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From the 8th Annual Shorty Awards

John Jay College Insta-Challenge

Winner in Education


For the 1,500 incoming students to John Jay College of Criminal Justice, summer is a time to hang out with friends, go on a trip, and lay on the beach; it's not a time to wait around for communication from the school they are attending in the fall.

Unfortunately for John Jay College, this disconnect can lead to an issue known as a "summer melt," which means students lose contact with the school and subsequently don't show up for orientation, or do not enroll at all once classes begin.

John Jay College needed a way to communicate and engage with these incoming students during the summer and turned to social media to achieve this goal. Instagram was seen as the ideal platform due to its immense popularity among the students. But it had to be something more than just the occasional post — it needed to be bigger.

Strategy and Execution

The solution was the John Jay Insta-Challenge, a "choose your own adventure"-style game that is played exclusively on Instagram. Incoming students immersed themselves in the game's story that centered around a group of friends traveling throughout New York City for a birthday celebration. As they follow the characters and action, not only do they discover new places and interact, but the students are also looking for a code that has been hidden throughout the game.

In order to tell this story, we created 20 Instagram profiles and populated them with a selection of the over 700 photos we took across 22 NYC locations — including Central Park and Coney Island — during a photo shoot.

We wanted to make this a truly immersive Instagram experience for the students as they progressed through the 10-step story. In order to achieve this we utilized various features of the platform, including the Photo Map, video, tagging, and "billboards" (using multiple images to create one large one when viewing the account page).

The students would progress through the story by finding the correct path to the next step. To do this they had to perform actions like scrolling through the Photo Map, watching videos for clues, and clicking on billboard images in order to inspect items more closely. A wrong selection brought them to an account that would prompt them to go back and try again.

As they reach the end of the game, they are asked to submit the hidden code, which was simply the subway lines the group of friends took throughout the day.


In total, the target audience was 1,500 incoming students and this resulted in:

- 550 completed games

- 650,000 total impressions

- 5,400 engagements

- 9% increase in Instagram followers for the John Jay College account

What does this all mean? More students attending John Jay College and getting the education they need in order to begin their careers.


Video for John Jay College Insta-Challenge

Entrant Company / Organization Name

VGD, John Jay College


Entry Credits