Earlier this month, Time reported that kids were starting to turn to Instagram to help make their college decisions. You might ask: why? Well, the better question would really be why not. It’s the number one platform right now for teenagers; 76 percent of American teens use Instagram. And the kids currently in college? They’re on Instagram too: 53 percent of all adults on the internet age 18 to 29 are on Instagram.
What’s even crazier? The Time article points out that “the graduating class of 2015 will be the first set of students who were able to capture their entire high school experience — from the first day of freshman to the last of senior year.”
You do the math.
Now combine that with the fact that when you click on a location on Instagram, you can see every other photo that has been tagged at that location. Go to a college’s Instagram, click their location and boom: endless scrolling of photos taken right at the school you might spend the next four years of your life. Services like GramFeed and Pixilify make it even easier to search by location.
One of the big things that everyone needs to recognize with this is that kids are always going to seek out the most authentic view of college they are going to get. Right now, to them, this exists on Instagram, in the profiles of kids who are already attending those schools. This is not a new phenomenon. Early on, when Facebook was still gated to only allow people in college to join, kids were dying to sign up the minute they got accepted to a school. They wanted that sneak peek.
Social media has evolved since then; we now take a much more “PR” stance on our profiles. But even so, a college student’s Instagram profile is a dramatically more authentic view than a brochure in the mail or even a college’s official Instagram account.
That’s why, to me, the fact that kids are looking at schools through Instagram is not surprising. It makes so much sense. Students applying to college want to meet a current student and talk to them about their experience; now they can do it at scale and from the confines of their homes. Even more so, it’s an unfiltered look (and I’m not talking Instagram filters).
So, what can colleges do to get on top of this? How can they play the game? Well, I wouldn’t rush to try and compete with students on this. Don’t start putting out very staged photos; don’t try to create authentic moments. They will be so easy to see through now that kids are approaching college this way. You’ll look like the forty year old trying to relate to the kids at a teen birthday party. So incredibly awkward.
But you can find a common ground. Admissions and communications employees or interns can become content curators. Look through the photos yourself and ask students for permission to repost images or feature a day in their life. Something that strikes a balance between the corporate point of view that a college might normally take and a super authentic view kids might be posting to Instagram right now.
In fact, here is a free idea that colleges can take: give the Instagram account to different students one day a week for the entire school year. Obviously, you have to create a relationship of trust there; but to truly give the account away entirely each day would be awesome and a great gesture.