We’re Instagram official

Interactive social media offers virtual hugs, cheer to tech-savvy students
June 8th, 2020

@TAMUdental Instagram followers increased by 400% over six months last year, and the trend continues.

Texas A&M College of Dentistry’s Instagram account was already blowing up before the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing. Since then, this student-focused social media has become an upbeat lifeline to the college.

“We’ve made a concerted effort to use Instagram as a vehicle to engage our students and lift their spirits, especially during this whole COVID-19 ‘stay safe, stay home’ experience,” says Kathleen Pothier, communications coordinator and social media go-to for the College of Dentistry. “They’ve sent us thank you messages for brightening their day, which means the world to us.”

Since joining the communications team last year, Kathleen Pothier has targeted student engagement on Instagram.

While the college has seen steady engagement for years on its Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, the flurry on Instagram is a newer phenomenon driven largely by students, Pothier explains. By introducing features such as Insta Takeovers and interactive stories, the school’s @tamudental followers increased by 400% over six months last year. That upward trend continues.

Each social media platform has a different personality, kind of like a group of friends, says Pothier, who keeps those nuances in mind when planning content and creating posts for multiple platforms. They provide information, levity, connection and an escape at a time when physical distancing or “together alone” is the tried-and-true means of preventing disease transmission.

This Insta story was posted right before finals, offering students encouragement and even a musical snippet to set just the right tone.

“Instagram is more interactive than other platforms,” she says. “For example, a ‘story’ can include a poll or questions, and students can interact with it using ‘stickers’ and GIFs (a type of graphics file). We love to throw out different things and see what sticks. Stories only last 24 hours, so we encourage our followers to check Instagram every day. I often find myself checking for student feedback every hour, especially after we post something that takes off. Most recently, they really responded to our request for photos of their study buddies. We had no idea so many students had dogs.”

The desire to reach out to students within their social media space was inspired by Pothier’s two college-aged children, who are quick to latch onto the latest trends. Her daughter, who just graduated from the University of Texas, even pitched in with graphic design while finishing out this spring semester from home due to the pandemic. Pothier relishes tapping into her own creative side in assembling innovative social media content.

Following a national trend, @tamudental’s bingo card included student-inspired squares.

“I was especially fired up when students and staff started tagging us and sharing their posts. That’s exactly what I was hoping for,” she says. “I would really like to encourage our Facebook and Twitter users to check out our Instagram account. It’s whimsical and upbeat, plus it gives insight into our students’ world. And anyone who isn’t following us on any of our social media platforms definitely needs to join in the fun.”

Popular posts and videos, including a recent video with messages from College of Dentistry faculty reaching out to students, invariably lead to an increase in followers, Pothier says.

“I am excited about the level of engagement on our social media,” she says. “Our Instagram account isn’t just the school’s, it’s our students’ – current and future. This is where they are, and we’re making sure we’re meeting them there.”

— Carolyn Cox