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Experts’ Roundtable: Evolution Of Instagram

By Tai M. Brown

Change is the one constant in the business of college athletics and also true of social media platforms utilized by departments around the nation to tell their brand’s stories. Recently, usage trends and potential product alterations by Instagram could impact how the network is leveraged. ADU caught up with leading social media administrators around the nation on how the changes could impact their engagement strategies.


1. Instagram Product Lead Julian Gutman met with press earlier this month to provide insights on the company’s algorithm. One question many content creators seem to be asking is if users are posting and sharing less because they’re spending a greater share of time with Instagram Stories. While Gutman didn’t provide any clues, how does your team consider executing most effectively with a mix of both standard posts and Stories?


Jen Galas – Associate Director of Digital Services/Social Media, University of Georgia


I view Instagram and Instagram Stories as two separate platforms. I use Instagram as place to place ever-green content. Content that can be viewed over and over and at different times throughout the week, month or even year. It’s almost for moments in time that need to be captured and saved. Instagram Stories on the other hand is more of a place for real-time information like quick hits, snippets of time that should be seen but doesn’t necessarily need to be saved for posterity. With the algorithm for Instagram, we have started using the platform less for score updates or game information/promotion and moved that type of content to Instagram Story. It is less confusing for fans and allows us to have several touchpoints with them throughout the day without clogging their feed with content like that. The idea being, if it gets into the feed, it’s something that we really want you to see, interact with and engage with.


Jonathan Gantt – Director of New & Creative Media, Clemson University


Our goal is for recruits to spend as much time as possible each day thinking positively about Clemson. And part of that is making sure we’re present and engaging on the digital platforms where they spend their time. Given that Instagram is the primary social app used by our target audience of recruits, it’s imperative for us to make sure we maximize the opportunities we’re provided by the feature set of the platform, which means having content distributed to both the IG feed and stories in order to stay in front of them and engage/entertain them as much as possible. It sounds simple but the content just needs to be good and needs to be consistent through both distribution points


Catherine Hilley – Social Media Coordinator, Vanderbilt University


We use Instagram stories as a way of disseminating real time information and a more personal way to showcase our teams (game updates, events, takeovers). Sometimes we will post iPhone wallpapers or quality shots on Stories as well, because our fans can screenshot them and make them their backgrounds. Wallpapers are free marketing tools, people take their phones everywhere, a great branding opportunity.


Our posts on Instagram are elements that are evergreen or that we know will get better engagement in the long-term (Nike swag, touchdown shots, draft graphics, previous players, celebrations, fans engaging)


Chris Kutz – Director of Social Media & Creative Services, Kansas State University


For us, Stories are an opportunity to have fun and showcase what’s occurring in that 24-hour window, while posts in the feed are more along the lines of powerful moments that need a longer lifespan (the buzzword here is “evergreen”). When we post on our Stories, you may see a more creative execution of an idea or engaging content because we treat it like a younger demographic is most likely viewing it. Therefore, it needs to be a different experience from one Story to the next. In the past, our Stories have also mostly been oriented around a specific event (e.g. game or competition). We may also may feel more inclined to post a graphic to Stories – while in the feed, we avoid graphics at all costs (not always easy). In short, the feed is treated as valuable real estate to showcase our great imagery (stills and video) whereas Stories are opportunities to take risks. Not always the case, but it’s our attempt because Instagram is the key platform for recruiting.


Zack Lassiter – Deputy Athletics Director for External Operations, Oregon State University


Engagement on Instagram stories has been huge, but has not diminished engagement from our feed. We’ve treated stories almost as their own platform – when we plan, we talk about four platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram feed, and Instagram stories. A big surprise has been the click (er… swipe) through rates on links within the stories, which have been roughly 10x the rate on Twitter and Facebook.


Speaking to content type, on Instagram story we feature more time-sensitive content, whereas the feed is focused on the big picture or big moment. You give your fans instant gratification from the stories. There’s an emphasis on perspectives – where you’re experiencing an event or moment through a different set of eyes.


Taylor McGillis – Director of Content Strategy & Creative Services, University of Arkansas


As much as Instagram has grown and evolved over the years, it’s still an entertainment platform at its core. I’ve always tried to abide by the standard that either the photo better be awesome or the moment better be awesome in order to get in our main feed. The addition of Instagram Stories has had a positive effect on our use of the platform, in my opinion, because it’s allowed us to stick with elite-quality in traditional feed, while still attempting to maximize our engagement in other ways. For us, we try to make Stories complementary to the feed and as a space to promote content that is time sensitive, not quite up to feed standard, or intended to be consumed in chronological order (Eg. score graphics). Before the Stories feature was added, there was some pressure to increase post frequency (and therefore lower post quality) in order to maximize promotional efforts.


Guy Ramsey – Director of Strategic Communication, University of Kentucky


Historically, we have focused our story coverage primarily on events and games. However, due to the way stories have performed and the fact that they are so visible on Instagram, our plan is to post a greater volume of post on our story. With Instagram’s algorithm for standard posts, our focus is to save the content we expect to generate the most interaction for standard posts since they are most likely to be seen. By posting less often in the standard format, we are able to focus more of our energy on story content. We also make it a point to capitalize on the familiarity and talent many students have when it comes to stories.


Morgyn Seigfried – Assistant AD for Digital Media, Temple University


We’ve had to continue to change and evolve how we do things from platform to platform, especially when it comes to Instagram and Facebook. Even this summer we have talked about doing an overhaul of our Instagram. The main Instagram feed should be used to invoke emotion, excitement, and engagement from our fans rather than be informational about an upcoming game or event like it has been used for in the past.


On the flipside of that, we will use Instagram stories to push GameDay graphics so that they remain timely and we’re not advertising a game on someone’s Instagram feed that happened 3 days ago. We will also use Instagram stories to tease long form videos or stories we are putting out or show behind-the-scenes footage.


I think the bottom line is, Instagram along with every other platform is challenging us as content creators to be better with each change they make. Can you be at the top of your average user’s feed based on Instagram’s algorithms? It all boils down to how engaged your fans are and how good your content is on a day-to-day basis.


Simit Shah – Assistant AD for Brand & Ideation, Georgia Tech


Stories are an excellent vehicle to capture the velocity of an event – it’s a great outlet for gameday content, and we see high engagement rates, especially given its prime placement with the app. Standard posts are still effective in capturing that lasting moment, whether it’s a great play, final score graphic or victory celebration. With introduction of the feed algorithm, it became hard to tell a story in sequence, so Stories allow us to do that when more appropriate.


2. Reports on Tuesday indicated Instagram “is preparing to launch a new feature that will include long-form video…of up to an hour in length.” If the ability to publish and share long-form video content on Instagram becomes reality, how might it change your fan engagement strategy on the platform?


Galas: The idea of putting long-form videos on Instagram is interesting. Before I make any strategy decisions on how to use this format if it becomes reality, I will take a look at retention and completion rates of those long-form videos. I think it will take some time for people to get used to the idea of watching long-form videos in their Instagram feed. I am always of the mindset that just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it. At least not at first. You have to take the time to see how you can integrate it effectively. While long-form videos will certainly have their place on Instagram and we will absolutely take advantage of reaching an audience that might not see it on other platforms, I still believe there is a place and a need for shorter, quick hit videos for fans that want to consume a lot of content in a small amount of time.


Gantt: If a recruit spends time on a digital platform, we need to have a presence on that digital platform. And if we have the opportunity to tell our story in varying, impactful ways on that platform, we’ll take every opportunity we can to sell the Clemson experience in whatever format necessary. In the last 18 months, we shifted from short-form, looping video content (5-15 seconds) to longer-form, vlog-style video content and so the Instagram product update certainly aligns with our video strategy. Again, the length of the content isn’t of the utmost importance — it just has to be good. People will watch if it’s worth watching, so we have to continue to ensure our storytelling approach for each feature is strong enough to entertain/inform, whether it’s 5 seconds or 5 minutes long. I think our adjusted strategy from the last year puts us in a good position to capitalize on a new feature like this though.


Hilley: We do not see the department utilizing a function that would allow video up to an hour right off the bat. We believe some departments will test the bounds of this new function, but in the end, viewers have typically preferred shorter videos. They have shorter attention spans; our data shows that most people watch videos for up to 19-25 seconds.


Our max length of video this year was 15 minutes for a piece entitled “Fueling the Commodores with Tim Corbin”, but even that was too long for most platforms. Besides YouTube, that new function would make Instagram the second longest allotted time of any platform, thus those longer videos would have to be exclusive for Instagram/YouTube as they would be too long for Twitter, Facebook. Facebook live can broadcast for long periods of time, but many times users are bounced off frequently and it is less reliable.


Kutz: It won’t necessarily change our fan engagement strategy on Instagram at this time. It’s certainly another opportunity to share stories that appeal to the demographic that engages with us on that platform, but it won’t be a mad rush on our end to deliver 30-minute documentary-style video on Instagram because the ability now exists. Although shorter videos work better on social, in the end the length of the video depends on what is required to tell the story. If it’s six seconds, great! If it’s1:15, then let’s roll. Ten, 20, 30 or 40 minutes? Fine, but make sure the access and emotion is there all the way through. Instagram is a mobile experience that has programmed people to scroll through and consume quickly. It may be a slow shift to get people to watch 60 minute videos on Instagram since that requires some rewiring of the user experience.


Lassiter: It’s no surprise that Facebook, would expand its aggressive play to be the leading digital video provider to its fastest growing property, Instagram. This move would be in line with Facebook’s launch of Facebook Watch nearly a year ago, which focuses on regularly scheduled, serial content. We produced a football show for Watch in 2017, and plan to do the same for 2018. If the opportunity opened up to publish similar content on Instagram, and the data supports that people are watching it there, we would absolutely be interested in publishing long form video on the platform.


We’ve been testing video on Instagram feed more often to compare the numbers to Twitter and Facebook. Video has received more views on Instagram than Twitter – and in some cases just as many as Facebook. Short, fan-focused videos or very big moments have been the most successful, so we would be very curious to see how longer content performs.


McGillis: I think long-form video is super valuable but incredibly hard to execute at a high level. For that reason, I don’t think Instagram adding the capability to post hour + long videos would change our engagement strategy on the platform.


Ramsey: We will certainly take advantage of the ability to post longer-form content on Instagram, but we will likely continue to keep our focus on Twitter and Facebook since video content performs better for us on those platforms. We will of course continue to actively monitor video performance once that change takes place and adjust our strategy if needed.


Seigfried: My initial reaction is just because you have the option to make an hour long video for Instagram does not mean you should. For the most part, retention rates are so low and the numbers just aren’t there. That being said, when you have a story to tell and you have the time and resources to dedicate to it, long form videos can work if they are done strategically. I still don’t think we would utilize the full hour, but it would be very nice to not have to limit videos to a minute.


Bearing all this in mind, I would imagine we would treat it much like Facebook. If you are going to make a long form video – you better make it good, because a lot of times regardless of the platform it boils down to how well you can keep a viewer’s attention. What I would really enjoy about being able to do longer videos on Instagram would be that you can preview it and build hype and interest through Instagram stories, and then launch it from your Instagram feed. Having everything live on a multifaceted platform is an intriguing concept for me – as well as never having to use the line “for full video visit link in bio” again!


Shah: We’d be cautious about posting long-form videos. Our focus has been to create short pieces that are easy to consume and share. With shorter and shorter attention spans, creating long-form video is not a priority. With tight resources, the investment it takes to create longer pieces aren’t justified when weighed against our audience trends, especially on Instagram.