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The Harvard Shop's Instagram Ad Game Plan

How the student‑run business turned social posts into revenue.

Hero image for Issue #100: Featuring The Harvard Shop

The Harvard Shop, an entirely student-run business has sold apparel, souvenirs, and gifts to students, alums, and Ivy League enthusiasts worldwide since 2001. For the 100th edition of What’s in Store (yay!), we dropped in on 1 of their 3 Harvard Square locations to chat with Marketing Manager Christi Lee about how the staff uses Instagram Ads through Mailchimp.

The Harvard Shop is run by a team of 12 student managers who are undergraduates. All have specific management roles for that fiscal year, including overseeing a staff of more than 100 stock, web, and sales personnel. The managers work to transition and train the next year of student managers. The Harvard Shop is one of several businesses that are a part of the Harvard Student Agencies (HSA), the largest student-run company in the world.

Working under the model, “for students, by students,” the HSA acquired the shop from its original owner, a Harvard alum, in 2001. Despite 17 years of student-run success, Christi says one of the biggest challenges for the Harvard Shop on the e-commerce side is to keep a consistent brand identity since the marketing managers keep changing every year.

According to Christi, one of the best tools for keeping that consistency is reaching their customers with the apps they’re already using.

“One really big thing we’ve accomplished this year is increasing our social media presence on Instagram and on Facebook,” she says. “A lot of the students on campus are a younger audience. We find that’s one of the better ways to stay in touch with them.”

“One of the biggest perks of using Instagram Ads is that our main target audience is people who are interested in Harvard, and typically younger—current college students, people who are aspiring to go to Harvard or are recent alums,” Christi says.

To that end, the Harvard Shop marketing team realized that since they’re already present on Instagram sharing photos of products it was time to take their efforts a step further.

Mailchimp ads have increased our market reach by the thousands—because our market is somewhat specific,” she says. “The features that allow us to narrow down our audience and target certain people are really helpful in making our ad campaigns as effective and efficient as possible. We look at the target audience and the impact that all of those ads are having, whether it’s clicks on the ads and getting them to our website or it’s actually translating into revenue, both are really effective for growing our brand as a whole.”

Like any student-run business, there’s the inevitable turnover that comes with graduation, working students bogged down by schoolwork, and the occasional undergrad-turned-billionaire. Christi says the staff transitions on the marketing side are smooth thanks to all of the stats from the Instagram ads being completely laid out for managers old and new, as well being “super easy to digest.”

“It’s all really easy through Mailchimp in that it lays out the entire report of all the revenue that each campaign actually sets up for you,” she says. “For us it’s been super helpful because I don’t have to go to all of our websites and figure out what revenue came from where and what promotions were super effective, because it’s all linked in Mailchimp and it shows you impressions, traffic, clicks, and revenue that a specific campaign drove.”

So easy, in fact, that you don’t have to be a Harvard student to figure it out.

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