The Power of Instagram to Connect With Students

The Power of Instagram to Connect With Students // Instagram is a powerful tool for connecting with your students and community. Here are some ways to utilize IG.

I’ve long used Instagram as a way to reach out to my students.  It started back when I first got an iPad through DonorsChoose at my previous library (before I had a personal smartphone).  Some of my former students (now adults) still follow that account and keep in touch.  When I started at Tampa Prep, I created a new account for the library (@TPrepLibrary) separate from my personal account (@dianalrendina) to help conform to the school’s social media policies.  

During the lockdown and virtual learning time in the last quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, the library Instagram account became an essential way for me to keep in touch with my students and share with them.  During this time, I also had more time for PD, so I watched several AASL conference sessions on Instagram and took the fantastic eCourse, Dare to Grow: The Instagram Lab (called Grow Your ‘Gram at the time).  While that eCourse is geared more towards solopreneurs and not everything applied to the school library, I found SO many actionable tips in this course that I’ve utilized in my school library Instagram account.

Disclaimer:  Before starting any social media accounts for your library, make sure you check with your district’s policies.  Some schools prefer you to create school related accounts with your school e-mail address.  Your school may be alright with you posting to a personal account, others aren’t.  Some schools have strict rules about whether or not you can show students’ faces.  Others have universal media release forms.  Make sure you know before you post.

Connecting with Students Through Instagram

Meet students where they’re at

When choosing a social media network to connect with your students, you want to choose one that they actually use.  And while there’s constantly new networks popping up, the big three (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) tend to have the most consistent users.  And in general, Gen Z tends to use Instagram and TikTok the most.  I’ve tried creating a library Twitter before and a few parents and library colleagues followed it, but hardly any students.  Facebook is great for parent outreach.  Instagram, on the other hand, tends to be where my students are (though more and more parents are following there as well).  I’m still dipping my toes into the TikTok waters, but for now, Instagram works really well for me.

Using Instagram to share what's going on in our makerspace
Using Instagram to share what’s going on in our makerspace

Visual record of your library program

Keeping a visual record of your library space and program is so important.  Whether it’s showing how your space transforms, featuring your collection, highlighting student engagement in programs.  Visuals are powerful story-tellers.  And as your library grows and changes, it will give you something to look back on.  When communicating to stakeholders, these images can give you a way to actually show them the impact of your library.  And, when you have an awesome idea that you want to share with your colleagues at a conference, you’ll have some great images for your slides.

Model Digital Citizenship

One great way to teach students about digital citizenship is to model it yourself.  With a library Instagram account, students will watch and notice how you use it.  They’ll see if you cite sources, if you use someone else’s graphic without credit.  They’ll appreciate the fact that you ask students before taking their picture if they’re okay with you posting it (check your school/district social media rules first, of course).

 

Bonus tip:  Even if your school is okay with student faces showing on social media, I still think it’s a best practice to avoid faces as much as possible unless it’s a large group.  I’ll usually shoot images over a student’s shoulder, or I’ll have students hold a book in front of their faces.

Image of Instagram stories, students building with marshmallows in makerspace
IG Stories are great for sharing at-the-moment posts, like makerspace projects, bookfairs, author visits, etc

Use IG Stories to Get Attention Quickly

I’ll admit, I’m still learning how to properly use Instagram Stories.  These are quick, in the moment posts or videos that can catch attention.  The useful thing about stories is that they pop up at the top of the app.  Students using Instagram will often just scroll through Stories rather than look much at their feed.  You can reuse things you’ve posted, adding text, gifs, music, etc.  Or you could create original content for stories, like videos, vlogs, etc.

 

For libraries, Stories are great for programs that are happening right now.  You can continually add to them, which is great for, you guessed it, telling a story.  You can also save your Stories as highlights, which keeps them on your profile after they expire.  This is a great way to feature regular posts or important content (i.e. Bookface, book recs, new books, etc).  I use this to collect posts on long-term projects, such as my 6th grade science collaboration I’ve been working on this year.

Screenshot of Planoly, with scheduled Instagram posts
Planoly is a great tool for planning out your IG posts, and it saves time.

Great Tools to Up Your Instagram Game

There are plenty of great tools out there to help make your Instagram look great.  You don’t need to have any of these of course, but they can make life easier.

  • Canva is great for creating bookquotes, graphics, etc.  You can get a Canva for Educators account for free!  I like to create templates that I reuse for consistency.
  • Planoly is fantastic tool for scheduling posts and writing out captions (The free option that works pretty well, but you can also do a paid option if you’re managing multiple social media accounts).  Planoly is the main tool that really helps me to manage my library’s Instagram account and schedule regular posts, and it keeps it from being overwhelming worrying about what to post everyday.
  • Hyperlapse lets you make time lapse videos.
  • Boomerang makes those cute, short videos that fast forward and rewind over and over
  • TikTok, while not exactly an Instagram tool, is great for making videos that you can crosspost on your Instagram account (Kelsey Bogan has a ton of great posts on using TikTok, including this one)

Training/Courses

  • Dare to Grow: The Instagram Lab (<-Affiliate link) is an eCourse that can help you to make a workflow that works for you, get comfortable with various tools and learn strategies for taking and editing images, writing captions, etc.  The course is geared towards solopreneurs, so some aspects of it don’t really apply to school libraries.  But while it’s true that we aren’t selling products or services, we are selling our students on literacy.  And we’re also “selling” our program to parents, administrators and community members. I found this course IMMENSELY helpful in establishing a posting schedule and aesthetic for my school IG.  Sarah’s course helped me create categories of posts to create regularly and her tools helped me learn how to organize our IG account without having to work on it constantly or stress about what to post next.
    • Note: I took this course on it’s own, but Sarah also has a great bundle of 9 eCourses, Dare to Grow, for $97 a month.  This is a really great deal and I’m planning on taking advantage of it myself this summer when I have more time
  • AASL Learning Library – There’s several great sessions from AASL 2019 available to watch on here if you are an AASL member.  I watched both of these and got a ton of ideas from them:

And if you also want to have an offline presence, or you’re not allowed to have school social media accounts, you can always make a physical Instagram display on a bulletin board.

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