Instagram for InstaGovies

Instagram is available for govies! It is the latest mobile and social media tool available to federal, state and local governments to better engage with the public, thanks to a newly negotiated government-compatible Terms of Service (TOS) agreement negotiated by the GSA.

With over 130 million users, Instagram is a photo sharing service that makes sharing mobile photos as easy as click and share.

And it’s already being used to by a number of federal agencies, including NASA and the Department of Interior.

Why Use Instagram?

Instagram is a chance to connect with an audience that won’t ever willingly visit your web site. The chance of someone deciding to type in one afternoon is small. Instagram is a free app available to iPhone and Android users. It’s something people use when they want to *see* interesting photos from people they follow and from the larger community of Instagram users. This is a vast new audience of people to reach with your story.

What to Post?

It’s a cliche but it’s true – a picture is worth a thousand words. Instagram is for visual content – it’s for simple, well-composed shots that display well on tiny mobile screens. For example:

Good: A closeup of a flower in late-afternoon light.

Bad: A photo of your director shaking someone’s hand in a conference room.

Instead of having a “grip n’ grin” shot, why not take people outside and compose them in a portrait? Put them in the shade and against a simple backdrop, like a brick wall.

How to Post

You do not have to take pictures using the Instagram app. I use my iPhone camera, take multiple photos and then choose which one to Instagram.

Remember, that the photos are square, like a Polaroid. Leave plenty of room around your subject so that you can crop it into a square shape.

After you take the photo, you can use the “enhance” button which increases contrast and saturation and generally improves a photo. You can also select a filter to use, selecting from everything from black and white to 70s-style.

Bonus Tip: Use the selective focus button (it looks like a teardrop) to focus on one particular section of the photo. This works wonderfully with portraits.

How to Share

After you take the photo, you have the option of sharing with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, FourSquare and email. This is a great way to easily populate your other social media networks – and keep everything organized in Flickr.

Write a good, descriptive caption. You do not need to put in the date or place, both of which are captured. Use common terms that everyone knows – not acronyms.

Include hashtags – these have a # sign in front of them, like #government, #govloop, #photography, #blog. Think of these as the keywords which describe your photo. Hashtags are used to find all the photos of one thing from multiple users. So you could find all the photos tagged #DC by using that hashtag.

Bonus Tip: Search to find common hashtags and then include them in your relevant photos.

How to Build Community

If you build it, will they come? The best way to build a community is to take great photos and share them.

But everyone has to start somewhere. Start by using “find friends” in Instagram to add in your contacts and Facebook friends. Follow other people and they generally will follow you. Participate – demonstrate that you’re not some bureaucratic entity by favoriting and commenting on other photos. Show that you have a personality.

Bonus Tip: Find the most popular Instagram users. Study their work – what are they doing differently? How can you do what they do?

Who Should Take Photos?

Odds are that you have people in the office who already use Instagram. Why not them? Have them take pictures and then send them to the person in charge of the Instagram account. That way you won’t have a shortage of photos to choose from. Select an interesting pic to post each day. Save others in an “evergreen” folder of photos that you can use on the slow days.

Don’t make this process a pain in the ass or subject to review by half a dozen people. The quickest way to kill off creativity is to send it to a review committee.


I’ve long believed that government is filled with interesting, visual stories that never make it into dry reports or ponderous PDFs. This is a great opportunity to show the public what government does using the biggest, most powerful medium out there: photography.

Follow me on Instagram at @joeflood.

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