Learning Through a Lens: How the IG Student Section Has Helped Empower Students Across the Country

Instagram has allowed students the opportunity to showcase their creativity in numerous different ways. (Photo via @uvamenshoops)

Social media is continually affecting how media platforms connect with consumers and how Instagram, in particular, continues to push the envelope in innovative ways.

On a broad scale, Instagram has developed into a powerful social media platform, but what sets them apart is how they have plugged into many top Division I schools and their sports departments through a unique brand correspondents program called Student Section.

We all see and hear the student sections at college football and basketball games across the country, but Instagram is bringing a unique digital element to the typical game day experience. Recently, Texas A&M student, Tina Nguyen, got the opportunity of a lifetime to take over the official Instagram account for the college football championship game between Alabama and Georgia. Nguyen described her experience as one of the project’s campus correspondents to Front Office Sports.

“The main objective of Instagram’s Student Section is to give fans and viewers a more up close and personal understanding of the college football/basketball game day experience. Instagram and Facebook Sports Partnerships reached out to 50 schools, asking them to select one student correspondent that would take on this responsibility. During game days, their job is to take over their university’s official athletic Instagram account and allow users the opportunity to go behind the scenes with content on the ground from the game via Instagram Stories,” said Nguyen.

One student is selected at each school to post on game days and, for Nguyen, a first-generation college student, the significance of the opportunity was not lost on her or her family.

“It really means a lot. It’s special. Both of my parents are immigrants from Vietnam; therefore, to be a first-generation college student alone, blessed with the opportunities I’ve gotten so far, is really special. To be honest, I’m not sure if words can fully express, describe or encapsulate what it means to me. At the end of the day, I’m just really thankful. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that really anything is possible with hard work, determination, and persistence. To live in a land in where if you work hard enough, your dreams can actually come true. That’s pretty motivating,” said Nguyen.

Instagram reaches out to universities each semester to field participants, but according to Will Yoder from Instagram’s Sports Partnerships team, schools can make the first move if it is something they believe their students could thrive in.

“We work cross-functionally here, so the Facebook sports team has a team that works day to day with most of the top universities throughout college sports and we pretty much lean on those relationships…when we reach out every semester, we try to reach out to as many people as possible that know about it but, if there are schools that want to get involved, they can connect with us through their existing relationships with Facebook and Instagram and find out more,” said Yoder.

Through this program, these students are not just thrown into the digital world, but Instagram also invests in them so they are well equipped for their roles as Student Section correspondents.

“Once we have all the students signed up, we have a series of webinars… it will be an hour, hour and a half where we take them through how the program has worked in the past, examples of really good stories that we have seen from other students in the program and from the sports world in general. Then we dig into storytelling best practices, review of all the creative tools, and tips and tricks around engagement,” added Yoder.

Once all the students have been through these tutorials, they set off to develop stories throughout the semester for their respective programs with one student selected at the end of each semester to take over the official Instagram page for the National Championship.

“A big task is we want you to take over your school’s Instagram story for game day and then, once you’re done doing that, record it and submit it to us. After that, my colleague Nick Marquez (Facebook) and I go through the submissions throughout the semester and keep an eye on who is doing the best job. From there, we have an internal panel at Instagram that reviews all the content that has been submitted throughout the semester and identifies one of the standout curators to take over the account and the college football Championship,” said Yoder.

While some may consider being selected to cover the National Championship for Instagram the real win, Nguyen focused on how much she learned during the experience.

“There are so many takeaways from that experience and overall, I truly learned a lot. First off, it was a really great game to witness in person (a lot of great storylines within that game for sports fans). But I loved the people that I got to work with and meet. It was great learning from Andrew Owen [from Instagram’s Community Team], Nick Marquez and Will Yoder. I’m also so appreciative of their time and efforts,” said Nguyen.

Tina Nguyen at the CFP National Championship Game (Photo via Tina Nguyen)

She added, “Creatively, it was really neat to see how Instagram edits their projects, as well as what type of things they strive to get when looking to create a story for the type of audience that they have. In addition, it was great meeting so many different people and networking. I’m a big people person, so that was another highlight. I got to meet Paul Trimmier, last year’s Instagram Student Section winner, and that was such a highlight. To talk to him, hear his experience and to see what he is doing now, working in Atlanta with Turner Sports, was really cool… A couple additional key learnings and takeaways when creating for Instagram are to know your audience, always be prepared for the shot, always be thinking ahead and strive to attain content that would make people want more. You want your content to engage viewers.”

It doesn’t just end with a cool college experience. Instagram, and specifically Yoder, look beyond college for many of the participating correspondents.

“That is a real passion point for our team around this…Nick and I feel lucky about how we got our break into the sports digital world on our own so, as we work with students, it’s really great to help them pick up new skills learning that medium and provide them with them the insight and guidance needed to find jobs once they graduate,” said Yoder.

Instagram continues to develop some of the top young professionals entering the media business and you could be next. If your school is not involved, definitely reach out to see if they can be, because it may just change your career path.