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  • Writer's pictureJon McBride

How to implement and excel with an Instagram takeover series

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

At higher ed social media conferences, on webinars and in consultant website blog pieces (hi 👋), the word "authentic" might be the most used buzzword out there right now.

I could write a whole other blog piece on what being authentic on social media really means, and in fact, by the use of the hyperlink on those eight words toward the beginning of this sentence, you realize that I have. But I think what this ultimately comes down to is just how tired audiences have become of hearing from brands, how traditional marketing campaigns and tactics just aren't as pervasive as they used to be and how powerful peer-to-peer communication really is.

Peer-to-peer communication, facilitated by brands certainly isn't new. The idea of utilizing testimonials has been around forever in traditional marketing. But even a polished testimonial isn't as powerful as a takeover can be.

Takeovers can hit an important sweet spot of authenticity for our communities.

So let me run through the basics of how to get started and how to do it right.

(If you are really new to the idea of takeovers, here's a look at a variety of Instagram story takeovers from the past few years to help give you a baseline.)

Creating guidelines/policies

While you want your community members to share their authentic experiences, that doesn't mean you can't have guidelines and policies in place. These safety measures are there to help and protect your brand but to also help and protect the takeover participant. Reiterating points from your existing student code of conduct is a no brainer and the least of what to focus on, but zeroing in on on prohibiting such as hate speech and personal attacks can be especially important.

Finding the right takeover participants

This is IMO the most important part of this. If you can have systems in place to find and vet the right people to do the takeovers, it eliminates so many concerns. You don't have to worry as much about someone using hate speech in a takeover when they already have a robust social media presence. You can scour their Instagram account, if it's public or request to follow if it's not, and see the content they're sharing, the sentiment in their captions and comments, how they're coming across in stories, etc.

While vetting them them to make sure they're right is one part of this, finding them is the other part. There are a lot of places to start, but let me outline two approaches:

A social-first approach

Look at who your existing most-engaged followers are. Pay attention to your comments and notifications. Who is contributing productively there? Look at content you're tagged in. Who is creating that engaging, high-quality, community-building content already? Look at these people's Instagram profiles. See if they'd be a good fit. Reach out, if you see potential.

An institution-first approach

Look at who at your institution is doing big, important, interesting things. They don't have to be huge things. It can even be a student who is involved in an interesting research project or campus initiative. These can be people you hear about in email bulletins from your internal comms team, news releases from your media relations team, magazine pieces from your editorial team, etc. Find these people on Instagram. See if they can use the platform and its tools well. Reach out, if you see potential.

Notice that in both of those approaches, vetting their Instagram usage and skills is really important. While there is some training that can take place to teach some skills, if needed. There are some skills that are really, really hard to teach someone for a takeover:

  • How to use Instagram

  • How to utilize the native features within an Instagram story

  • How to have at least a little charisma and engaging personality on camera

So you might have a really engaging dean or faculty member who comes across as really dynamic and personable in person and is doing really cool things, but if they don't use Instagram, you can not have them do a takeover. It's just not the right tool. (See Instagram takeover spotlights as an alternative opportunity to utilize these types of individuals.)

One other extremely beneficial tool in finding takeover participants is your social media street team and ambassador program. Utilize them for takeovers themselves, but they also have their ear to the ground in really important ways in vastly different areas of campus and can provide really important recommendations.

A really cool opportunity in a takeover series is being able to showcase diversity. Racial diversity and cultural diversity, for sure ... but even a diversity of majors, interests, clubs, organizations, physical areas of campus, plans for after graduation, etc. etc. etc.

Have a face-to-face interaction

Once you've found your participant, bring them into the office or set up a Zoom call to have a face-to-face interaction. This accomplishes a few purposes. First, you can go through the guidelines/policy with them to make sure they actually understand what's entailed. Second, you can do additional training on best practices. Third, it makes things a little more real for the participant and helps them take this opportunity more seriously.

Providing access and addressing security

The No. 1 concern I've heard from other higher ed communicators about takeovers is the security threats and liability that could possibly be associated with handing the keys of your account over to a college student. Hopefully you've seen that having robust guidelines/policy, vetting the participant thoroughly and meeting with them face-to-face is going to do a lot preventatively to head things off.

Another thing you can do is change your password right before each new takeover.

I've personally overseen 200+ takeovers in the past four years. We have not had a single security issue. There have certainly been minor content mistakes made where a student said something wrong or showed something they shouldn't have. But those have been minor, minor issues.

After hearing these security concerns multiple times in multiple environments from higher ed communications pros at different institutions who hadn't instituted takeover models because of this fear, I decided to run a poll. In a popular online forum among higher ed social media managers if they had ever had an Instagram account security issue because they provided login information to a takeover participant. The results: 97 said no, 4 said yes. And it's worth noting that among the four who said yes, multiple stated in the comment section that they did not implement the preventative measures outlined above.

The magic of the DMs

You might be wondering why direct access to the account is so important. Why not just have the participant send you their content as-if-live? There are a few answers to that, but the main one is the direct messages. Your participant needs to have access to the account so that they have access to the DMs.

I can not overstate just how interesting and powerful and refreshing these DMs in response to takeovers have been. Because there is no other way to engage with takeovers, the DM functionality is highly utilized. And because these DMs are private, you see a level of authenticity and vulnerability in them that is remarkable. People messaging don't have to worry about what they say or how they say it is going to be interpreted by a troll in a public forum. They can be real, and the conversation can be incredible.

I said earlier that a really cool thing about takeovers is the diversity of experiences you can showcase. A really import outcome of that is the diversity of your audience you can speak to. Here's an interesting data point: with every takeover we do, we get multiple DMs from people who are messaging our account for the first time. Because of the message history functionality, that's easy to keep track of.

Data that I wish I had access to, but that I don't, is our audience venn diagram for each takeover. From looking at the DMs qualitatively, it's my theory that while there is certainly some overlap from our institutional super fans in each takeover, the parts of our audience that don't overlap are really important. And we're seeing with the DMs, just how much we're able to engage new and different parts of our audience, as well as grow our audience.

Letting takeover live past the 24-hour story expiration

Since Instagram stories expire after 24 hours, we decided to archive our favorites on IGTV. This has been useful to be able to help this important content pieces have a longer shelf life and often utilize in sending to people who have certain interests the takeovers address. Coming full circle, we also use this IGTV versions to as part of our training with participants, to show existing best practices and how they are realistically implemented.

Have fun

All the best to you in your Instagram story takeover adventures. The really can be an exciting and fun and adventurous and rewarding journey to take as a social media and community manager. Hopefully you can see that there are some real, established best practices already out there to help you do this right.

You've got this.

Shoot me an email if you want to know more about takeovers, want help implementing a takeover serious at your institution or have your own best practices re: takeovers that you'd like to share with me:

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