No longer is Instagram reserved for #Selfies or yummy restaurant photos. Major brands, including the University of Michigan, are actively maintaining presences on the platform in order to tell a cohesive, visual story. It allows for ample opportunities to showcase exclusive content, engage with natural advocates, and educate individuals on the brand messaging of our organization.

With over 30K followers and posts averaging 2,000+ likes, the University of Michigan Instagram has become an extremely influential channel in our social media repertoire.  Throughout the past year, our loyal audience has grown to include not only current and prospective students, but fans from around the globe. The popular photo (and more recently, video) sharing platform has given us an outlet to feature content where we know it will gain traction, as well as engage with the ever-growing University of Michigan community.


The idea behind Instagram is relatively simple: take a photo, add a desired filter effect, include hashtags—or short phrases proceeded by the pound sign (#)—and post. Similar to other commonly used social platforms, it relies on a scrolling feed to display photos and videos from the accounts you follow in order of post time. Posts can also be found by searching for specific hashtags. With such a simplistic format, it can’t be that hard to accumulate a strong follower-base and run a successful account, right?

Sadly, it’s really easy to get lost in the mix. According to Instagram’s website, the platform currently boasts over 200 million monthly active users, uploading approximately 55 to 60 million images each day. Curating an account becomes more than simply posting appealing images, but learning how to effectively reach your intended audience and create meaningful conversations. In terms of its massive scale, Instagram can seem like an intimidating beast to tackle. But, with a well thought out strategy, you can learn to stand out.

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Hashtags and Geo-Tag

In order to drive users to your profile, it’s essential to use consistent hashtags on your posts’ captions. Users are able to search for all images that include specific keywords, therefore making properly tagged images much more likely to appear than those that neglect to include hashtags. This is a simple and foolproof way to gain attention and a few followers along the way.

Establishing go-to hashtags early on will ultimately encourage followers to incorporate them into their own posts, which will only increase the visibility of your name and content. For example, the @uofmichigan account utilizes tailored hashtags such as #UMsocial and #MyUMich, along with the more general #GoBlue and #UMich. To date, #UMsocial has appeared in 4,976 posts, and #UMich has appeared in 35,940 posts.

Beyond creating your own hashtags, take the time to research applicable options that already exist and are popular on the network. Common themes or promotions such as #TBT (Throwback Thursday) demonstrate that your account is on trend, and also connects you with an established audience throughout the platform. Keep in mind, hashtags are a great thing, but should be used in moderation. #Nobody #likes #captions #that #hashtag #every #word. Be creative, concise, and consistent, and it’s smooth sailing from there.

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Along with specifying hashtags, it’s helpful to add your location to the photo. This way, users searching for photos in certain locations can be directed to your content. By further adding it to your photomap, you can showcase where you’ve been and see what other photos have been taken at a given destination. To ensure that your location can be added to posts, you must turn on “Location Services” in your phone settings.


Instagram thrives as a highly visual platform, so it’s important to think before you post just any ordinary photo or video. We all can’t be top-notch photographers, but with an engaging subject and flattering filter overlay, the magic of Instagram is that almost anything can be turned into a “like” worthy post.

The @uofmichigan account takes great strides to create original content by exploring campus and attending noteworthy events. However, with a central team of five, producing 100% original content can be time consuming (and nearly impossible). This is where user-generated photos become crucial. By regularly curating images that are posted by Ann Arbor residents, UMich students, and Wolverine fans alike, we are able to expand our reach and our resources to anywhere in the world!

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When taking this approach, always be sure to ask for permission prior to sharing someone’s photo. Typically, users are beyond eager to be featured on another account, but you know what they say about those that make assumptions.

To find content, simply rely on using the hashtags we mentioned earlier. Run searches relevant to your brand to identify natural advocates. Apps, such as Regram, allow you to re-share other posts on your feed, but you can also do it manually by taking a screenshot and re-uploading. Make sure to always credit the source by including their handle in your caption. Common courtesy goes a long way in social.

You may decide to share behind-the-scenes content, images from events, or fan-submitted photos, but remember to always keep the message consistent with your brand. Find your voice and stay true to it!

Post Habits

What seems like a simple photo or video post is actually so much more—it’s a strategic way to reach out to your audience and grab their attention. You have to show them something cool enough that they’ll follow your account, like your photos, and share content to be featured. Being conscious of your demographics, posting times, and frequency can help you achieve maximum results.

Much like receiving too many emails, over-posting on Instagram tends to look spam-y. You don’t want to turn potential (or current) followers away, so the rule of thumb is to post at least every other day. This will keep your account on their radar without coming across as desperate. There are always exceptions, however. If you’re covering an awesome event and can’t decide between multiple photos, you can post them in the same day. The key is to always keep your audience in mind. What will they respond best to? Spread content out, putting at least two or three hours between posts, take a photo followed by a video, or use a collage app to showcase multiple images at once. This will ensure that each post gets the attention it deserves, allowing them to rack up more likes in the long run.

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With @uofmichgan, we’ve found that content performs better during the evening. At around 7 or 8pm, we’d expect students to be studying or relaxing after class. This is the perfect time for them to be scrolling through Instagram and fall upon our content. Using Statigram, an analytics and engagement platform for Instagram, we are able to better track when our followers are most active. Utilizing this and other optimization tools, like Nitrogram, allows us to recognize consistent patterns and further increase engagement.


It should go without saying, but posting regularly on your account is not enough—you must actively engage with followers. Liking, commenting on, and sharing photos are all ways to step up your game and increase your visibility. Fans love it when we acknowledge their posts, and some even post about being recognized by UMich. It’s exciting to see such positive feedback, and an excellent testament to the efforts and emphasis we place on social.

Another way to engage with followers is relatively common sense: follow them back. You don’t have to follow everyone, but definitely reach out to those that continually like or comment on your photos. This is a great way to reward them for being an active follower, and maybe they’ll in turn promote your account within their friend group. The more fans that you follow, the more opportunities you’ll have for finding relevant content and establishing ties within the community.

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Once you rally followers and master regularly update content, consider running an Instagram contest. Whether it consists of a simple “Caption this!” or a full-fledged month long challenge, anything will help bring in followers and awareness to your brand. Plus, everyone loves prizes!

Here are a few additional tips to ensure your contest is a success:

  • Establish clear goals and guidelines to follow.
  • Determine a time frame, how you will keep track of entries, how winners will be chosen, etc.
  • Make sure every member of your team understands the contest rules, so there is no confusion.
  • Include prizes that are relevant to your brand and audience. UMsocial typically rewards users with #GoBlue T-shirts that promote our social accounts, as well as the University of Michigan.
  • Endorse available prizes and rules in the launch of your contest, with a simple graphic. People will be much more likely to participate if free things are involved!
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After establishing the contest rules and creating promotional materials, distribute this message across multiple channels, not just your Instagram account. Doing so will encourage a wider variety of participants to join and increase exposure to your account. We usually tweet about smaller, one-day contests and feature larger campaigns on Facebook.

From there, monitoring entries and selecting winners is the fun part. The new Direct Message feature makes notifying the winners extremely simple. On the home tab, you should see the DM icon on the top right corner. Once inside, click the plus sign and upload a congratulatory image. You are then prompted to select the users with whom you’d like to message.


If the contest involves users submitting photos, feel free to create a collage of the winning entries and post to your account. This is the perfect way to give the winners a shout-out (and make them feel special) while encouraging others to participate in future contests. It is also consistent with the ways in which Instragram runs and promotes their very popular weekly challenges.

Follow @uofmichigan to learn more and see how we leverage our channel! #StaySocial


This post was written by Katie Szymanski, Communication and Digital Studies senior; #UMsocial editorial intern