Instagram is hot. With 100 million monthly active users and over 40 million photos uploaded per day, the photo-sharing site claims to gain a new follower every second.
Online marketing is visual. If you are not telling your story to your supporters in a visual way, you may be ignored or left behind.
Facebook is even hiring a full time employee to head to Washington DC to get politicians and government officials on the Instagram bandwagon. (How can we get the same treatment for nonprofits? Eh, Facebook?)
Whether you are a social networking newbie or a seasoned veteran, Instagram is easy to use, intuitive and very addictive. Heck, my 66-year-old technophobe dad uses it daily!
All you need is a smartphone and viola – you can download the free app and start posting in 1 minute. So what are you waiting for?
Here are 15 ways that your nonprofit can start using Instagram today:
1. Get personal.
Instagram is a different animal than Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and even Flickr.
The most successful Instagram accounts offer a glimpse into user’s private lives and behind-the-scenes experiences not revealed on other social networking sites.
Think of ways that your organization can use the service to provide a sneak peek into the behind-the-scenes action, the daily lives of the people you impact and the community you serve.
They key is authenticity and transparency – if your organization is not comfortable with this yet, then Instagram may not be for you (right now).
2. Connect Instagram with your organization’s Twitter account and Facebook Page.
Since photos get above-and-beyond the most interaction and engagement of all content posted to Facebook and Twitter, it makes sense to post your best Instagram images on both of these accounts.
If you are using Instagram from a personal account, you can link your organization’s Facebook Page easily – here are step-by-step instructions.
3. Follow other accounts first to see what works for other nonprofits.
As with all social media sites, I always suggest listening first, conducting research on best practices, sketching out a plan and then jumping in.
See what local businesses, nonprofits, community organizations and leaders in your area are posting to Instagram.
Follow your supporters, donors and volunteers to see what moves them and what they like to post.
What types of photo garner the most engagement, the most likes, the most comments? Take notes!
4. Take some time to learn how to take a great Instagram photo.
Unusual angles, different lighting and a unique perspective are all characteristics of viral Instagram shots. Shots of nature, beautiful scenery, close ups on faces all translate into likes and comments.
Head-on, professionally-posed and clearly staged photos are discouraged.
5. Showcase direct impact.
There is a reason that your organization exists. You are changing lives, saving the environment, finding homes for animals, preserving historical buildings, saving children.
Whatever your mission, make sure that some of your Instagram photos show this impact – whether it be a smiling face, a cleaned up beach or an empty food pantry after the holidays.
The @charitywater account shows the direct impact the organization is having on improving the quality lives of others in the developing world through access to clean water. The photos are usually simple and compelling and really are worth a thousand words.
6. Have a healthy balance of fun pictures and business images.
It doesn’t have to be doom and gloom on Instagram – yes, touching, emotional photos work well, but change it up and show a happy moment!
7. Crowdsource images from your supporters.
Your supporters, constituents and community members are online. (I don’t care if they are older, or disabled, or disadvantaged. They are online. Believe me.)
What about that younger demographic you desperately want to reach? Guess what. They are ALL using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest.
They are taking photos. They are sharing their experiences, thoughts, dreams and hopes online. Why not use them as a source of content for your social media accounts?
To Write Love On Her Arms is perhaps the best example of how to do this effectively and authentically. The nonprofit, dedicated to support, hope and help for people struggling with addiction, depression and suicide, often asks its supporters to share images on their other social media sites and it re-posts to Instagram.
Their #FearvsDreams campaign photos have an average of 2,500 likes and hundreds of comments.
8. Post statistics in the captions.
Using @charitywater again as an example – this photo was posted with the caption:
60% of childhood deaths in Nepal are due to malnutrition, which is exacerbated by dirty drinking water. We can change that!
What I like best is that they post the statistic, and then say “We can change that!” Proactive, hopeful language like this engages supporters and draws them in.
9. Highlight volunteer work.
Showcase the local bank stocking the food bank, the mom’s club hosting a fundraising event and the people monitoring the hotline, stuffing envelopes and doing office work.
Volunteers are a vital part of what makes your organization run. Highlight them, acknowledge them – choose a day (#ThankfulThursday is a good one) and post photos with a big shout out and a cheer to your volunteers. Tag them if they are also on Instagram. (Instructions on how to tag photos here.)
They deserve it!
10. Host photo contests to promote events.
Beverly Main Streets, a local nonprofit dedicated to promoting and enhancing downtown Beverly, hosted a Twitter and Instagram contest to encourage more engagement during their summer BLOCK parties.
Encouraging attendees to post using the hashtag #beverlyblock, at the end BMS awarded a $25 gift certificate to one of its supporters.
Using hashtags in this way makes your event easier to discover by potential supporters. And at the end you have a slew of photos, tweets and posts to look through to get real-time feedback about the event!
11. Feature your donors.
With their permission, post photos of your donors. Add a short caption describing who they are and why they support you.
12. Use hashtags strategically and wisely.
Do not jump on the most popular hashtag and use it repeatedly – that’s spam. Use hashtags that make sense to your followers and your supporters.
Using hashtags is very important for continually adding new followers, as it exposes you to a wider circle of Instagram users who are searching on that hashtag.
Do your research, see what others are using and add them sparingly.
Hashtags.org is a great site to see what is most popular in your field. The top hashtags on the site can be found here.
13. Get comfortable with posting photos first, then develop a strategy for videos.
Instagram videos have become a hugely popular addition to the site, but most are blurry, unclear and indecipherable.
When using video for your nonprofit, there needs to be more preparation and planning than just sneaking a snapshot.
Work on getting into a groove with the photos first, then delve into the 15 second videos.
14. Link to your mobile site (or make sure your website is mobile accessible).
Instagram is a mobile app and thus all links should go to mobile accessible pages and websites, as well as mobile donation pages and email sign up forms. This should go without saying but I thought it was worth a reminder!
15. Have fun!
Post a photo of the Board President at their high school prom for #ThrowbackThursday. Post photos of staff members celebrating a birthday.
Keep it light and go off topic once in a while. Enjoy yourself!
Do you have other ways that nonprofits can effectively use Instagram?
Julia Campbell works with nonprofits and small businesses to find solutions to their marketing problems. She is the Principal and Founder of J Campbell Social Marketing, a boutique digital media firm in Beverly, MA. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @JuliaCSocial