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Key Takeaways from the (Few) Feds on Instagram

There are far fewer agencies or departments on Instagram than on Facebook or Twitter. And that’s relatively logical if you consider that it is the far more visual platform of the three I’ve looked at so far. But what I love about Instagram is that you don’t have to have amazing pictures (like NASA or Interior, which we’ll get to later). You can use it as a behind-the-scenes look at how your agency functions. And you might think your desk job wouldn’t be Instagram worthy, but every single agency and department in the federal government has something awesome that can be shared in pictures—whether it be the impact of your work, how the work gets done, or the people behind the scenes—there is plenty to depict.

I looked at 18 federal Instagram feeds this week. When viewing each, I looked at the number of followers, posts, audience engagement with posts, information provided with the post, and overall ingenuity. Below, in no particular order, are my favorite feeds, and what I think the key takeaways are for anyone running a fed Instagram page.

USGS: The USGS has some amazing pictures on its feed—from animals (who knew you could put tiny telemetry backpacks on bullfrogs to track their movement through Montana?) to infrastructure to geological formations. They’re also awesome at responding to those who comment. But my favorite of their features is #SciSelfieSunday, where they post a picture and profile USGS employees going about their day-to-day business. Key takeaway: Give a face to your department—or really, many faces. Show me who works there, what awesome work they’re doing, and maybe even tell me a little about how I can get involved.

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HUD: Much like Humans of New York, HUD has its own Instagram version, #HumansofHUD. It’s a fantastic way for the agency to share real-life stories of how its programs truly impact people’s lives. Key takeaway: Tell your followers how your program reaches its target audience and the outcome of our outreach.

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Department of Energy: There are a number of cool features on this Instagram page, but my two favorites are the Energy Life Hacks and the introductions to the various DOE labs. Key takeaway: Share tips with your followers that can impact their everyday lives that are relevant to your agency’s mission.

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Department of State: While the feed features a lot of pictures of the official business of Secretary Kerry, this is another feed where the behind the scenes pictures give an interesting look inside life as a diplomat. Key takeaway: Show me what I need to know and what I want to know. Fun pictures (like the Kerry selfie with the elephant) don’t mean that you’re not doing your job, they mean that the federal government isn’t just gray buildings and guys in suits.

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Coast Guard: The Coast Guard does regular Instagram takeovers, in which different ships and the work undertaken on each are profiled. It’s a really neat way to show the variety of work the Coast Guard does. Key takeaway: Consider weekly takeovers. Allow an intern, a boss, your main office or satellite offices to take turns showing followers what a day in the life is like from their perspectives.

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Interior/NOAA Fisheries/Bureau of Land Management/NASA: These four fall under the “super cool pictures” category, but the photos come with a ton of interesting facts that put the pictures in perspective. Key takeaway: Amazing photos become even greater when you offer insight for your followers (and especially instructions on how they can see some of these things for themselves).

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Have any favorite Instagram pages or posts? Share them in the comments!

If you missed them, don’t forget to check out my previous posts on tips for feds for Facebook and Twitter.

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Steve Palmer

My company is taking a slight different approach to Instagram. We are hoping to give a face to our employees, but we want to give a face to their “after-hours” activities. So, is your team out celebrating something exciting? Share a picture or 3 on Instagram. Do you volunteer in your community? Snap a pic. Would love to hear your thoughts on our approach and any potential consequences you see of taking this approach…