Ease your student supervision speed bumps.

What's the Story with Instagram Stories and Campus Executives?

For the last four years, I have been researching and writing about higher education leaders’ integration of digital engagement platforms. The majority of active Presidents, Provosts, VPs and Deans can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Over the last year and a half, I’ve seen a surge of adoption of Instagram, which I’ve documented in a couple “follow lists” for presidents and vice presidents.

However, there is one feature within Instagram that I find campus execs, even the most engaged on other digital platforms, shy away from– Instagram Stories

This post will share why Instagram Stories is worth exploring for campus executives, who may get less facetime developing relationships with current and future college students, and are looking for time-efficient, real-time, and possibly even a playful way to engage. 

But I get it, you’re busy and already on other platforms. So, first things first. 

Show Me the Data.

Instagram has over 1 billion active users and of those users, 64% of them are college-aged students. Previously, I shared a blog about the reasons why I love Instagram with many tips on different features and best practices with the app. 

However, in this blog, I’m zooming in one of Instagram’s most popular features– Instagram Stories. In 2016, Instagram took a page from Snapchat’s book and added its own story feature. At first, I was very skeptical, but now with over 500 million people use Instagram stories daily, it is apparent this tool is here to stay. I find myself watching stories before scrolling down the timeline, and so do your college students.

Like Snapchat, these stories “vanish” after 24 hours. Nevertheless, it is a great tool to document the actual story of your institution, as well as your own. Also like Snapchat, Instagram Stories have a less-perfect feel that one might see within the grid/feed of Instagram. Whew!

Overall, Instagram is a great place to show your campus community a bit of relatability, reliability, personalization, and real-time information. It opens the door for genuine connections and community building. In this post, you’ll get sprinkles of inspiration and education on how to accomplish this, specifically within those icons at the top of your screen.

I’ll introduce some key features and best practices of IG Stories and provide resources on how to make each work for you as a current or inspiring executive in Higher Ed. I hope after reading you’ll be ready to jump in and explore!

Just like scaffolding core courses, I’ve got 101, 201 and 301 lessons for you.

Instagram Stories 101 for Campus Execs

For execs who are at a beginner level, I am going to introduce a few basic features of Instagram Stories that can go a long way with building connections with your community. 

Video Styles

When you are on your home page and swipe right you’ll get to your Story camera. In addition to just snapping a photo or selfie, you have the option to use many different video styles to tell your story and share your message. You’ll notice different icons at the bottom for your screen– swipe to reveal more. 

Here’s the low down on each feature:

  • Boomerang. Holding down the white button lets you record a standard video, but when you swipe you have the option to create a boomerang. A boomerang is just like a GIF. It very quickly takes a burst of pictures, then loops it over and over. The finished result is a moving image. This is a fun way to spice up what may have been a normal still photo!
  • Hands-free video. Now if you want to share something and you need both hands to show, you can prop your phone somewhere and use the hands-free video option. The video will keep recording until you click to stop it! I’ll be honest when this feature was introduced it was legendary!
  • Other styles. The other video styles are an array of fun, creative features that can make your content pop but can be a little much for the beginner Instagrammer including superzoom, rewind, and stop-motion.

Greg Fenves, President of the University of Texas at Austin, often explores with different video styles to tell his and the institution’s narrative. Get a sneak peek below!

Customizing your story

Now that you have your photo, video, or boomerang you can add text, filters, and drawings to personalize it. 

  • Text is the ultimate way to tell a story. You can describe what is going on in a video or add additional commentary. There are a few options for fonts, color, and size, and you can drag your text anywhere on the screen that works best for your image or video. 
  • Filters and face filters are fun and engaging. These actually change the look of your image. It’s great way to show your silly side with your community by throwing a bunny ear filter on your photo. You can also change the color effects of your photo or video. For example, switch it to black and white. 
  • If you’ve got more to say or show you can draw it! Instagram Stories let you use your finger to write or draw. You can pick between a pen, angled marker, or a neon pen that looks like a stream of light. It adds a nice personal touch! 

Check out Vice President of Student Affairs at Metropolitan State University of Denver, Dr. Will Simpkins, use text and the drawing tool to showcase a student’s decorated graduation cap and give some post-grad advice to their community.

Instagram Stories 201 for Campus Execs

Maybe you have posted a few stories here and there. You’ve got the hang of it and now want to start engaging with your digital community a little more. Welcome to Instagram Stories 201!


As a reminder, Instagram Stories is similar to Snapchat in that whatever you post has a shelf life of 24 hours and then it deletes…but not permanently. It stays hidden in your archives and actually can be reused. How? Highlights.

Story highlights are similar to pinning a tweet. They are a collection of your stories that you want to keep permanently pinned to your profile page. You may have noticed the little circles under your friends’ bios on their Instagram pages. They can even be grouped together in relevant categories. For example, all stories featuring the campus mascot that you’ve ever posted can be pinned under a highlight titled “Mascot Adventures.” 

For reference, check out Erika Beck’s, President of California State University at Channel Islands, highlights section which includes: Congrats, Events, Follow, Sports, News, and Thanks. 

Highlights do just that– highlight your most important content, information, and updates and puts it all in one accessible place for your community!

Re-Share in Stories.

Rather recently Instagram created a new feature where you can share other people’s (or your own) posts from the feed onto your story. If you really like a picture or quote that someone posted, instead of screenshotting and cropping it to post on your story you can share it directly to your story and it links back to the original poster! This is a great opportunity to promote students, celebrate faculty and staff, and help prospective students get a real inside look into the campus culture. 

Additionally, you can also share other users’ Instagram Stories to yours. All they have to do is tag you in the story. It will come through as a direct message, and you’re free to post it on your story to continue to amplify your mission. Kent Fuchs, President of the University of Florida, was tagged in a story by the main university’s account and was able to share it to his story to show his followers cool stuff he’s doing at a gymnastics meet!

These are great ways to give credit to the original creators, get more attention on a post to boost engagement, and repurpose content from your campus community. Your students, faculty, and staff are creating the content for you– all you need to do is share.


Ever wonder how to get more views from new users and increase your reach? It’s all about tagging, specifically hashtags and location tags! When you add a location or hashtag sticker to your post it gets compiled with all the other stories with those tags. New viewers can find your content by simply searching the tag. Ideally, a non-follower would be able to search your university’s name and see all the stories posted on your campus. Imagine how powerful that is! 

My advice: always add hashtags and location tags to your stories. Look at the tags in this story on the day of Commencement by Dr. Ed Cabellon, Vice President of Student Services and Enrollment Management at Bristol Community College. You never know who may stumble upon your content.

Instagram Stories 301 for Campus Execs

Ready for some serious community interaction and advanced tactics? Welcome to level 301.  

Now that you’ve been introduced to many ways to separate your Stories from the rest, the next step is to get your community interacting with your content, and opening up the lines of communication. 


Polls are a great way to increase engagement within your campus community and gather insight and information on just about anything. You get the chance to hear directly from your audience. This feature encourages you and your followers to take action. Polls will come in handy when you want to gather feedback and ideas, learn more about your community, educate and inspire, and to entertain. 

There are two different poll options: the classic poll and the emoji slider sticker. 

  • Classic Poll. With the classic poll, you can ask a question that has two answers. The default is “yes/no” but you can customize the options to whatever makes sense for your goal and audience. For example, you may use this fun tool to have your community predict if your university’s sports team will win the game later that evening. Eric Summers, Vice President for Student Affairs at Southeastern Louisiana University, found a creative way to advertise for Late Night Breakfast by asking the community how they liked their eggs prepared!
  • Emoji Slider. The emoji slider sticker allows you to ask “how” versus “which” like the classic poll. Followers can rate how much they like what you’re sharing. Imagine using this feature to share the renovation updates of a university building. You’ll eventually get an average reaction response which could be used to make decisions.

Check out how Levester Johnson, Vice President of Student Affairs at Illinois State University, uses the slider poll with the thumbs up emoji alongside a boomerang of students giving a thumbs up to show their approval of the recent renovations.


The questions feature encourages conversation between you and your community. I believe this is where authentic connections can happen, which can lead to intentional change. You can either ask an open-ended question to your community, or you can hold a Q&A with your followers. You can really get a lot out of this feature, including qualitative feedback. Plus, it’s an extremely accessible way for students to ask you questions about anything! 

Go Live

By just going live, you can interact with your campus community in real time! With this live feature, you can take the opportunity to broadcast an important announcement, a meeting that you want the community to listen into, or a popular campus event that not everyone can make it to. This can be a tool to bridge the gap. While in live, your followers can comment and ask questions about what is being shared. These comments are shared on the live so other viewers can see. You can later save the live video onto your Instagram Story so it can be accessed by followers who missed the live broadcast. 

Follow List: Campus Execs Exploring Stories

Here are a handful of execs I’ve found using Instagram Stories, if only occasionally, to learn from:

Know of others? Let me know so I can review & add them!

Bonus IG Stories Training!

Since 2018, I have been growing and moderating a community of current and aspiring higher education executives, called The Connected Exec Community. In this private but free group, I provide community building, conversation and education, including on-going pieces of training streamed live. Catch this recording where I give beginner tactics to get started and advanced strategies to get connected.

Interested in connecting with your community in a genuine and consistent way? Join The Connected Exec Community to help! Join here.

IG Stories Final Thoughts

During these summer months, it is the perfect time for current and aspiring campus execs to jump into Instagram and experiment with Stories. While many presidents have support systems in place with their social media, IG Stories will require execs to be more hands-on than ever. Even the most Instagram savvy campus exec has room to keep exploring Stories.

Need some more inspiration for revamping your digital strategy? Check out my past podcast episode on optimizing Instagram for campus leaders and other fantastic resources:

An Insta Follow-Worthy Campus Leader // Josie & the Podcast

Cheat Sheet: Instagram Feed vs. Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories: The Complete Guide to Using Stories

What are Instagram Stories and Why Do They Need to be Apart of Your Strategy?

Be sure to connect with me on Instagram for behind the scenes on my latest speaking engagement, behind the scenes of my book writing process, and even adventures with my friends/family/fur babies. 

Know an amazing Instagram account I should be following and featuring, let me know in the comments!

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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