GE Photo Walk: Insta-Marketing with Instagram

How do you get citizens to learn more about your agency?


Lured by the promise of an open bar and the chance to wander the city taking pictures, I attended the GE Lights Photo Walk. Sponsored by GE and organized by iStrategyLabs, the idea was to have a couple drinks at a downtown bar and then take photos and videos of Washington’s monuments at night.

Using Instagram and the video-sharing service Viddy, participants were to tag content with the hashtag #GELights. The event was limited to 250 participants and the prizes were two trips to London and a “re-lamping” of your home.

One missed opportunity: at Penn Social there was no information on GE Lights. Handouts, swag and some actual GE Lights to look at would’ve been a good idea.

After two hours of drinking, staff from iStrategyLabs gently herded the well-lubricated techies toward the door, so that they could get pictures of the city at night.

I headed toward the Navy Memorial. I didn’t want to get the traditional night shots of Washington landmarks. Since the contest was about lights, I wanted to get pictures of bright lights, with lots of lens flare, something I knew the iPhone and Instagram were well-adapted to do. I got this:

I like the flags whipping in the breeze and the fact that it takes a moment to realize that you’re looking at the mast of a ship.

I tagged my photo in Instagram with #gelights and headed home. It was really fascinating to watch photos from DC and around the world get uploaded to Instagram with the #gelights tag.

What’s next? The photo with the most “likes” on Instagram wins a trip to London.

Would you sit through a commercial on GE Lights? Not if you could help it.

But attending an event that is fun, social and with just a slight bit of marketing is a much easier commitment to make, especially if it involves playing with our favorite gadgets. An open bar is not required.

Instagram is a powerful way to connect with consumers, because it is participatory. Rather than passively watching a commercial, consumers are actively involved in creating an experience.

While GE has been a leader in using this social photo-sharing service, it’s not the only company creating some awesome Instagram marketing.

How could Instagram be used in government? It would be ideal for photo contests, like the one the San Diego Zoo is running. There’s even an online toolkit for running Instagram photo contests.

Insta-photogs are already tagging pictures with the hashtag #nationalparkservice and other hashtags. #TSA has some, uh, interesting submissions.

Don’t have a program as photogenic as parks and cute critters? You could ask the public to tag photos with the name of your issue and see what they come up with. You might be surprised at the creativity that people display.

The era of the 60 second commercial, the banner ad, the brochure is over. The future of marketing is prizes, experiences and audience participation. Government has some wonderful stories to tell and should use Instagram to connect and engage with the public.

Are government agencies using Instagram already? I’d love to hear how government communicators are using this service.

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Samuel Lovett

Good photography that conveys a strong message really is a marketing game-changer – and it can be so easy to do too