Colleges tell compelling ‘Stories’ on Instagram

Creativity drives popular social media tool that personalizes content for specific users
By: | Issue: November, 2018
October 25, 2018

With more than a billion daily users sharing Stories across Facebook’s networks—Instagram, Facebook, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp—the format, first introduced by Snapchat in 2013, is becoming the most popular way to consume organic or paid content on social media platforms.

Expiring by default in 24 hours after they are published, Stories are impossible to ignore because they are fun to create—and watch.

With a palette of visual effects, interactive stickers, animated GIFs, playful filters and more, the format has become an easy creative outlet powered by mobile devices. Stories are short by design, and the boring parts can be skipped by a simple tap.

When you watch Stories, you never know what you’ll get. This unpredictability makes it interesting for advertisers, because the flow of content is constant and personalized for users depending on whom they follow and what they watch most.

A third of users in the U.S. say they are more interested in brands after seeing their Stories, according to a survey conducted by Sentient Decision Science for Facebook in October 2017 (UBmag.me/sds).


Got a tech story to tell? Present at UBTech 2019.


On the Stories front, Instagram is the most established player with 400 million daily active users reported in June 2018. Snapchat, once its most threatening contender, had a reported reach of 188 million, thus missing its growth target.

Change of direction

Several colleges and universities have dialed back their official presence on Snapchat, even though it is still widely used by teens and young adults.

The University of Michigan, an early adopter of Snapchat, has relocated all its content to Instagram over the past year (UBmag.me/slsc).

Likewise, the University of Toronto has chosen to limit its Snapchat footprint. “We found the Snapchat platform to be too singular or peer to peer for our audience,” says Krista Boniface, social media officer for the institution.

Key to this change of direction is the different prominence Instagram and Snapchat have given to Stories. Snapchat’s redesign pushed down organic Stories published by schools and dramatically shrank their reach. Meanwhile, Instagram introduced a pair of enhancements: the Story Swipe-Up and Story Highlights.

The Story Swipe-Up feature, limited to accounts with a minimum of 10,000 followers, has also had an impact for institutions like the University of Michigan, Duke University and others.

“We’ve driven people to news stories on our website in a way that we could not do on Instagram before,” says Nicole Morell, digital marketing strategy associate director at the MIT Alumni Association.

These swipe-up links, attached to calls to action within Instagram Stories, have even surpassed Facebook or Twitter as top drivers of social media traffic to some higher ed websites.

More interaction

With the introduction of the Story Highlights option to save and share your best stories, Instagram has broken free from the 24-hour expiration mandate.

This has helped institutions invest more time in creating quality, interactive content such as Ask Me (UBmag.me/utama) at the University of Toronto and InstaNews (UBmag.me/ubin) at the University at Buffalo.

If your school isn’t on Instagram, get inspired by browsing the Story Highlights on my professional Instagram account (UBmag.me/hee) where I share content created by higher ed social media professionals.


Karine Joly is the web editor behind collegewebeditor.com, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations and technologies. She is also the founder of higheredexperts.com.