Cassel brings personal approach to college’s Instagram feed

By RACHEL LU

Since the arrival of Andrew Cassel, the college’s new director of social media and content producing, Middlebury’s social media platforms have taken a step closer to the everyday lives of its students, professors and staff. Cassel arrived at Middlebury after 11 years of experience as a higher education social media director at the University of Alaska, with a philosophy of connecting followers with the everyday happenings on campus.

        “My tone is what people are doing here, to find the day-to-night life of someone at Middlebury,” Cassel said. “I look to tell authentic stories about what goes on every day. This helps prospective students see themselves here, and graduates see their giving efforts continue on.” 

Since his arrival, Cassel’s  emphasis on  authenticity has been particularly evident on Middlebury’s Instagram page, @middleburycollege. Previously, the page curated occasional posts from professional photographers who mainly shot images of the college’s architecture, celebratory achievements and important announcements. This January, under Cassel’s, the page featured more casual images and videos from a J-Term class in which students explained a project they were working on. Another post captured a message, “I’m sad sometimes,” scrawled on a wall in BiHall, with a caption reminding students to seek counseling help when necessary.

Cassel says he tries to post raw and relatable content, which he hopes will speak, in particular, to prospective students.

        “It’s making a student, no matter where they are in the world, see themselves here in this school,” Cassel said. “They should be able to see someone doing something they’re interested in who looks like them.”

        To find worthy content within the community and also gauge interest from his target audience, Cassel uses a skill he calls “social media listening,” where he actively seeks users’ engagement with Middlebury to find issues to address.

        “I look at what people are saying about Middlebury on various platforms,” Cassel said. “If there’s an issue out there that needs to be addressed, then I pass it along to the people who need to see it.”

       However, Cassel’s more personal approach is not reflected well through social media algorithms such as “likes” on Instagram, which have significantly declined under his watch. He says he is not defeated, though, and is persevering with the outlook  that value in social media comes from more than superficial engagement through likes .

        “Personally, it bothers me, but my experience tells me it’s just an algorithm,” Cassel said. “Even if it’s only 500 people who like it and not 1,200, I know these people saw it and engaged with it, and that meant something to them. It’s not how many people see it, but the value of these people seeing it.”

One of the projects Cassel feels most passionately about is Energy2028, which Cassel believes best exemplifies the value of his work.

“Middlebury is on the forefront of movements such as Energy2028,” Cassel said.“And it’s a project that I can use the institutional accounts for, to focus all the efforts, from students, faculty, and staff, and share the message out.”

Cassel is the first director of social media and content producing at Middlebury. Before his arrival, many people shared the responsibility of managing the college’s social media. His role falls under the purview of the college’s Office of Communications, which is based in Kitchel House on College Street.

Cassel’s influence on social media strategy, particularly Instagram, has received mixed responses from students. Some find the familiar approach to lack aesthetic qualities of professional photography.

        “While the new content is interesting to current students because we see our classmates featured, prospective students want to see professionality exemplified in a college’s social media, and curated content can achieve this,” Abby Schneiderhan ’23 said.

Other students appreciate the content’s intimate perspective into daily life at the college.

“I always read the whole caption on Instagram posts because it’s about something I wouldn’t have known otherwise,” Niamh Carty ’23 said. “I think finding a balance between professional and community content is important to creating a well-rounded image of the college.”

Cassel hopes that students can engage with Middlebury’s social media by using #middleburycollege.