If you’re in enrollment marketing, chances are you’ve at least heard of Instagram takeovers by now. But what are they exactly, and how do you do them well?

Let’s start with what they are. The short answer is:

How to do them well is another matter. 

The idea seems fairly straightforward: Get some new blood in the game – someone with personality, preferably a following – to produce unique content and drive engagement.

But if you’ve ever discussed the concept in marketing/admissions team meetings, you know it brings up a host of questions.

For instance: “Why Instagram? Should we do this on all our social media platforms?”

You could, sure. But there are a few reasons why Instagram is a good place to start:

  • Instagram is a highly visual platform ideal for showcasing guest-created content.
  • The Stories feature is ideal for creating a sense of immediacy (more on this below).
  • Instagram practically invented takeovers; the practice has long been established there.
  • This platform has only grown in popularity over time as young people have flocked to it.

Read on to get the full picture on what successful Instagram takeovers look like, why they’re effective, and how to get the best results for enrollment marketing.

The Effectiveness of Instagram Takeovers

Like so many of the best practices of social media for enrollment marketing, the takeover concept was born outside of academia.

Learning from Product Promotions

The idea, which has proven extremely successful when done well, was to create a sense of urgency around products. 

In the first example above, an influencer with a huge following came in from outside the organization to merge her followers with the host’s to increase engagement. The sense of urgency they created was around the promotion.

In the second example, Instagram-savvy individuals from within the organization brought their followings with them, almost like bringing their friends to work. The urgency was around the limited opportunity to engage with them as that day’s face of the company.

It’s that second type of takeover that has gotten the attention of colleges and universities. 

We spoke with Courtnie Ridgway at Tarleton State University (part of the Texas A&M system). She confirmed takeovers have not only been effective, they have become a core part of Tarleton’s social media strategy:

“Takeovers give us a unique opportunity to connect with our students by handing the reins over to their peers. We’ve run a variety of takeovers including student, student organizations, and alumni. Throughout the last two years of running these, we’ve identified trends that hold true even during a pandemic. Students want relatable, unproduced, and authentic content. What better way to achieve this than by putting them in control?”

– Courtnie Ridgway, Digital Marketing Project Manager, Tarleton State University

Adapting Takeovers to Higher Education

Recruiting a celebrity for a takeover might be possible – if it’s a famous alumnus with a strong relationship with the institution, maybe – but challenging, and not always feasible. It’s also hard to come up with the higher ed equivalent of a “promotion” to generate excitement.

Recruiting from inside, on the other hand, is far more doable. That’s exactly what Sheffield Hallam University of Sheffield, United Kingdom did.

In an effort to stimulate engagement, they recruited a number of students to take over the official account for a week. Each student took a day and was instructed to use the hashtag #SHUInsiders.

During those seven days, there were over 800 engagements with the hashtag.

Several institutions have demonstrated that the takeover concept absolutely translates to academia, paving the way for you to try it for yours.

But don’t just dive in on impulse. Successful Instagram takeovers require a little pre-planning.

How to Execute Instagram Takeovers in Higher Ed

Just as you should for any other social media campaign, you’ll want to begin and end with social media analytics. See where you are, run your campaign, document where you end up.

Let’s break down running the campaign, step by step:

Step 1: Set a Goal

Once you’ve taken a snapshot of your primary indicators (interactions, profile visits, etc.), you can isolate a key performance indicator (KPI) and assign a goal to it.

For example, if you want to increase traffic to your website, website clicks during your takeover campaign is your KPI. 

Your goal might be to increase unique visitors during the campaign by 20% compared to a comparable period, e.g. takeover week compared to the previous week.

Step 2: Create a Takeover Agreement

Before you recruit students to take over your institution’s official Instagram account, you’ll want to have a clear idea of your expectations for them. Then, make those expectations explicit by putting them into a takeover agreement your participants will have to sign.

Some key items to include in a takeover agreement:

  • A general idea of what you want their posts to capture, e.g. student life, classes, research, etc.
  • Your goals for the project – the effect you want them to have on the audience.
  • Specific examples of posts you’d like to see, e.g. activities, clubs, daily life, etc.
  • General guidelines for appropriate content.
  • Specific examples of what not to post, e.g. negative comments, profanity, sexually suggestive, faces without consent (especially important for medical schools), etc.
  • An agreement to keep the account login information confidential.
  • Consent to abide by the terms of the agreement and incur disciplinary action if they do not.

Note: It’s always a good idea to run the language past your institution’s counsel. (Depending on how long you expect legal review to take, this may realistically be your Step 1.)

Full vs. Semi-Takeover

Takeover agreements are especially important if you are allowing your participants to do a full account takeover – that is, you are giving them full account access for the day. You could opt to do a semi-account takeover, in which the student sends you media files for you to post.

There are pros and cons to either approach. Personally, I would suggest choosing students you know you can trust and letting them do the posting themselves. It’s far easier that way.

Step 3: Recruit Guests (Students)

A good selection of students (and possibly staff and/or alumni) for your guest Instagram posters will quickly grasp your vision. All you need to do is give them the tools and the guidelines.

I don’t need to tell you who your ideal students for this are. Those who stand out for their academic excellence, involvement in student government and other organizations, or those who already have a role as campus ambassadors won’t be hard to find. Just ask around.

I will say that the best candidates are those with a strong Instagram following of their own. Requiring a minimum number of followers isn’t necessary, but consider higher numbers a bonus.

Consider Alumni Takeovers, Too

Courtnie Ridgway told us that one of their most effective takeovers was their Ask an Alumnus series, in which young Tarleton alumni working their dream jobs shared about their experiences:

“In our first takeover for Ask an Alumnus, we saw our reach increase by 78%, engagements nearly tripled our average, and we received numerous messages from alumni wanting to know how they could get involved, from students requesting specific industries, and from prospective students wanting to learn more about their degree programs.”

– Courtnie Ridgway, Digital Marketing Project Manager, Tarleton State University

Step 4: Meet to Lay Out Expectations

Meet with your participants for a takeover training session. Ideally, they are social media savvy, so you won’t have to spend too much time on the mechanics of posting. 

Before the meeting, create a private, online communication group (perhaps using Slack, Facebook Groups, Asana, etc.) that you’ll use for ongoing communication with participants leading up to and during the campaign. Invite them to it.

In your meeting:

  • Discuss the goals.
  • Go over the guidelines for appropriate posting.
  • Assign days and times to each participant (weekday business hours are best).
  • Give basic posting instructions, e.g. introduce yourself, always caption, always use the campaign hashtag.
  • Offer takeover tips. (From your own experience or from reputable sources.)
  • Have all participants sign the takeover agreement.
  • Make sure all participants have joined the online comm group.

Posts vs. Stories

Another item you might add to the discussion is your expectations for posts vs. Stories. The essential difference is that posts last forever, while images and videos added to Stories only last for 24 hours.

I would encourage students to create Stories on their takeover days for two reasons. 

  • First, it creates a sense of immediacy. Followers have to pay attention in near-real time or miss out. That can be powerful. You can also choose to privately keep a Story if you want to. You just have to go in and save it, or ask your guest poster to do it.
  • Second, you don’t have to worry about culling your public gallery afterward. I’m not suggesting there will be anything inappropriate that has to be removed, just some media that you might not want to live there forever.

That said, there may be certain permanent posts you want to encourage your participants to make. In that case, you’ll want to go over guidelines for Story content vs. post content.

Step 5: Promote the Takeover

Promote the takeover on Instagram and across your other social media channels, to your email lists, on campus, everywhere you can do so with little to no expense.

Also help your guest posters promote their takeovers to their own followers on Instagram and other accounts. Create something for them to share, like a quality photo they’ve provided with some simple text superimposed (“I’m taking over [SCHOOL]’s Instagram account on [DATE]!”).

If you’ve got the budget for it, and especially if your KPI is tied to a monetary goal (like converting applicants to deposits), you might consider paying to boost your promotions as well.

Step 6: Execute (Monitor and Document)

The final step is to run your campaign, monitor progress and document results. 

Watch your primary indicators and KPI, and consider making adjustments as you go. Use your private online communication group to cheer your guest posters on or provide real-time guidance, if necessary. 

Don’t micromanage, but if you’re getting a lot of shots in class, maybe encourage students to get out and about. If you’re seeing only images, suggest more video, especially live video. If you see comments they’re not replying to, it’s okay to give them a heads up.

It’s also important to let them know when they’re doing a great job. That will help keep up their excitement, which will come through in their posting activity as well.

Ready to try Instagram takeovers? We’re here to help.

Takeovers are a relatively simple concept, but as you can see, there is a lot to think about. You can just dive in and learn from your mistakes. Many schools do. 

Or, you can save yourself a lot of trouble and get help.

My team and I love helping institutions get creative with enrollment marketing, and there’s a lot of room for creativity in Instagram takeovers.

Let me know if you’re interested in discussing this further. I’d love to work with you to help make your takeover a huge success!


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