Andrea Estey has been the Digital Content Strategist at the University of Vermont for the past four years. During her time in this position, she’s become an expert at curating and sourcing content for the university’s social media channels.
“In recent months, we've had posts that have had huge engagement rates, but they've been for negative reasons. It's been lots of comments from students complaining and being upset that campus is shutting down. So even though those numbers feel great, the sentiment really matters as well.”
Andrea Estey, from The University of Vermont, shares hacks for increasing Instagram engagement among students.
Getting prospective students interested in the campus and helping to convert them, engaging existing students and alumnis on social media and finding the perfect content to post at the most opportune times are just a few of the challenges Andrea and her team - of just one other person - face on a daily basis.
Since starting her job at UVM, Andrea has grown the university’s Instagram account from 15K followers to more than 40K today - just shy of a 150% increase.
Andrea was kind enough to tell me a bit more about her work, and the strategies she applies in her day to day management of the social media presence and performance of the University of Vermont.
I try to equally represent various areas of studies around the university, and fold in alumni and faculty stories. As I also manage our online newsroom, I have my fingers on the pulse of editorial content.
UVM is a university, so it goes without saying that the main target audience is composed of students and prospective students. What Andrea is able to do with social media is educate, inform and inspire that audience with content which is directly relevant to them. User-generated content plays an important role in the curation of content for the university’s Instagram feed - and who better to tell the stories behind the establishment than the students themselves?
Andrea harvests the precious UGC from students mostly via DM on Instagram. The main reason the exchange of content happens via private messaging is because a lot of younger students have private accounts. They want to participate in the social media activity of their university campus, but don’t wish to post the content themselves, so they take the pictures and send them privately. A lot of them have more than one account, perhaps a photography account, maybe a close friends and family account, etc. A picture of the UVM campus (as glorious as it may be) may not be the right fit for those kinds of accounts, so the fact that Andrea is able to cultivate it in another way is pretty smart!
The team of two works mainly off of a content calendar which is largely driven around the academic year, in order to anticipate the events and holidays they want to communicate on and plan their posts well in advance. But sometimes it’s more prudent to improvize…
“...In the world we live in right now, every day is totally unpredictable. One day, we'll think, oh, tomorrow we’ll post this nice photo of some mountains, to give people a moment of respite. And then you read the headlines and realize, okay, we're gonna seem really tone deaf. I think what our audience needs right now is a mix of the usual university messages, but also content that’s plugged into what's happening in the world in a much bigger way. They need us to be responsive to that.” Andrea Estey
Andrea has learned during her time as a social media expert that sometimes, the best thing you can post on social media is nothing at all.
Andrea didn’t attend the University of Vermont herself, but upon arrival, the values the institution represented really spoke to her and impressed her. UVM wants students to feel involved and at home, giving the young learners a sense of place and purpose.
It remains of the utmost importance to Andrea to continue to relay these values through social media. Human stories are particularly valuable, as they allow her to touch on emotional topics in a very direct way.
“On our Instagram feed, you'll get a view of UVM that you won't get anywhere else.” Andrea Estey
Andrea asked new students to send videos of themselves opening their admission letters by DM to @universityofvermont, and she used them in the account’s Stories. This generated lots of Stories interactions, as well as an 80% increase in DMs and an overall engagement rate of 13% for feed posts during the campaign.
Aside from conveying specific principles within the university itself, Andrea understands the importance of being committed to the State of Vermont and everything it represents. She describes Vermont as being a very unique place with lots of beautiful scenery and landscapes. The content displayed on the University’s social media channels speaks volumes about the State, and the sense of community combined with the geography, really acts as a deciding factor for many students applying from out of State.
The university runs surveys with the new students each year. In 2019, the overwhelming result was that 58% of enrolling students used social media to learn about UVM, and that more than half of those used Instagram specifically. Thanks to the survey, Andrea has the certitude that prospective students who follow UVM on social media are more likely to enroll at the university than those who don't. A statistic that would impress any social media marketer!
Andrea tracks all her social media metrics with Iconosquare. The Engagement section especially really helps her to gauge the precise posts which are increasing the overall engagement rate of the account. Although it’s not all about the numbers, she admits:
“In recent months, we've had posts that have had huge engagement rates, but they've been for negative reasons. It's been lots of comments from students complaining and being upset that campus is shutting down. So even though those numbers feel great, the sentiment really matters as well.” Andrea Estey
As with any brand, the quality of the engagement received is paramount - maybe even more so for an institute of higher education where the overall happiness of the community (online and off) is what keeps the machine running.
A: Content planning. A big part of the job for me is managing requests and sorting through ideas from people around campus - I receive hundreds of emails which means a big part of my day is dedicated to my inbox and our content calendar.
A: Iconosquare for analytics, Google Sheets for planning, and a messaging platform for all our internal communications.
A: Best-in-class media companies like @newyorkerphoto @nytimes and @natgeo. For a break, soothing makeup tutorials from @katiejanehughes. I’ve also found so many great resources and connections in the Higher Ed Social Media community (#hesm) on Twitter.
A: I think there have definitely been small moments when a student will send us a message and I’ll look at our thread and I'll see that I've been messaging with this student for two or maybe even four years. They’ll share a post with us saying they've applied, then a post saying they've been accepted, and then a photo on their first day. And I realize we're really a part of students’ journeys. Just being able to connect with students is incredibly touching, because ultimately, that's why we're here.
A: Don't take it personally. And the work that you do matters.