Instagram: Creating Good Impressions For Cities

As usual, innovation is frequently local when it comes to social media. A number of cities, noting that Instagram is the fastest-growing platform in important demographics, have taken the lead in using that platform for image building.

Caroline Bean, director of social media for Visit Philadelphia, says that a lot of tools are measurable by engagement, but Instagram is about changing impressions. Philadelphia has done that by focusing on themes the city is promoting– Black History Month, Ben Franklin (to coincide with the opening of a Ben Franklin Museum), Society Hill, etc.

With 11,000 followers, Visit Philly has hosted 25+ Guest Instagrammers since April 2013 (with 30+ people on the waiting list to participate!). The Guest Instagrammers “take over” the @VisitPhilly account to post about parts of the city through their eyes. Instagram is currently the fastest-growing social channel for Philadelphia, and the number of followers has more than quadrupled in nine months since the Guest Instagram program was launched. As a bonus: Instagrammers have used the #VisitPhilly hashtag as a call to action on their own beautiful Instagram images more than 20,000 times – purely organically! @VisitPhilly is now the #3 city tourism account on Instagram.

Bean says Guest Instagrammers are a mix of people found through internal recommendations and volunteers. They are literally given the password to Visit Philly’s Instagram account. As long as they are into the spirit of the project, they are welcome. The city is not looking for overly polished marketing photos, but pictures that evoke a sincere interest in the subjects. Ideally, but not always, Guest Instagrammers have their own hefty following. 

While Visit Philly is No. 3, the top honor goes to San Francisco with a whopping 39,000 followers.  Over time, @onlyinsf has run several campaigns that have not only showcased the city, but featured followers’ photos as well. Their last campaign, #MagicHourSF, was a month-long campaign that encouraged people to share their favorite SF moments over the last year. During that month, select photos were featured on the city’s Facebook and Twitter and more than 2,000 photos were tagged. Finally, while influential Instagrammers are asked to take over other Instagram channels, the tourist office identifies influential SF photographers on Instagram and lets them take over its largest social channel, Facebook.

One other city looking to Instagram is Los Angeles, where the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board (@discoverLA) has launched a social media campaign using Instagram entitled “#LA365,” which inspires locals and visitors alike to discover and rediscover all that Los Angeles has to offer every day of the year. The timely list is also featured on, Facebook and Twitter, and encourages followers to discover both iconic sites and hidden gems around the city. The campaign simultaneously asks fans to submit their own ideas by hashtagging their photos #LA365. In the first month of the campaign, #LA365 has garnered over 400,000 Instagram impressions, spreading to an additional 935,000 impressions via shares on Twitter. 

Those are all powerful initiatives and prove the power of validation by independent parties. It also proves that in this case it’s best to Think Locally and Act Locally.

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