the plunge. I work with Helen Horton in student marketing on everything to do with the Insiders, so we got our heads together and made plans for a week-long takeover.

We started by floating the idea with the students, asking them how comfortable they felt with it. Overwhelmingly, they were very keen. We discussed the kind of content they might post, and the logistics of making it work. And we picked a week that worked for them, and for our social media content plans.

I put together a brief, and posted it in our private Facebook group – we use the group to manage and plan all of our activity with them. They had time to ask questions, and talk things through with each other, before we started the takeover. This was really important: if they hadn’t had time to chew things over and kick ideas around together, it would have been a different experience for them, and for our audience on Instagram.

The plan was very simple: a different student would post from the account each day. They would post a student’s-eye-view of life in Sheffield, and show what it’s like to be a student at Sheffield Hallam.

The takeover coincided with an open day, so we got Clarissa, Saturday’s SHUinsider, to post updates from the open day, as well as her own insights into life in the Steel City. Another SHUinsider, Jamilya, was on Erasmus exchange in Austria – a great bit of fortuity that we incorporated into the takeover.

I changed the account password every night, in preparation for the next day (we briefed them in advance about what it would be on their day), and I changed the account bio to explain what was going on. The Insiders had some boilerplate text to paste at the beginning of each post, so it was clear who they were, and they included the #SHUinsiders tag in every post.

Most of them tagged their own accounts in each post as well. We didn’t ask them to do that, but it was really nice that they did. Generally, people are interested in other people, and making social content about people is always good.

So, to recap, we wanted to increase the number of followers on our Instagram account. We did that. Our followers grew from 2,747 to 2,833 over the seven days of the takeover. We also wanted to raise the profile of the #SHUinsiders campaign. Although we don’t have stats on reach, the hashtag ‘#SHUinsiders’ was engaged with 819 times over the week. This suggests that users were clicking on the tag to explore other content.

And all of the students reported a small increase in followers on their own accounts, along with lots of new likes to their existing content. Finally, we wanted to demonstrate our willingness to talk to, listen to, and work with, our student community. It was really important to us that the takeover showed this, because so much of the work we do on social media is about developing and enhancing a sense of belonging among our student audiences.

The fact that there were 1,706 engagements (and counting) with the takeover posts, along with the growth in followers, shows the positivity that people responded with. And, anecdotally, all of the feedback we’ve had to the takeover has been really positive.

Is there anything I’d do differently? Possibly, but not because anything went badly. Giving the students the confidence to go out and be themselves was key. They needed a little bit of encouragement at first, but that’s completely understandable – it’s a big responsibility.

Instagram is the perfect channel for a student takeover, but I’m not sure I’d ever hand over a corporate Twitter account in the same way. There’s too much customer service happening in that space.

Lastly, the important question now (and maybe one which you’d be willing to answer in the comments) is ‘what next’?

Joe Field, social media manager

TL;DR version:

  • takeovers on Instagram are fun
  • planning is critical
  • so’s talking it over face-to-face, before you take the plunge
  • keep it unfiltered and authentic

 

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