Given the challenges to fill seats in increasingly empty freshman classes, some colleges and universities recruit students to recruit using the latest social media tools.

Carl Straumsheim of Inside Higher Ed files these details.

Keeping up with the latest social media trends is time-consuming even for digital natives, which is why some institutions have outsourced the task to experts in the field. When universities examine how to reach students online, some of the people behind the efforts are often therefore students themselves.

Instagram, the leading mobile photo-sharing app, celebrated its three-year anniversary in October, but it still took many universities until 2012 to create their own accounts. Since then, institutions have used the app mostly to cater to three distinct groups: prospective students searching for a home away from home, current students sharing their own residential experiences and alumni reminiscing about their time on campus.

The app allows users to share video snippets and photos cropped into its distinctive square frame and, usually, edited with an over- or undersaturated filter. With its recent launch on the Windows Phone operating system, Instagram is now available on all three major smartphone platforms, reaching more than 150 million active users. It soaring popularity led Facebook in April 2012 to drop $1 billion (or four times what Amazon’s Jeff Bezos paid for The Washington Post) to acquire it.

“Facebook is no longer the solo giant that everybody has to be on,” said Becca Ramspott. a communications specialist at Frostburg State University. “Geographically people are looking for new places to exist.”

College and university Facebook and Twitter accounts may yet boast the highest number of followers, but measured by engagement, social media managers say the attention has shifted to platforms that are optimized for mobile use and excel at one task — like Instagram with photography, for example. By creating and maintaining Instagram accounts, universities have found a simple — not to mention free — way to interact with students where email and other forms of communication could go unnoticed.

“There’s definitely been a decided shift to the more visual mediums,” said Melissa Beecher Lesica, social media manager at Boston College. “Knowing that’s where the students’ eyes are right now has informed our strategy immensely.”

At Boston College and many other universities, that strategy involves letting students dictate how the platform should be used — sometimes to the point where an institution will avoid creating an official account. That’s the case at Frostburg State, which launched a photo crowdsourcing effort in 2011, then waited to see how students would develop it.