Are you paying enough attention to Instagram?

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The photo and video sharing platform is reporting explosive growth over 2016 and 2017, and is now one of the largest and most engaging social platforms in the world
  • Its reach is global, with roughly eight in ten users outside of the US, and teens and young adults rate it as one of their most heavily used and most important social channels

Most recruiters have learned to make good use of social channels to reach and engage prospective students. But social is a pretty fluid space, and the popularity of individual platforms shifts regularly. Yesterday’s must-attend online spaces can sometimes feel a bit too “yesterday,” and the rules of engagement between brands and students are often in flux as well.

For marketers, this means that social media strategies need regular tune-ups to keep pace with fast-moving and mobile audiences. And these days there is no better example of this than Instagram, a photo and video-sharing service that was first launched in 2010 and subsequently acquired by Facebook in 2012.

In the years since, all Instagram has done is grow – and explosively at that. By late 2017, the service was reporting a base of 800 million registered users and an astonishing 500 million daily users.

Growth over the last two years has been especially dramatic – with the user base growing from 500 million in June 2016 to 800 million just over a year later – and this has put the platform squarely on the radar of recruitment marketers.

While the service was born in the US, Instagram’s reach is global. Roughly eight in ten users are based outside the US. As the following chart reflects, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Russia, and Iran are among the leading countries for the platform in terms of numbers of active users.

instagram-user-base-by-country-as-of-april-2018
Instagram user base by country as of April 2018. Source: Instagram, Statista

Students are heavily engaged

The 2017 edition of the Hobsons International Student Survey rates Instagram as one of the key social channels for mobile students – after only Facebook and YouTube.

And the newly released Voxburner Youth Trends Report for 2018 follows this up with findings from its most recent survey of British youth. “[Instagram] is officially the go-to platform for teens and young adults,” says Voxburner. “43% of our survey respondents post on Instagram at least once a day and 31% would admit to being obsessed with the social network…62% feel a brand’s [Instagram] account is very important, with 45% agreeing that it has the power to change their perception [of the brand].”

As these findings suggest, the user base skews young. Six in ten US users are under the age of 30, and US teenagers rate Instagram as their second most important social network (after only the equally visual Snapchat).

Current research also suggests that users are intensely engaged on the platform. One recent analysis found that higher education institutions record, on average, ten times the interactions per post on Instagram that they do on other major platforms, including Facebook or LinkedIn.

Keep it simple…and beautiful

For any recruiters aiming to start or step up their presence on Instagram, the consensus around the platform is that the most effective posts are simple, beautiful, and, as always for youthful audiences, authentic.

Any casual sampling of Instagram accounts of institutions and schools around the world shows an imaginative variety of approaches that showcase campus facilities, cities and regions, and students and alumni.

And this perhaps expresses the real power of Instagram as it relates to international student recruitment. One of the things we’ve learned about the role of social media in the student journey is that prospective students look closely at institution and school accounts for clues.

They are looking for an idea of what life and study will be like if they choose your programme. And they are searching for students that look like them, that they can relate to, and that can help the prospective student to see themselves as a good fit on your campus.

Holding that perspective in mind opens up a wide variety of options for using Instagram to send these important signals to prospective students: showcase your campus, your city, the view from your window, students in classes, your faculty in action, and your alumni’s achievements.

For more great examples and ideas about how to put Instagram to work in your international recruitment effort, please see:



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