Creating Connection with Instagram

Vintage camera in an orange case on wooden table

I’ve been thinking a lot about Instagram lately.

It’s pretty big, especially among the younger populations (AKA. Millennials).

Actually, from what I can tell, it’s pretty big with lots of different age groups, genders, and ethnicities; and it’s growing every day.

Full disclosure: I use Instagram in my personal life. I love it. Especially now that our phone cameras have improved beyond what most people can manage with a DSLR. Especially since micro-blogging took hold.

But the question today is, how can we, as government communicators, leverage this platform to greatest effect?

There’s a couple agencies out there that have taken the bull by the horns and managed to hang on for the ride: the Transportation Security Administration (@TSA on Instagram) and the U.S. Department of the Interior (@usinterior on Instagram). They both post photographs, but the similarities, at least on the surface, end there.

U.S. Interior posts beautiful, well-composed, high-quality photos and occasional videos of our national parks and wildlife. They regularly receive upwards of 20,000 likes on their images and have undoubtedly been seen by many more people than that. They post at least once per day, sometimes twice.

<p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;">
  <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/8RabG5gu25/" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_blank">One of the most beautiful and most photographed scenes in #GrandTeton #NationalPark in Wyoming is #SchwabacherLanding. On any given morning, a crowd will gather to shoot the reflection of the Teton Range in the quiet stream or beaver ponds. A few years ago, D. Brent Young was lucky enough to capture this amazing photo of a cow #moose feeding in the stream with fall color and the towering Teton peaks in the background. Photo of @grandtetonnps by D. Brent Young (www.sharetheexperience.org).</a>
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  A post shared by U.S. Department of the Interior (@usinterior) on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2015-09-30T22:48:39+00:00">Sep 30, 2015 at 3:48pm PDT</time>
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TSA posts small, sometimes grainy, sometimes bland photos of the strange things people try to smuggle onto airplanes. They have expanded now to post photos of their adorable and highly skilled 4-legged employees, along with reminders of the rules for safe airline travel. They post less frequently—sometimes with several days between posts.

<p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;">
  <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/7q9a8dl93n/" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_blank">#TSAGoodCatch – These push daggers were discovered concealed underneath the insoles of a pair of shoes last week at the Port Columbus International Airport (CMH). Knives are always prohibited from carry-on property, and concealed knives can lead to arrest and fines.</a>
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  A post shared by TSA (@tsa) on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2015-09-16T00:24:05+00:00">Sep 15, 2015 at 5:24pm PDT</time>
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So what are these government agencies doing right? They’re creating content that people want to see. They are sincere. Our parks really are that beautiful! Some people really think they can smuggle “Batarangs” on an airplane! When I think about scrolling through my feed on IG, it goes something like this: baby, baby, selfie, coffee, STRANGE LOOKING WEAPON THAT SOMEONE TRIED TO SMUGGLE ONTO A PLANE, baby, food, STUNNING NATIONAL PARK PHOTO, selfie, selfie, selfie. What do you think I’m most likely to stop on?

@TSA and @USinterior don’t necessarily “engage” in the traditional sense, but their imagery CONNECTS. Their content is accessible. Many Americans have experienced taking off their shoes in the airport—now they have chuckle about it because they understand the reason. Our national parks are more accessible to most people than the far reaches of this planet. Visitors can connect these images to their own lives; feel nostalgia for them; laugh about them with friends and family.

Unfortunately, many agencies don’t have these visual resources to work with, so we need to create them. Graphics aren’t right: People visit Instagram for photos, not infographics. (although the occasional one, used where appropriate, isn’t a bad idea). So here’s my charge to you as government communicators engaged in social media—figure out how your agency can use Instagram. Post an idea here. Let’s start a conversation.

The Instagram help center is pretty robust, but here are some links to get you started: