Unfiltered: Issaquah and Instagram

ARTICLE | Nov 8, 2016

Issaquah, our Instagram bio notes, is a beautiful place, filtered or unfiltered.

In our dynamic community — located about 15 miles east of Seattle in Washington state — Instagram is a low-risk, high-reward way to engage with our citizens and a global audience at the same time.

In 2013, as our communications team set out to launch our social media presence, we knew we wanted Instagram in the mix, to engage with a younger audience we might miss on other platforms and also to share images of our beautiful community.

For us, Instagram offered a way to create a community and engage on a platform where citizens might not expect to find their local government.

We set out to strengthen community pride, provide another avenue for customer service and introduce a broader audience to Issaquah.

Some of our most popular posts showcase Issaquah’s historic sites, outdoor recreation opportunities and beautiful natural environment. Instagram is also a multiplier for Legendary Issaquah, our Sasquatch-themed tourism campaign.

In three-and-a-half years on Instagram, we’ve been fortunate to experience enthusiastic responses and steady follower growth:

  • 3,200 followers
  • 68,700 likes
  • 1,700 comments

Indeed, even the mood is different on Instagram compared to other social media platforms. As users, many of us take to Facebook and Twitter to vent. Instagram offers a more positive vibe.

Since our launch in 2013, we’ve been grateful to receive recognition for our Instagram work.

CitySourced named Issaquah as one of 12 Government Instagram Accounts You Need to Follow Now, the City-County Communications and Marketing Association (3CMA) honored us with a national Award of Excellence, and Livability ranked our account among The 6 Best Cities on Instagram, adding “The Instagram account of Issaquah has a grownup, artsy vibe to it” — not something we could have predicted, and a completely unexpected compliment.

Instagram is quick, compelling way to connect with your community. Some thoughts to keep in mind as you launch your new account or amp up your existing presence:

Get Inspired

Look to see how others use Instagram to engage. Inspiration is everywhere on Instagram, especially for local governments.

Seek out other communications and marketing professionals in both the public and private sectors for advice. You’re more than likely to find another agency or brand with answers to your particular question.

Some agencies and elected leaders do a fantastic job creating content. Others rely on a dedicated network of local photographers for beautiful pictures and videos.

The best local government accounts convey a sense of place, personality and — most importantly — community. Some of our favorites include:

On the national stage, the White House masterfully uses Instagram to articulate policy, go behind the scenes, and make followers feel closer to President Obama and the First Family.

Tell Your Story

Instagram a simple, accessible and surprisingly powerful storytelling tool.

Our team refers to our Instagram philosophy as Personality vs. Pretty — some posts showcase our beautiful community and others help us tell a story, whether it’s a message about pedestrian safety improvements, salmon recovery or community policing.

In particular, Instagram is helpful as we work to emphasize community policing, one of our department’s most important values. We show officers at work in our community, go behind the scenes during training exercises, introduce new personnel and show officers’ fun side.

Every October, during Issaquah’s signature celebration — Salmon Days — we curate the best of our posts to share the festival on Instagram.

Build Your Team

Like any social media platform, sharing content consistently is vital to keep the account fresh and your followers engaged.

One way we’ve worked to share more content is by empowering City of Issaquah staff to shoot photos for Instagram (as well as our other platforms).

Talented staff members — who have not only a good eye, but the ability to spot something that would perform well on social media — provide some of our most compelling content for Instagram.

In particular, our open space steward is a great photographer with a keen sense of what our community wants to know about our parks, trails and open space.

Experiment

You don’t need to be a professional photographer. We’re just snapping photos and filtering accordingly.

All you need is your smartphone. Instagram offers a suite of built-in tools. Experiment with filtering and cropping, but remember — your goal is to enhance, not reinvent. (On the other hand, if you leave a photo untouched, make sure to include #nofilter.)

Learn what your audience appreciates. For instance, our community is home to many devoted Seattle Seahawks fans. Every football season presents new and fun opportunities to engage with our audience, including a visit from mascot Blitz and Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch’s retirement announcement.

I often say social media lives for hashtag holidays — “national days” that celebrate something obscure, historic or humorous. Join those conversations by connecting hashtag holidays to your community’s people and places.

Take advantage of Instagram’s new tools — Boomerang is especially fun — to engage with your audience in unexpected ways.

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