Use Instagram Stories to up college engagement

By Zach Snyder

Storytelling on social media can increase student engagement and help prospective students connect with the college.

When Snapchat hit the scene in 2012, social media began a major shift to the “story” format for content sharing. Snapchat may have kicked off the trend, but Instagram has the edge. Dominating the story landscape with constant improvements, Instagram Stories have catapulted to the strategy forefront for organizations seeking to reach and engage their followers.

Community colleges in particular should take full advantage of this popular method of storytelling. Statistically, Stories are a prime method for telling the community college story: Accounts with fewer than 10,000 followers are more likely to have their Instagram Stories viewed by a higher percentage of followers, according to a 2019 study done by social media analytics company Rival IQ.

At Onondaga Community College (OCC) in New York, 12% to 18% of followers view its Instagram Stories, with 700 to 800 views on each initial story in a sequence. Those viewership numbers average 4% to 10% higher than similarly sized accounts. Part of this success comes from OCC’s organic follower growth strategy that incentivizes participation. For example, OCC’s “Fall 2020 Announcement for Fall Classes and Operations” campaign reached 2,511 users and resulted in 140 web article clicks, 26 direct messages with questions, 20 comments and 210 likes – all solid returns.

Keeping followers engaged has meant developing Instagram Stories that keep viewers coming back for more. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to use the primary tools Instagram provides, including polls, questions, quizzes and live video.


One of the earliest Instagram Stories features, polls let users create a custom question or statement with two custom responses. During the fall 2019 semester, OCC (@onondagacc) launched a weekly campaign that highlighted different campus services and surveyed followers about those services. The result gave the OCC marketing team a clearer indication of how heavily to promote the service as the semester and year went on.


Unlike polls, quizzes give users up to four options in a multiple-choice style format. When the pandemic hit, OCC’s marketing office collaborated with the college’s activities office, and the college ran weekly trivia using the quizzes button on Instagram Stories. On average, 200 to 300 people participated, resulting in 500 to 600 story views. Themes focused on OCC, college athletics, city trivia and popular TV shows; and the college selected winners by finding those who got all four questions right. Three winners each week received a box of swag assembled by the student activities office and the marketing team. The responses and reactions from winners and participants helped fuel even greater story engagement.

Live video 

Is Instagram Live the underused ace up the sleeve? When OCC edited and released its graduation retrospective video, it received 664 views. Two weeks prior, OCC went live with two members of the recruitment office to help students know what to expect for fall classes. The live video received 872 views – nearly a third more than the video – plus enough comments and questions to fill more than an hour of live Q&A.

While live content doesn’t always outperform pre-produced video, it can rival pre-edited content and enhance a college’s overall organic presence on Instagram. The perfect live “how-to” is a topic for another article, but there are four good rules of thumb to follow:

  • Keep the stream general to an audience’s wants and needs.
  • Have engaging and knowledgeable personalities.
  • Use a cell phone stabilizer such as the DJI Osmo.
  • Make the stream either fun or informative.


The popularity of the “Question” button may be on the decline; still, a well-placed question in an Instagram story has the potential to draw a healthy number of responses. Ahead of OCC’s 2020 graduation event, the college asked students about their favorite OCC memory. The post received more than 40 responses, 10 of which were later showcased on @onondagacc’s official Instagram story. Fun, quick and authentic, the microcampaign was an easy way to generate hype leading up to commencement.

Using these tools effectively can result in greater sustained social media engagement. This translates to a more connected audience, a higher rate of student and prospective student inquiries, and a decrease in students wondering where to turn for help.

This article is part of a bimonthly series provided by the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations, an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.​

Zach Snyder

has served as the digital marketing specialist at Onondaga Community College (New York) for four years. He has managed the college’s social media accounts, created and executed strategic marketing plans for key college services and functions, and processed web content change. He has grown the college’s Instagram engagement by over 500% and 4,000 followers.