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Social Media Best Practices in Travel: Instagram

This is the fourth in a series of “Social Media Best Practices in Travel” posts to be published on this blog. Today, we focus on Instagram!

When Instagram was acquired by Facebook in April 2012, for what seems today like a steal at “only” 785 million dollars, the mobile application was already popular with its 25 million userbase. Two years later, Instagram now boasts over 200 million active users and has become a true social media powerhouse.

Not bad for a platform that is barely 4 years old! Known for its easy-to-use picture-taking and picture-sharing functionalities, Instagram also plays into the increasingly popular trend of video storytelling with its 15 seconds video-taking feature, introduced during the summer of 2013.

So why should travel brands bother with Instagram? Consider that:

  • There are 55 million photos shared daily by Instagram users
  • More than 75 million active users login to Instagram daily!
  • Of the 200 million users, 50 millions came onboard in the past 6 months. Instagram is growing faster than any other social platform.
  • The very first photo shared on Instagram was by its co-founder… while on vacation in Mexico!
  • Visual storytelling and mobile adoption are the two hottest trends right now across the globe. Instagram is at the convergence of this phenomenon.


1. Crowdsource your community

With all these people taking photos, whether they are locals enjoying their city or tourists enjoying a festival or attraction, all these pictures taken on Instagram represent a goldmine, specially if you can tag them with a specific hashtag.

Most destinations have embraced this trend by promoting a given hashtag, inviting travelers to share pictures and monitoring them through various social media tools.

Quebec Region promoting its Instagram hashtag on Facebook
Quebec Region promoting its Instagram hashtag on Facebook

In the travel marketing sphere, restaurants are among the ones where pictures are most often taken, from the venue itself to meals and drinks being prepared. The Comodo, in New York City, even went so far as to invite its clients to share their meal experiences in such a way as to help other patrons making their choice off their menu.

Thus, the Comodo Instagram Menu!

2. Generate buzz & content

@OnlyinSF contest on InstagramWhen the folks at San Francisco Travel organize a quirky contest such as this one, the goal is to generate not only good visual content that can eventually be repurposed on other social media outposts, but also to create some buzz around a given theme – in this case celebrating the anniversary of the Golden Gate bridge.

Yet, it’s interesting to see how some folks, such as the canadian hotel chain Groupe Germain, and its branded ALT hotels, asked users to share their photos with a specific hashtag. Not only did it generate buzz and lots of photos for future use, they integrated these pictures in the design of a giant mural in the lobby of their newly opened hotel at Toronto Pearson Hotel in 2012, and more recently at their new hotel in the Griffintown neighborhood, in Montreal.

So even today, users can take a picture, tag it with #altexpo and it will appear on one of the screens, whether you stay at the hotel or not. Neat!

3. Create contests

Contests have always been a great way to generate buzz, acquire leads and customers, not to mention building hype around a given product or service. They work well on most platforms, but Instagram is particularly well adapted since we all know we ALWAYS carry our mobile phones with us wherever we go.

Destinations, hotels, restaurants, spas, festivals, attractions… no matter what kind of travel and hospitality actor you may be, there is certainly a creative contest to be crafted without much effort nor resources needed to fund it all. The important thing is to ensure contests, as always, are aligned with your business objectives.

For example, when InterContinental Hotels launched its #IHGselfie contest on Instagram, the prize was appealing, with a free trip in tow for either Paris or London, including a stay in a InterContinental property.

IHG contest on Instagram

4. Cross channels

One of the content benefits stemming from Instagram is when travel brands repurpose the images on different channels and platforms: newsletters, Facebook page, corporate blog, brochure, etc. For example, this is what Tourism Australia showcase every Friday with their Friday Fan Photos, in many cases with pictures taken from Instagram among other sources.

Another great example comes from Discover Los Angeles, which showcase everyday a picture from locals and tourists alike, as long as it was tagged with its #LA365 hashtag. For more on this, read 4 Creative Uses of Instagram in Destination Marketing

Photo of the Day on Discover LA website

5. Let locals rule

Rather than having travel brands telling you how things are in a destination, an attraction or a restaurant, it’s much more potent to have fellow travelers share moments and pictures about it or, better yet, have locals share insider tips.

Since brands no longer control the message in this era of real-time communications and social networks, we are seeing initiatives such as Visit Sweden letting its Twitter handle between the hands of a different Swede every week since 2011 (check out their @sweden account).

On Instagram, similar initiatives are rare, but the folks at Visit Philly (Philadelphia) have done just that in 2013, leaving their Instagram account between the capable hands of 14 local instagramers, each in charge of highlighting their own local neighborhood with total freedom.

Visit Philly on InstagramBonus Tips: InstaMap & IconoSquare

There are various tools out there to help you manage your brand presence with Instagram, but you want to make sure to bookmark at least these two: InstaMap and IconoSquare.

InstaMap is an application available only on iPad, so it does limit its userbase, yet it’s nevertheless interesting for its capability to search Instagram pictures not only by tags or users, but also by maps or specific destinations. A great way to envision itineraries by travelers photos, for example.

InstaMap search with #MTLmoments

Finally, you may not be familiar with IconoSquare, but it’s simply the new name for the website formerly known as This free tool is great to provide you with basic reports about your Instagram account, while allowing to manage contests and your overall account as well.

Example of Instagram report available on IconoSquare

For more pratical tips on how to post on Instagram, check out the infographic below, crafted by the folks at Social Research Strategies.

How To Post on Instagram

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