I am an admitted social media addict–I’m constantly connecting, checking and updating my various personal accounts. Although it’s been around for awhile now, lately I have found myself borderline obsessed with Instagram. It’s wonderfully engaging and combines the best parts of Facebook and Twitter through a constantly updated stream of photos. Instagram describes itself as a “fast and fun way to share your life” that works by simply taking a picture, applying a filter and posting it to your account (which can also be synced with Facebook and Twitter).
While routinely checking my Instagram feed the other day, I began to search for various government organizations and leaders, intrigued by the possibilities of what I would find. I found some organizations doing some great things with the social channel, but only a few. I started to wonder why more government agencies, organizations and leaders aren’t using Instagram and brainstorming the various ways they could leverage this channel to increase engagement with their brand.
I know that Instagram may not seem like the most necessary social network for government agencies to use, but the truth is, Instagram is becoming increasingly more powerful every day, moving from a hip and trendy app to a robust social network comprised of 150 million active monthly users and 7.3 million daily users worldwide. That’s a lot of engagement, and it’s not going unnoticed. In fact, a quarter of Fortune 500 companies are already using Instagram and that number is constantly growing. In a world where the public sector has a reputation for falling one step behind in the technology department, creating a presence on Instagram seems like the perfect opportunity to prove this stigma wrong.
Government agencies and their employees may have different missions or goals, but engagement and communication provide a common ground. There are no ‘rules’ for Instagram, just post pictures of you, your passions, what you love and let those following you enjoy and engage. There are already some government leaders doing this successfully, but I see room for improvement and a huge opportunity for government to connect with their audience in a more personable manner.
So how can you get started with Instagram? There are a few techniques I think agencies can easily implement, but really anything goes! Government organizations can have fun. Their employees are fun. Leveraging a little bit of fun can build an emotional connection with your audience, and it’s the emotional stuff that gets shared, “liked” and remembered. While you brainstorm where you can take Instagram in your organization, here are a few “Gov goes gram” ideas to try:
#Hashtags. Hashtags are a huge part of Instagram. I’m a huge believer in their purpose and power (when used appropriately). A hashtag is a metadata tag that provides a means for grouping together messages or photos from various individuals that are all related in some way. There’s already a variety of hashtags in place that government can jump right into leveraging. For example, searching the hashtag #CoryBooker on Instagram yields 2,365 posts from a variety of people. While Cory Booker, New Jersey’s newly elected Senator, is already an active Instagram user, this hashtag serves as an opportunity for the state of New Jersey or the City of Newark (where Booker has been serving as mayor) to jump in and add their own photos and hashtags and get their pictures seen by the 2000+ individuals who have already posted about Booker.
Local events like farmers markets are also a great way to get local governments and agencies, such as the USDA, involved on Instagram. Again, a simple search for #minneapolisfarmersmarket yields over 200 photos. Food-related government organizations can join this hashtag conversation by simply liking or commenting on a user’s photo. The bonus is that there are farmers markets held in cities all over the U.S. that local government agencies can use to connect with their stakeholders.
Finally, organizations can always create their own hashtags. If it’s a special day or event, such as National Night Out, cities can promote a specific hashtag and ask customers to tag any photos they’re taking at neighborhood gatherings with that hashtag. For example, Minneapolis could promote #MPLSNNO or #MPLSnationalnightout to aggregate and track how citizens are celebrating the event.
Agency Offices and Employees. It’s easy to forget that behind all the bulletins, parking regulations and information put out by the public sector, there are actual people. By posting pictures of your employees or interesting things going on inside the office, people can put a face to the person answering the phone when they have a question or get an insider’s view of the agency. While this might not necessarily be the most “exciting” information, it’s an awesome way to build a more personal relationship with your audience and in turn strengthen your connection with them. Plus, a lot of what we do is pretty cool. I am sure many people would be interested to see behind the scenes of agencies like NASA (who already has an account with 291,000 users). I know I would.
Your Agency’s Assets. This one is seemingly obvious, but it’s a great way to build a base for your account and it’s something to continually update your account with. Each government agency, employee and the people they serve are unique and different. Why not showcase it? The City of Minneapolis does not have an Instagram account but there are plenty of things they could showcase: lakes, parks, concerts and movies in the park, the annual gay pride parade and inside views of City Hall (to name a few). The best part is, people are already taking pictures of these things using hashtags like #minneapolis. The City of Minneapolis already utilizes Facebook and Twitter, why not build on these channels with Instagram?
NASA has access to incredible images of our earth, planet, solar system and spaceships. Judging by the 291,000 followers it has, people love to see these things—they are incredible and for most people, a behind the scenes shot inside a spaceship is as close to space as they’re going to get.
Emergencies and Alerts. While this isn’t the most uplifting idea, it’s important to address. Working in government communications means that it’s our job to communicate everything, the good and the bad. While Instagram is certainly not the first place someone is going to look for information if a hurricane hits, it’s a good way to inform people of the magnitude of a situation. For example, if a pipe burst or a gas line leaked, it’s more important to communicate that information via bulletin, tweet or email first. But posting a picture of the leak and the resulting road closure can be a powerful tool to get people to listen to the alert, and it doesn’t hurt to broaden your reach in this way. Beyond that, showing the result of an emergency situation tells a whole different story. Think back to the Boston Marathon bombings. We were all glued to our news sources for updates, stories and any inside scoop as to what was happening. There was an incredible amount of images shared on various sites that told a story all on their own. People like to see that we are resolving problems, that firefighters are putting out fires and that potholes are getting filled.
As simple as Instagram may seem, it provides a wealth of opportunities for agencies to communicate and engage with their audience. It’s becoming more and more important to constantly inform citizens and to tell stories; Pictures are a great way to do this. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Does your organization utilize Instagram? Let us know your tips for how government could be using Instagram in the comments below.