Leveraging Instagram Stories to Build Community

At the University of Kansas, TRIO and GEAR UP programs are housed in one center, the Center for Educational Opportunity Programs (CEOP). CEOP’s full-time communications coordinator, Laura Kingston, works to improve the visibility and impact of CEOP’s programs by leveraging social media, strategic storytelling, and visual communications.

With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, CEOP programs moved their service delivery efforts to online platforms. As a result, strong communication through social media is becoming more relied upon. This blog provides insight into one way that Laura is working with the KU TRIO Supportive Educational Services & STEM program to leverage social media while in-person community building is not possible.

What is one component of your program that has moved to a virtual platform during COVID-19?

On a typical day, students are encouraged to stop by the TRIO SES & STEM office, which is centrally located on KU’s campus. I see that the coming and going of students and community partners help develop a welcoming and personal feeling for the office and bring a strong sense of community to the program.

While social media is a great way for individuals to stay connected to friends and family on a personal level during social distancing and isolation, I believe that TRIO programs can also use social media to bridge the distance that is being created between program staff and participants.

One of the many ways I’m helping KU TRIO SES & STEM students feel connected to their program is by using Instagram’s Story feature to engage with students in an informal, fun, and low-pressure way.

What steps did your team take to implement this component in a virtual platform?

With each social media platform being different, the content should look different and have a different purpose. What works to engage and communicate information on Instagram Stories might not work on Twitter because the function of the platform is not the same and the audience is not the same.

TRIO SES & STEM’s Instagram Stories have three objectives:

  1. Share important information published on The University of Kansas’ Instagram or updates directly related to the KU TRIO SES & STEM office. Using a template background lets you keep a consistent look while animated gifs let you convey certain emotions or tones or emphasis.

2. Provide answers to questions we’re seeing multiple students ask. The week before University classes started up again, many students asked about TRIO Tutoring. Not only were Instagram Stories used to directly address student concerns but by thanking peer-tutors, the post reiterated that TRIO tutoring continued. Instagram Stories has been a great way to collect resources from the TRIO community and re-share them.

3. Engage students with interactive and fun posts and to build personal connections to the office. These posts have been incredibly engaging for students, and I believe it has provided an opportunity for TRIO students to feel reconnected to the program. The content doesn’t need to be serious or related to academics. The more approachable and easier to answer posts will have better engagement.

How do students access and participate in your program’s adapted service?

Open Instagram and you can see that Instagram Stories is located along the top for users to click through. When students are looking at KU TRIO SES & STEM’s Story, there will always be one interactive feature (quizzes, polls, sliders, etc.). This interaction provides me insight into several things including if students like the content enough to engage with it and gives students the opportunity to be connected with the program.

Are there any barriers or limitations your students have encountered with accessing this new service delivery method?

As with any social media platform, the biggest barrier is that not everyone is on it and now with students who have returned home to rural communities, many do not have reliable internet or data to load Instagram.

During the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of other University social media platforms are constantly providing updates, resources, and telling students how they should be coping to be more productive. TRIO programs will have to break through the clutter of other social media to reach their students, who might not want to be on social media with the over-saturation of COVID-19 content.

How has the experience of transitioning your program’s services to an online platform changed your perspective and/or approach to serving students?

Overall, watching engagement increase on TRIO SES & STEM’s Instagram Story has supported my theory that students are not looking for a running list of resources or COVID-19 related information. They want TRIO’s social media to maintain the personal connection they feel when they walk into the TRIO office space.

I can see in the data that the posts are performing better than usual. Since KU’s campus closed at TRIO SES & STEM has moved all services to online, the program’s Instagram engagement, for example, the number of clicks on polls, has been higher than usual and replies are overwhelmingly more positive.

The highest engagement that I’ve seen on a post from TRIO SES & STEM was a group photo (a screenshot from a Zoom meeting) of staff holding coffee mugs. Followers could vote on how they like their coffee, there is no wrong answer and the question certainly isn't a completed one. Over 70% of people who viewed the Story interacted with the poll. This is significantly higher than their original Instagram Stories with different content.

Do you have any additional quick resources or tips that you’d like to add?

First — If you’re unfamiliar with Instagram Stories, here is a guide by Hootsuite to get you started. I always recommend following accounts that provide you with inspiration. If you’re interested in seeing what else TRIO SES & STEM does to engage college students follow @TRIOatKU on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Second — My biggest piece of advice is to not over-saturate your social media. Between the news, districts, schools, departments, teachers, and many more sources, students of all ages are being overwhelmed with information.

On all social media platforms, ensure you’re sharing information that will not change often, directly impacts your program, and that students might not get somewhere else.

Let your program be the students’ break from work and stress. Personal and authentic relationships are a big reason students stop by TRIO and GEAR UP offices, your social media should reflect that spirit.

TRIO | GEAR UP | CAMP | STEP UP — CEOP, building a legacy of learners and leaders through a commitment to educational equity. ceop.ku.edu | @CEOPmedia