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What makes a School Instagram Account appealing to Students?
Niamh Campbell

In this blog, as a current sixth form student of Lady Eleanor Holles School, I will explain, using five examples, the aspects of school Instagram accounts that appeal to me most as the target audience. Taking into account the typical online behaviour of students and considering only from the point of view of the Instagram page, this unbias blog post gives an evaluation of how to build an impressive Instagram page which will boost your school.

The potential of social media

Pupils now entering secondary schools are unable to remember a time before 2007 when the iPhone and smartphones were released. Resulting in a general expectation of social media access constantly. After all, the Common Sense Census found that 13-18-year-olds spend over 3 hours of everyday social networking. Schools that harness the power of social media to showcase their institutions, are able to engage students on a more personal level, presenting the school in an informal manner and in a day-to-day format without the arguably forced nature of open days. This method can help to attract prospective students and keep current pupils from bouncing.

Which platform works best?

As touched upon in a previous blog post, Engaging Generation Z: Using Digital Platforms To Attract Sixth Formers Instagram and Twitter are the best platforms to connect with students as a result of their increasing popularity in comparison with Facebook. Within Finalsite’s own portfolio, many schools utilize social media for marketing purposes. However, there is a split in the choice of platform. Schools such as Lady Eleanor Holles and Tormead School mainly use Twitter, often having separate accounts for subjects and retweeting them onto the central account, thereby collating them. Whilst this method can prove popular with parents - often actively engaging with the posts, it arguably falls flat with students themselves.

That is not to say that Twitter is a poor platform for community engagement - the opposite in fact. Yet if schools want to actively target pupils and appeal to them, Instagram may prove the better method. After all, Instagram could be interpreted as an informal portfolio.

As a result, I have found five schools that have built up impressive Instagram accounts, all with over 1000 followers and over 300 posts. Whilst I browsed many school Instagram accounts, these were the ones that appealed to me most as a sixth form student and teenager.

1. Western Academy of Beijing: @Wablive

This International School in the Chinese capital is clearly impressive, and I thought the accompanying Instagram only supplements that through the incredible content posted.

It manipulates the features of Instagram to create a network beyond its main page. As the #uniquelywab showcases the individuality of the school, as well as the students attending the school to celebrate originality and reinforce its ethos. One click on this hashtag guides a user to a page where these distinctive posts are accumulated and include pictures posted by the larger community. Additionally, there are a large number of tagged photos from parents, students and teachers referencing the school - this additional engagement is reinforced through comments by the school account. This can be seen below:

Not only is the uniqueness of the students celebrated. The beautiful landscape is featured, all within the school grounds. Additionally, the culture is integrated into informal school events such as community picnics, where Chinese Dragon mascots entertain students whilst enjoying the outdoors. A large aspect of the @wablive account is the incorporation of informal events and enjoyment the students have in their day-to-day school life.

Another appealing feature of WAB is the impressive range of extra-curricular and opportunities beyond the syllabus. This is explicit through their social media posts, and appealing to students wanting choice and range. Sports team pictures show the impressive athletic ability and range of sports offered at the school to both genders, whilst the annual winter dance showcase portrays the talent, scope, and accessibility of the event within 10 images. Beyond the school, videos of hiking mountainous terrain and winning awards at robotic competitions are frequent. Most importantly, the evident enjoyment of students at these events is appealing to prospective students whilst making the featured students feel valued within their own community.

The final aspect of the Academy’s Instagram which engaged me, was the live stream of the Beijing Graduation Ceremony, at the Confucius temple. The ability to watch the event, live or on-demand, includes viewers into the school community making prospective students feel welcome. As well as celebrating the momentous occasion for the graduates.

How I would rank it: 2nd. The Instagram account succeeds in showing a well-rounded and complete view of the opportunities at the school, as well as exploiting the full network ability of Instagram as a social media platform, appealing to teenagers. However, in my opinion, could be improved with more student control and usage, as shown below.

2. Canford School: @canfordschool 

This Instagram account works well to provide both a polished, yet personal and informal view of the school. Thereby attracting possible pupils and creating a gallery of current students achievements. I thought that this page worked well to emphasize the individuality of the school and the pupils’ viewpoint.

Undoubtedly, the best feature is the #takeovertuesday, constantly changing pupil in order to portray different aspects of the school. Whether it was showing pupil led house drama competitions, house Christmas parties or walking expeditions. Additionally, the recognisable cover photo symbol made it easy to identify this collection and made the page effortless to scour through. Some examples of this can be seen below:

 

 

The personal messages from the students embellish this effect.

As well as showcasing opportunities to prospective students, @canfordschool acknowledges the achievements of their pupils. Dedicating posts to them, makes students feel proud and appreciated - making them more likely to stay. As shown through the congratulations given to Nick Leavesley for his success in a photography competition. 

Additionally, the account is used to emphasize events occurring within the school community and give them the attention they deserve. The recent drama production was featured in multiple posts to encourage people to go/book tickets, as well as congratulate those involved for the success of the performance. All whilst highlighting the range of opportunities available to all students. This could also be seen in the CCF Biennial Inspection and Parade pictures; documenting the event, group activities and enjoyment of the students. Or the International Programme on the Chinese New Year which celebrated Chinese culture through a range of tasks.

The final aspect of the Instagram which appealed to me as a student was the emphasis on life beyond the school. Often teenagers feel unprepared for work life, lacking key skills to succeed. However Canford School clearly does everything to ensure students feel prepared to leave the confines of school, and this is consistently shown on Instagram. As the career symposium is documented, with its theme of ‘creating your own path’. Furthermore reference to alumnae and aid to them is emphasised throughout the account, showing support into adult life. This feature is essential to prospective students.

How would I rank it: 1st. This Instagram account is best at providing an informal and student perspective to viewers. However prospective parents could prefer the slant taken by other accounts. Of all the accounts, its feed makes me wish I was a student there the most (once again this is a personal preference). As the account with the least posts, it shows that if the posts are high quality, quantity is not essential to a certain extent.

3. Notre Dame School: @notredamecobham

This Instagram account uploads a large amount of content, for example, the recent ski trip was featured in 18 separate posts. Mostly, this method works well to present the breadth of activities occurring at the school. Though one could argue that 18 separate posts for one trip are excessive. Yet it does well to show the informal side of the school which is why I included it within the top five that I saw.

One focal point consistently communicated, is the relaxed and informal environment within the school at times. Shown through school events, such as an Easter egg hunt for the primary school, featuring dressing up and the eldest pupils guiding the youngest ones through the hunt. Thereby exemplifying the sense of community. The dressing up is clearly not limited to students only, with teachers coming in costume on school events like World Book Day. The final aspect which demonstrates this environment is the pictures of the school Christmas lunch, spanning all years and featuring the sixth form along with the youngest of the senior school. This event appears to me as a show of community, a feature to look for when picking a secondary school.

One aspect of the Instagram account which stood out to me personally was the evident enrichment beyond the syllabus. Whether it is the year 6’s re-enacting the home-guard of WW2 or highlighting social issues through school lunches. These literal experiences not only encourage students to engage with work more but also offer wider knowledge about the world as a whole, preparing them for life beyond school. A more critical issue as students get older and join the sixth form.

Additionally, @notredamecobham showcases the achievements of pupils - both current and past. As GCSE drama students are given support for their current work and performances, being congratulated and supported in this stressful time. Whilst alumnae are championed, such as Patricia Ferran winning a coveted Oliver Award. Further enforcing this sense of community desired by students like myself.

How I would rank it: 5th. Whilst it is a well-rounded Instagram account giving a thorough view of the school, most people pay minimal attention to social media. Therefore accounts need to be as easy as possible to navigate in order to find all the information desired. I felt that 18 Instagram posts of a ski trip were overwhelming and prospective students or even current students may not put the effort in to look through so much content.

4. Oakham School: @oakhamschool

The independent boarding and day school do well to show their best side through Instagram, utilising the platform to the best of its ability. Using the story feature to showcase unique trips and re-posting pictures from specific school accounts such as @oakhamschlibrary.

One large feature of the account is self-promotion. This is shown through the repeated appearance of the Tatler Schools article and quotes reposted. Arguably this is more likely to appeal to parents, but this feature could create a sense of pride in current students and also appeal to prospective teenagers as Tatler is a recognisable and popular magazine. Additionally, it promotes internal magazines, posting pictures to remind followers that the latest ‘Oakhamian’ is publicised.

Even though the school as a whole is promoted, the students are also championed by the school. Whether it is congratulations to the drama cast on their latest ‘extraordinary production’, wishing well to five of their rugby players joining the local team the Tigers or even a young girl winning a local dog competition. The pupils are celebrated publicly and appreciated for their achievements by the school.

This personal slant on the Instagram account to feature the people of the school appeals to me very much as a teenager. A key example of this can be seen in the armistice celebration, many school Instagram accounts used stock photos or cartoon drawings to commemorate the event. Whilst Oakham featured the school Chamber choir’s performance to honour the fallen.

Additionally, the opportunity to tour countries and experience other cultures is emphasized. With specific subject trips, like visiting Iceland for geography, showcasing the unique opportunity to experience the topics in different ways - in this case climbing the glacier! Moreover, the annual visits to Kenya offer an opportunity to do charity work for the students as well as experiencing contrasting cultures. These once in a lifetime trips to students are incredibly appealing to students for the experience of other places and enjoyment with friends.

Finally, the Instagram account emphasizes internal day-to-day entertaining opportunities. Whether sledging in the snow across the school grounds or weekly afternoon tea for sixth formers to take a break from studies. The school accentuates the sense of community that goes beyond learning.

How I would rank it: 3rd. I believe the account does well to show a balance of both polished and professional appearance, and the sense of joy/community at the school. Therefore if one wanted a balance in appealing to parents and students, this is arguably best. Personally, the opportunity to go to Kenya for charity was presented well and created a clear differentiation between Oakham and other schools.

5. Pocklington School: @Pockschool

This Instagram account succeeds at differentiating itself from other schools. One instance would be the frequent posts of the surrounding landscape to the #redbridge, creating an instant association and celebrating the opening of the art department.

A major aspect of the account is highlighting the unconventional and arguably surprising events that occur at the school. Whether it’s the staff being ‘gunged’ for charity, showcasing the winner of musical chairs, getting ‘Bernard the bearded dragon’ to celebrate science week, showing the flaming hands experiment or even using VR stimulation to teach the importance of road safety. These extensive activities, though lots of fun, also have educational importance and can help to prepare us students for life beyond school. Yet another example of this would be the first aid lessons to train students in CPR or cooking for university life.

One post that particularly stuck out to me, was the celebration on results day. Presenting the results not as statistics, but the students who had been successful in their studies. This personal presentation and congratulations felt more sincere than seen on other Instagram accounts.

Another post that appealed to me was the dedicated pictures to school play productions. Whilst all Instagram accounts have done well to present the multitude of extracurricular opportunities, @pockschool showed the play from the perspective of behind the scenes, as a result representing a student’s perspective which is exactly what an Instagram account should present.

How would I rank it: 4th. Arguably it was tied with Oakham for 3rd place, due to the incredible range of events happening at the school. Particularly the relevance for students in their day-to-day life or unconventional methods. I almost felt a part of the school as I scrolled through the account - which is exactly the effect these accounts should have. In order to fully succeed at this, I believe that more student perspectives (like the #tuesdaytakeover seen at Canford) should be expanded on.

What to include in School Instagram Accounts:

  • Extra Curricular opportunities: both formal and informal. Personally the unconventional was most appealing and engaging. Additionally, Instagram can be used as a platform to promote upcoming events.

  • Trips and Holidays: once in a lifetime trips with friends are incredibly appealing to students. (These can be emphasized by employing the story feature on Instagram).

  • Student Spotlight: honouring and celebrating specific student achievements make pupils feel valued and create a sense of community. This can include keeping achievements such as A-level results personal.

  • A sense of community and network within the Instagram account: through encouraging tagged posts and engaging with other specialized profiles (e.g. @oakhamschlibrary).

  • Involve followers and those who visit the profile: this can be done through live streams of certain events or even consistent updates.

  • A specific aspect of the school: by associating the school with an event, showing the culture or even the physical landscape, the Instagram account becomes recognizable within the mass of English independent and international schools.

  • Encouraging the students to take part in the promotion of the school and showing their perspective: a celebration of the school can appear more genuine and truthful from students themselves as well as massively appealing to teenagers due to the more relatable content.

It is important to note that this list is not exhaustive and that these follow my own personal preference for what I look for in a school. The rankings I have done are only through the Instagram representations and by no means include whole evaluations of the schools. My position as an L6/year 12 student has led me to reach these conclusions. If you have a different ranking choice based on the social media platforms we would love to hear your consensus and reasoning.


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Niamh Campbell is a sixth form student at Lady Eleanor Holles school working with the marketing department as a ‘Creative Director’, an initiative to encourage students to implement projects with their alternative perspective. At Finalsite UK office, she is completing work experience and sharing her perspective on what aspects of school Instagram accounts work best to engage students - both current and perspective.

  • Marketing/Communications
  • Social Media

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