How the Interior Instagram grew to 1 million

Last week, I wrote about the first social media account I created that reached 1,000,000 followers. Today, I’m going to tell you how I did it.

When I joined the U.S. Department of the Interior as Director of Digital Strategy – there wasn’t much of a social program. We had a Facebook page and a Twitter account that had a password no one knew. 

So over two years I tested a lot of posts types on both channels to see what worked.

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Turns out – photos of our beautiful public lands performed incredibly well. So we focused on that.

Then a new social platform started to get traction called Instagram.

We jumped right in. I set it up and just began posting twice a day. One in the AM and once in the PM – to make sure we captured people when they were scrolling.

I tried to mix in different types of public lands. They couldn’t all be Yellowstone or Yosemite – I posted from smaller national parks and public lands as well.

Every photo came with a description so people could learn more about our public lands.

Before long, the account exploded. It all started with an article in Slate, and things just took off from there.

Posts were getting dozens, then hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of likes. Every post had hundreds of comments, and 99% of them were POSITIVE. People were tagging friends saying they should visit the place in the post, or were reminiscing about past travel. It was remarkable. A government social media account with only positive comments? That wasn’t possible was it?

After that the positive press came fast. O Magazine, Time Magazine, The Times of London, CNN, Mashable, Buzzfeed, the New Republic and more covered our instagram account. It was WILD. To this day, if I mention I started that account people will say “you did that?” Not bad for an account I stopped running in 2015.

So how did we do it? By giving people something they couldn’t get anywhere else. The Interior Department has a database of tens of thousands of amazing public lands photos. And only they have access. So we used that to our advantage.

Engage with our audience. I spent a ton of time responding to comments. People LOVED knowing there was a human behind the account. This build a lot of brand affinity and kept people coming back for more.

We also held a contest for our instagram followers to be the first people to go to the top of the Washington Monument when it reopened after the DC earthquake. We then selected 12-15 instagrammers to participate, which of course generated a ton of free content and publicity as they all posted on that day (I’m still friends with many of those Instagrammers to this day!).

Diverse content. We posted photos from all public lands in all 50 states. This let to hundreds of thousands of people getting to know about public lands most people don’t know about.

I truly loved running that account. It brought joy to so many people, and continues to do so to this day.