A Picture is Worth 1000 Words: Using Pictures to Get Your Message Out

If I had a dollar for every time a parent contacted our office saying, “This is the first time I’m hearing about this” or “Where was that information” or “I don’t think I ever received that email,” let’s just say I would be on the fast-track to retirement. In today’s busy world, campuses are continually challenged to find ways to get important information out to our student and parent/family populations in a timely, relevant and engaging fashion. As emails pile up and attention spans wane, enter the dynamic content options of social media. 

Our office is no stranger to social media; the UCLA Parents Facebook page has been a continually growing source for digital family engagement for almost a decade, accruing over 10,000 organic followers in that timeframe. However, Facebook has posed its own limitations as we attempt to balance frequent posts and updates without upsetting the algorithms and being relegated to the abyss outside of the main newsfeed. In spring 2015, our team decided it was time to expand our social media presence and branch out onto Instagram (IG). With the mindset of “if you build it, [they] will come” – we blindly launched onto the IG scene and immediately began wrestling with how to engage families effectively in this digital space. Infrequent posts, lack of ownership, human, time and photo resources limited our success in generating followers. Without a vision or voice, IG was nothing more than a collection of random photos from here and there across campus and the parent/family community. Utilizing images to convey campus information, resources and engagement opportunities on a consistent basis proved to be a challenge. 

In June 2017, almost two years after its inception and with the recognition that incoming families were utilizing Instagram more frequently, the UCLA Parent and Family Association (PFA) team began working strategically to transform the account from an underutilized tool to a highly effective resource for families and the broader UCLA community. Through two years of slowly developing and refining the Instagram strategy, UCLA PFA has seen enormous growth in all areas of the platform from followership, to post engagement and reach, to utilization of Instagram features such as stories and analytics. Between June 2017 and June 2019 PFA Instagram followership increased by 222%. In July 2019, the PFA Instagram account crossed the 2,000-follower threshold and currently engages 2,416 followers. These increases in followers align with family responses to the last two distributions of the PFA Annual Survey, which showed that UCLA parents’ general use of Instagram is increasing (only 54% of respondents in 2019 said they did not have an Instagram account, down from 65% in 2018). 

Now, data and supporting facts are all great – but I’m sure (if you’ve made it this far in the article) you’re wondering “how does/can this apply to my campus?”. Here is a summary of best practices and lessons learned, all of which we hope you’ll consider if you embark into the world of Instagram: 

  • Identify (and dedicate) resources to developing content – despite the clear need for this outlet, our full-time staff did not have bandwidth to adequately manage/grow the channel. So, we turned to over the reins and created opportunity for PFA student interns* to lead the way with platform strategy and content management. Making the shift to student-generated content strategy dramatically impacted followership and engagement numbers
  • Find your voice (and perhaps even your mascot) – the content we post is fun, approachable and less formal than our other outlets (i.e. website, email, etc.). We introduced “Poppa Joe Bruin” as PFA’s unofficial mascot and utilize him in various settings across campus to introduce resources, offices and even events. He comes with the hashtag #FollowPJB and provides a constant and recognizable “face” in the feed.
  • Pictures are wonderful, but so are infographics! – not everyone will bother to read the description on an image even if it is eye-catching, which is why we’ve also integrated infographics into our content plan. We mostly focus on key dates, office closures and other high-impact information (i.e. departmental deadlines)
  • Frequency + Consistency are key – this point ties back into the first recommendation. In order to beat the algorithms and build a following you should commit to posting at least 2-3x per week. In order to engage your audience, we’ve found content that this particular audience responds very well to campus events and milestones, along with direct questions/opportunities to share advice, and giveaways.

*Bonus outcome: Because of their efforts with Instagram and the entire PFA social media suite, multiple former interns have also built skills that have positively influenced their post-grad careers: one former intern enjoyed the work so much that she pivoted from education to corporate market research, and another graduate now does social media marketing for UCLA Athletics. 

While social media may seem like a moving target, and low on the list of priorities/tasks to keep your office running and/or families engaged, it can ultimately be a highly utilized outlet for information. We encourage our colleagues to explore and get creative with their approach, and welcome the opportunity to answer any additional questions you may have about UCLA PFA’s approach to this medium.

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