Rethinking Instagram: A Different Approach for a New Generation of Followers

By Dave McDonald, Assistant Director of Social Media

The way Generation Z engages with content on Instagram is changing. What was once home to beautifully manicured pictures and clever captions, is now a place for education, activism, and encouragement among peers. College students no longer just want to see congratulatory content, they want to learn from experts, and to engage with infographics that feature easily digestible, share-worthy content and information. With this in mind, we reworked our approach to the platform to better appeal to Generation Z and meet their content needs and expectations.

Using a combination of informational content and photos (campus shots and student features), we created a branded look for our page. Our posts offer a variety of engaging content from campus shots, to campus news and resources, new research, student organizations, and explainer carousels for important campus announcements.

All images have a similar filter and use the same font to create a consistent look. All posts with graphics include a long-tailed caption with a larger summary of the story. Viewers are then directed to the link in our Instagram bio to view the full story using Sprinklr’s Shoppable store feature as our “Linktree”, where we track clicks to our stories and initiatives.

With updates around COVID-19 continually flowing in, our new strategy has served as a useful way to get important information around the pandemic in front of students. This new approach also proved useful when the news of George Floyd’s death hit and country-wide protests against systemic racism ramped up. We utilized this new format to communicate the University’s response and educate our followers on issues related to social justice.

When investigating our new strategy we discovered that, unlike millennials, who prefer to use social media to share pictures and expand their professional networks, Gen. Z prefers to use their social platforms for inspiration, political involvement, reading the news, and find advice. Based on research from American University we discovered that when it comes to Instagram, Gen. Z leans toward quality over quantity in the accounts they follow, hates when users clog their feeds, and prefers aspirational content. In terms of themes, the topics that resonate most with them involve diversity and inclusion, justice, authenticity, and practicality.

When researching page design, we noticed that most of the pages with a similar approach lacked consistency, leaving their Instagram feeds looking random and unorganized. With this in mind, we created a look and feel to our posts that would be consistent across the board, regardless of whether they were graphics-based or not. All posts have a specific color overlay, and the ones with graphics use the same font and text size.

Since launching in July we’ve recorded 3,035 unique visits to our Linktree, 2,465 link clicks, and 273,347 engagements. While it’s still too early to tell the overall success of our approach, it seems to be catching on. Now that we’re offering more concrete, actionable information for our followers we’re seeing an uptick in positive comments from our students. This is opposed to the negative feedback we received when our community found our Instagram tone-deaf or outdated when we were still featuring only feel-good, beautiful content.

Have you revamped your Instagram strategy lately? Tell us how in the comments.

Tips, tricks, trends, updates & news from the social media team at Boston University