Instagram for Schools: Best Practices for Engagement
Kristen Doverspike

When Instagram launched nearly ten years ago, it was simply a social media network for sharing pictures with friends (with some fun filters to make you feel like a professional photographer). Since then, the popular social media platform has evolved into a major player in schools' social media strategies, reaching both Millennial parents and Gen Z students alike.

Instagram has gone through hundreds of changes and algorithm updates — many of which have been driven by Facebook, after purchasing the network in 2012. While these changes have transformed Instagram from a simple, photo-sharing platform into a marketing and advertising powerhouse, the network still operates on the importance of sharing high-quality images and videos to engage followers — a strategy that's essential for schools today.

Some benefits of using the platform for your school inbound marketing efforts include:

  • Uploading up to ten photos/videos in a single post, which can be viewed as a slideshow
  • Uploading up to a minute of video content, and up to 15 minutes of video on IGTV
  • Using hashtags to increase brand awareness and community engagement
  • Making it easy to not only follow specific hashtags but to encourage your followers to use them as well
  • Sharing what’s happening in real-time through live video, stories, and highlights

Like all social media platforms, there are important best practices to follow to build a strong following, encourage engagement, and contribute to a successful social media strategy. Here are some key best practices to follow when using Instagram.

General Instagram Best Practices for Schools and Districts

Have a Hashtag Strategy

Like other social media platforms, hashtags are used to categorize and organize content. Many schools have branded hashtags for many parts of their marketing and events, so others can join in on the conversation. Hashtags on Instagram play a significant role in not only growing your following but also engaging with your school community.

How many hashtags are recommended?

Hashtags are an essential component of a successful Instagram strategy. Adding at least one hashtag to your posts has shown to increase engagement by up to 12.6%, and while you do have up to 30 hashtags to use, make sure that they are all unique. It is better to keep them on the shorter side and as relevant as possible to the content in your post.

Can hashtags help grow your school’s following?

Yes! If you incorporate not only your own school’s branded hashtags but general ones related to your school’s market, events, departments, etc., people will be looking for schools like yours that use those hashtags. Avoid using general terms like #soccer or #school. The sweet spot for getting discovered are hashtags with 500-500,000 posts. Using hashtags with more than a million posts makes it harder to get found. You can track how many posts by searching the hashtag itself in Instagram.

instagram school marketing hashtags

Instagram makes it easier to see who is using certain hashtags. You can follow hashtags on the platform like a regular profile, which offers a great way to view all of the posts with the hashtag in one place. You can also include your hashtags in your bio as clickable elements so that your followers can view the posts using it on Instagram as well.

How do you get your community involved?

One of the best ways to build your branded hashtags is to encourage your school community to use it on their posts. You can incorporate the hashtag, brand your hashtag graphically, or even run contests on the platform to encourage your followers to use the hashtag! American School of Paris, for example, launched their #RebelsGoRemote hashtag to gather content of students shifting to a distance learning environment.

American School of Paris launches their #RebelsGoRemote hashtag during distance learning

Capture Experiences

Your photos should be showcasing your school experience — both virtually and in-person. Ask yourself which photos exemplify your values without needing a lot of words to explain. Video works especially well here, as Instagram (just like Facebook) prioritizes video content over static posts. Briarwood Christian School recently posted a great video showcasing their initiative to personally deliver graduation celebration supplies to their Class of 2020.

Briarwood Christian School posts a video to Instagram surprising their Class of 2020 at their homes.

Incorporate User-Generated Content

As long as you have permission, Instagram is an easy platform to share content from your school community. McCallie School has created quite the community of school spirit photos through using and promoting their #OnMcCallie hashtag.

McCallie School uses #OnMcCallie to pull together school spirit photos.

Share Real Testimonials and Stories

Not only does your school have its own story, but members of your school community have their own unique stories that contribute to what your school is really all about. Instagram is a great platform to showcase members of your school, from current students, to faculty/staff, and even alumni. And if you don't have photos, create testimonial graphics. The Nueva School, for example, recently launched a great initiative to garner teacher appreciation through student testimonials!

The Nueva School shares real testimonials from its students in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.

Be Authentic. Be Creative. And Simply Have Fun.

Instagram is a place where you can really show off what makes your school special, including extracurriculars, unique campus spaces, and more. Here, International School of Brussels showcased a student-created film surrounding the struggles that international students face — a unique story to the school and a great testament to their program opportunities!

International School of Brussels posts a student-created film to IGTV.

Here are some important Instagram terms you should know:

Galleries: This term is for posts with more than one photo/video in it. This feature of Instagram is like a mini visual photo or video album in a single post. It works well so your profile is not cluttered, and similar images can be uploaded together.

Business Profiles: Instagram was built on the foundation of personal profiles, but has evolved (like Facebook) to offer a space strictly for businesses like schools (more later.)

Explore Page: If you're using Instagram as part of your prospecting efforts, the Explore Page should be a factor in your strategy. On this page, Instagram's algorithm suggests photos, videos, Stories, and IGTV content based on what the user actively engages with. Your hashtag usage plays a role in if — and when —your content appears on a user's Explore Page.

Stories: These work like Snapchat, but for Instagram. You’re able to share real-time posts in your Instagram Story instead of uploading the photos or videos to your feed. These posts stay live for 24 hours, and they can be found on the Explore page just like normal posts.

Highlights: If you captured some good photos in your stories and wish they could live on your school’s Instagram profile for a longer period of time than the 24-hour limit of Stories, you’ll want to try Highlights. This feature allows you to group stories together under a category, and they are featured just above your Instagram grid.

RePost App: Repost for Instagram is a free app you can use to share your favorite photos and videos on Instagram while giving credit to the original user. You even have the option of copying the same caption from the original post.

IGTV: IGTV, while still relatively new, has become a major piece of the Instagram community. Within the Instagram app, you can add videos up to 15 minutes long to your IGTV section. This is a great place to house live video recordings, video series, and more for your school. IGTV allows you to categorize videos in collections, much like YouTube playlists, so that you can organize your longer-form video content directly in the platform. Previews to your IGTV videos can be posted to your regular Instagram profile as well.

click here to get your copy of the free ebook: the complete social media guide for schools

Here are some key points to be aware of to maximize your use of the platform.

Instagram Business Profiles

Schools, too, are businesses. So if you’re school is using a personal Instagram profile, it is time to make the switch. Why? Instagram Business profiles come with advanced features that can make using Instagram more worth your time and investment, including:

Additional Contact Information

This feature allows followers to get directions to your campus or call your main phone number directly from your Instagram profile. The ‘Contact’ button will appear next to the Following button in the profile information section of the page. Upon clicking the button, users will have the option to get in touch with the business or get directions to their location. Through Instagram’s Insights, you can track the success of your contact information and see how much easier it makes your followers to get in touch with your school.

Instagram Insights

This feature allows you to see the total number of impressions your posts received in a given time period, your top posts, followers, the days and times they’re engaging with your posts the most, etc. You can also see your engagement results for each post individually and learn more about the demographics of your followers.

Promoted Posts

Similar to Facebook ads, you have the option of promoting your posts to reach more people. This will not only get more people to see your posts, but can also influence and improve your engagement.

You are only able to have a business account on Instagram if you sync it to a Facebook Business page. Once you have this set up, you’re ready to dive into the features to better understand your followers, engagement, and more.

Instagram Stories

Ephemeral content — content that is only available for a short period of time — is now found on every social media network. Through Instagram Stories, schools can share in-the-moment content that is archived after 24 hours. Content shared to stories also won’t appear on your profile grid or in the main Instagram feed, making your profile seem interactive but not cluttered.

This type of content is perfect for behind-the-scenes footage at events, like open houses, athletic games, concerts, and more. If there are members of your school community who cannot attend but wish they could (basically experiencing FOMO (“Fear Of Missing Out”), they could feel part of the event by watching your stories. It is a great way to give everyone a chance to see what’s happening in real-time.

Instagram Stories are interactive. They allow you to:

  • Tag hashtags, which then will lead a user to follow that hashtag on Instagram and see other posts where that hashtag was used, and they will increase your chances of being found on the Explore Page
  • Create a poll or ask a question to your followers that they can respond to in real-time
  • Add a location or tag another user in the post to increase engagement

Highline Public Schools often makes great use of their Stories, incorporating interactive elements and sharing user-generated content.

Highline Public Schools use Instagram Stories during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Looking to save some time? Use templates! While Instagram Stories are primarily posted through a mobile device, you can save a lot of energy by creating your graphics ahead of time on a desktop. Consider heading over to a free resource like Canva, which offers hundreds of pre-designed Instagram Story templates to choose from.

Instagram Story Highlights

What if you wanted to keep some of the photos and videos you shared in your Story? There’s Instagram Stories Highlights. Unlike regular Instagram Stories that vanish after 24 hours, Instagram Stories Highlights are curated clips grouped together by you and live permanently on your profile until you delete them. You can only had content to your Highlights that were already featured in your Story.

You can organize the highlights by topic, event, department, and more. They will live right above your Instagram feed so that they are easily accessible to your visitors.

Follow these steps to start building your own Highlights:

Step 1: Turn the auto-archiving feature on. This way, your story content is saved automatically in the backend of your profile.

Step 2: Create your Instagram Stories Highlights. Just go to your Instagram profile and click on the arrow next to “Story Highlights” and then click the “New” button. Select the Stories you want part of your Highlight, give it a new title, then publish.

Lawrence School, for example, has their own organization to their stories, including the Lower and Upper schools, Summer activities, Faculty/Staff, and more (and it’s awesome they created branded logos for each of these so the categories are easily recognizable)!


Instagram Live

Especially in an age where distance learning is becoming a normal piece of schools' strategies, going live is an effective way to reach followers in real-time. 

You can go live directly from your school's Instagram account by clicking your icon as you would to create a Story, and simply swipe to the Live feature. From your mobile device, you can go live and request one other co-host to join you virtually.

Users tend to watch live video nearly 12X as long as regular video posts, so this is a great way to get your information out there! Go live with announcements, host Q&As, and get creative.

Finalsite live on Instagram, hosting a Q&A with The International School of Brussels

We here at Finalsite even go live once a week with schools and subject-matter experts from around the world!

IGTV: Incorporate long-form videos into your Instagram strategy

IGTV is a long-form video experience within Instagram’s platform, giving you more options when it comes to publishing video content.

Some benefits of IGTV that schools on Instagram should take note, include the feature being:

  • Mobile first: IGTV is built for how you actually use your phone: vertical and full screen. This makes it easier for your followers to watch videos right from their phones.
  • Simple and intuitive: It starts playing as soon as you open the app. Users don't have to search or browse to get started, and it's easy to multitask.
  • Curated: IGTV is focused on the creators users love most and already follow on Instagram. Your true Instagram fans will see the video content easier in the app.

Consider using IGTV to showcase your students! Carolina Day School, in this example, used IGTV to feature their virtual signing ceremony for a student athlete.

Carolina Day School uses IGTV to show the virtual signing ceremony of a student athlete.

Anyone can be a creator on IGTV and upload videos in the app or on the web, but you don’t want just any video on there. This feature is better for long-form video (now competing with YouTube) vs. shorter videos that may be shared to your Instagram Story. Your followers can be notified about your new videos, and your video content will show up in their IGTV feed. Want to share a back-to-school video? Feature students while distance learning? Incorporating video into your social media strategy with IGTV takes your social media to a whole new level.

Key Takeaway

Your school can take its Instagram profile to the next level of becoming a true, engaging social media platform. Instagram's features offer many engagement opportunities, and it reaches a wider range of generations than most platforms.

Finalsite makes it easy to incorporate your social media content, like Instagram, into your website with Finalsite Feeds. With Feeds, you’re able to promote the content you’re already posting on Instagram but on your website, as well as monitor which content is being pulled into your website.

Ultimately, Instagram is known as the visual social media network. Instagram marketing allows you to tell your school’s story, show your authenticity, have fun with your school’s brand, community, and environment. If you’re new to Instagram or may be looking for some guidance with how to use social media in part of your overall school marketing strategy, our experts can work with you based on your goals!

download your free copy: 2020 social media guide for schools

kristen doverspike headshot

In her position as Inbound Marketing Manager, Kristen provides the strategy and creation of content across email, website and social media communications at Finalsite. With over five years of experience in content strategy and digital marketing, Kristen has worked with clients around the country to develop their branding, SEM, SEO, social media, and inbound efforts. She holds and maintains a number of certifications from Google, Hubspot, and Hootsuite

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