In today’s social media world, hashtags are as valuable as they have ever been. Used properly, they can even be a source for student recruitment. So, what is a hashtag and how does it work?
Put simply, hashtags categorize your posts. You can create a hashtag from scratch or you can use an existing hashtag. By using hashtags, you can be confident that you are not simply “posting into the void” but that your important message will be seen by more than your existing followers, which means you can potentially grow your audience and reach more students. For that reason, your college or university may want to consider how you can optimize your Instagram strategy to make sure you are using hashtags in the most effective way. In this post, we are sharing all of the details about how you can get started with #hashtags today.
What’s trending in Higher Ed?
Trending hashtags provide a great opportunity for marketers to reach entire new audiences, so they are worth paying attention to. It is important to note that trending hashtags are more than simply #collegefootball or #universityeconomics. Trending hashtags usually gain popularity around a university-wide event or industry conversation. As they change rapidly, it is great to have a tool to keep on top of the trends. The website Hashtagify.me is helpful for finding popular hashtags. For example, you can search the hashtag #collegefootball and Hashtagify.me will show you alternative hashtags for this topic. You can then look at those hashtags and see how popular they are to determine whether they would be a good fit for your posts.
How to expand your reach with hashtags
- Use engaging imagery: Help your posts stand out from others using the same hashtags by creating captivating content. Bright, bold colours and cutting-edge design can ensure your content gets seen.
- Try new trends: Reels are relatively new to Instagram and are quickly gaining traction with users. Instagram rewards early adopters by showing their posts to more people. Try incorporating reels to your Instagram strategy and make sure you use targeted hashtags to expand your reach beyond your own audience.
- Engage: Social media is social, after all. You can search hashtags to find prospective students to engage with. This is as simple as starting a conversation by replying to their Instagram Stories, commenting on their posts, or even DMing them if appropriate.
How to use hashtags to create an engaging campaign
There are so many creative ways that you can use hashtags to expand your reach and recruit new students. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.
Create a branded hashtag
The first and most foundational campaign you should run is an organic branded hashtag campaign. This simply means that you create a hashtag that represents your university. This should be short, memorable and include your university’s name in some form. This basic branded hashtag should be used on an on-going basis for every single post you share on Instagram. You can even include it in your Instagram bio to encourage students and staff to use it too. While this campaign is not time bound, it will gain traction organically in the background, as people naturally use the hashtag.
Run a giveaway
Expand your reach by creating an engaging contest. The key here is to run a campaign that provides your current audience with an incentive to share so you reach more of your target audience. First, identify who you are wanting to attract - high school graduates, mature age students, faculty-specific students? Secondly, choose something to give away that is relevant to higher education and attractive to the student. This could be a year’s worth of stationery supplies, a grant, or paid-for textbooks for the entirety of a course. Thirdly, create your imagery - this could be a picture or video of what you are giving away, or simply a bright, bold engaging visual that will grab viewers’ attention mid-scroll. Fourthly, devise a caption explaining the rules - for example, liking the post and resharing it to your profile or Instagram Stories using a specific hashtag. Lastly, decide on a simple, easy-to-type hashtag that entrants can use to group their submissions together. When students enter and share the contest to their own Instagram accounts, this will extend your institution’s reach and increase brand awareness.
Lund University recently ran a contest where students were invited to post a photo to Instagram using the university’s dedicated hashtag. The result was some 3,300+ posts, expanding the university’s reach to new audiences.
Marketers can easily fall into the trap of promoting everything about their institution while forgetting who they are trying to reach. Posting should never be just for posting’s sake or for ticking off a check box. Posting on social media should be done with a clear goal. One way to strategically recruit students is to share other students’ stories, both current and alumni. If a prospective student can see themself in another person’s story, they are more likely to feel connected to the university and want to find out more information. A simple way to do this is by dedicating one day a week to sharing student stories on Instagram with a specific hashtag. By using the same hashtag on each student story, prospects will be able to click on this hashtag and view an entire collection of stories in one place. Marketers could even run a targeted campaign around enrollment time by dedicating an entire week or two to sharing student stories from different faculties to encourage final sign ups.
The University of Sydney regularly shares student stories, giving their viewers a look in at what their degrees are actually like. They also use the hashtag #usydlife to highlight the student experience.
Over the last few months, Cambridge University has ran a dedicated student stories campaign, using the hashtag #thiscambridgelife to document posts in one place.
Highlight your event
University marketers can use a hashtag for an online event, open day, conference, sporting event, or any other kind of event to increase brand awareness and foster conversation with potential students. Unlike consistently showcasing student stories on your Instagram account, event hashtags often have a start and end date. If you run an annual event, you will usually use the same hashtag from year to year. However some events can have year-specific hashtags to keep them separate from last year’s conversations. For example, if you are running an open day, you can encourage attendees to share their images and experiences with a dedicated hashtag. Recruiters can go one step further to direct message attendees in response to their post and ask them about their experience, and invite them to share their thoughts and questions. Plus, when attendees search for the hashtag this lets the Instagram algorithm know that the event is popular, and increases the chances of the hashtag being shown to similar users (aka more prospective students).
Start using hashtags today
If you aren’t using hashtags in your marketing strategies, now is the time to start. The simplest way is by creating a branded hashtag, sharing it in your institution’s account bio and adding it to every new post. Encourage students and staff to use it and watch as your organic reach grows.
Above all, it is important to remember that social media is social. As a university marketer, make the most of your new reach and build connections with prospective students through comments, replies and messages. This will foster trust and make sure your organization is front of mind as students make the important decision about where to study.