9 tips to improve your Instagram game from Comm Lead’s Yvonne Xiao

Article by Victoria Pinheiro
Video by Jessie Ye

Ah, the company Instagram account. Filled with sunset office photos, grinning colleagues at a work happy hour and compelling quotes from the CEO’s latest public speaking event. It feels personal. Intimate. An assemblage of images and vignettes of company life that makes you feel like you know the people behind the brand. Like you have a window into their lives.

That’s certainly how you feel when you scroll through Comm Lead’s Instagram account. You may have noticed that it’s been looking pretty #profesh this year, thanks to Comm Lead student Yvonne Xiao. For the last five months, Xiao did the Instagram-takeover-to-end-all-Instagram-takeovers, transforming the feed into a beautiful and engaging sneak peek into life as a Comm Leader.

Before she signed off to slay new social media dragons, we sat down with Xiao to unpack some of her secrets, so you can use similar strategies in your own social media practice.

Here is what we learned. Happy posting!


1. Hone your aesthetic.

“The first thing I did when I took over the account was to create a visual identity,” Xiao told us. To create a polished, cohesive look, Xiao uses similar filters, editing methods and a consistent photo border to make the photos she chooses work together in the Instagram grid. She chose the filters to work with the Comm Lead brand color palette so that the aesthetic of the feed complimented the look of Comm Lead’s other digital platforms.

Xiao also took advantage of the Highlight cover photos to contribute to the visual branding of our feed. Instagram’s default setting is to use the first story as the cover photo for each highlight section – but this wasn’t consistent with the visual identity Xiao created. To solve the problem, she created custom cover photos using Comm Lead colors and simple icons in Canva, a user-friendly drag-and-drop design software available online.


2. Post things people care about. Like people and places they recognize.

“My content creation strategy is pretty organic. I keep tabs on upcoming events and workshops and promote those immediately, but the rest of the content is snapshots of what it’s like to live in Seattle and spend time on UW’s campus. Little moments like the finals week therapy dog and going to office hours or going to a new art exhibit at the Frye Museum with classmates,” Xiao said. “I try to capture moments that speak to the student experience.” She wants prospective students to be able to think: that’s what my life would be like if I was a Comm Lead student. She focuses on creating content that creates a sense of belonging or nostalgia, “people love to see photos of people and places they recognize,” she told us.


3. Make sure your photos work well together in your feed.

“You can’t forget the big picture,” Xiao said, “I think about how each post will affect the look and feel of my feed.” To ensure a post works with your feed, Xiao recommends using Preview, an app that lets you edit photos and then drag and drop them into a preview of your Instagram feed.


4. Communicate in a way that feels human and authentic.

“I keep it as authentic as possible and say whatever I want to say. I genuinely love the program and that comes through in the things that I post,” Xiao told us. You won’t find any corporate positioning statements or marketing-speak on Comm Lead’s Insta, and that’s no accident. Digital content should function as a conversation between an organization and its users. By using conversational language, Xiao positions Comm Lead as a welcoming, approachable organization. This builds trust and encourages engagement.


5. Create opportunities for meaningful interactions.

One of the ways Xiao inspires users to engage with Comm Lead is through Transparency Tuesday. Every Tuesday, followers can ask any questions they want via a question sticker in our Instagram Stories. This practice filled a need for instant gratification that prospective students just can’t get from shooting an email into the admissions ether. “I really loved the idea of giving prospects instant access to the perspective of a current student,” Xiao said. “There’s also an element of anonymity to it, giving shyer people a chance to ask us anything without really putting themselves out there. I’ve found it really gives people the courage to reach out.”

Another way she creates meaningful interactions with our followers is to put them in the driver’s seat. “I give a lot of power to the user: I ask them what they want using the Instagram stories and got a lot of feedback that inspired future content,” Xiao said. You can only listen to your users if you ask them what they want, people! She also stresses the importance of offering real, personal responses. “There was one story where I asked people about their favorite Seattle ice cream spots. When responses started flooding in, I went to Yelp and took screenshots of cones that looked great to me, thanking them for their recommendation. This is a light-hearted example, but I wanted people to feel like their answers have been heard and valued by actually making the effort to reciprocate.”


6. Share user-generated content

“Anytime Comm Lead is tagged in another user’s post, I’ll share it immediately,” Xiao said. Giving your audience a chance to be in the spotlight makes them feel like important members of the community. “People feel good that their posts are being featured in their rad program and feel encouraged to generate more Comm Lead content in the future,” she told us. Additionally, having user-generated content in your feed or stories creates an image of a vibrant, engaged community.


7. Be strategic with your #hashtags.

Hashtags help you find your target audience and expand your following, but not all hashtags were created equal.  Xiao’s general rule of thumb is to use hashtags with between 50K and 400k posts. “If it’s outside that range, I use another one, since we won’t get seen,” she explained. If a hashtag has too many followers, our posts will be drowned out. If it has too few, no one will be looking for it. It’s all about finding the sweet spot.


8. Take advantage of the diverse features Instagram has to offer.

It’s not all about posts anymore. “I really like using Stories,” Xiao told us. “You have to scroll to see posts, but the stories are right at the top of the user’s feed, which drives traffic to your profile.” Aside from videos and photos of the student experience, Xiao uses stickers to create polls, ask users to rate certain photos or ask questions. For these more interactive Stories, she uses the app Unfold, “Which basically just makes your Stories look much better,” Xiao told us. Unfold offers templates and other tools to help you make your Stories stand out and encourages people to interact with them.


9. Seek inspiration from accounts you admire!

“Most of the tricks I use, I learned from influencer friends, brands I like and other Instagram feeds with good tips,” Xiao said. Some of her favorites accounts with great content tips are Preview and TheContentPlanner. By keeping tabs on the current trends, she’s always creating new ways to engage with followers and grow our audience.

Alex Stonehill9 tips to improve your Instagram game from Comm Lead’s Yvonne Xiao
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