Is Instagram for You? Cooperative Extension Programming in Instagram

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Is Instagram for Cooperative Extension? Of the myriad of social media to choose from, how do you know what tool to choose to enhance your outreach and engagement?  Today I’m going to share with you some things that Instagram can do that might fit into your online strategy.  Like any tool you choose, it has to be a good fit with the audience you are trying to reach, the ease of adding it to your existing workflow, the time you want to spend maintaining your presence, and the benefit your program will derive from your efforts.

Instagram and Users – what do the numbers say?

According to Instagram use statistics they have 300M Monthly Actives Users, 70%+ People Outside U.S. 30B+ Photos Shared 2.5B Likes Daily 70M Average Photos Per Day [Instagram website – accessed July 16, 2015].

Pew Research statics reports growth in Instagram (13% to 26%) was among the highest proportional growth in social tools.  While users may not be as numerous as the big two (Facebook and Twitter), it is a good idea to pay attention to WHICH audiences are growing and why.

Chart on the growth of social media platforms from 2012 - 2014 according to Pew
Pew Research for 2014 on growth of popular social media platforms

In addition to general usage, you may be interested to know specific demographic groups like teens favor Instagram over other tools. If you have a client group that includes this audience, these use statics can help you decide which tool is most appropriate for your reach. Do your research and ask specific questions about which platforms serve your specific audience needs.  Not all social platforms serve all users the same (see the Pew Statistics on Social Media Platforms)


2014 Pew Research chart on top teen social media platforms
Top teen usage social platforms statistics from Pew Research in 2014

If you are wondering about referral traffic from Instagram, they are having a hard time breaking into the top platforms.  It doesn’t show up in Sharaholic’s 2014 statistics. However, considering the market share of users, and its newness, this is not surprising.  One reason it’s not a top referral driver may be that posts have to create specific calls to action (CTA) in the text which is not a direct link to the content you are promoting (click and go).

Tips and Tricks for Instagram to help grow your audience

If you have taken a look at Instagram, you know the basic layout.  You post a picture, you have the option to add a description to that picture that includes text and hashtags (which operate as hotlinks to other Instagram user content having the same hashtags), you can share to other social sites, and you can geo-tag your photo’s for location.  Users can “love” your photo, and they can comment.  Not a whole lot of detailed interactions going on here.  Its about photo love.

There are a few specific tactics that can be taken advantage of in terms of education and engagement specifically as they relate to Cooperative Extension

  1. Text area. You can in theory post up to 2200 characters in the text area and responses are limited to 300 characters.  The user view that Instagram is currently imposing is a 240 characters limit and a [more] addition.  Therefore, you CAN create verbose text and comments and you should consider a balance between how long you want a user to scroll and the value of a good message.  I lean towards good messaging within reason.  You can look at NASA on Instagram and NatGeo on Instagram for some good examples.  Take some time to explain your photo.  If its a plant, WHICH plant and what is the scientific name?  Is there a link you can put to that plant back to your Institution?
  2. Links – Instagram doesn’t hyper-link dynamically right now.  Meaning you can’t click on a photo and have it take you to the source, nor can you type a link in the text area and it act as an HTML hyperlink (blue, click and go).  However, that shouldn’t stop you from putting in relevant links that create referral traffic and a Call To Action (CTA).  If you want a user to learn more, provide them the resource.  Users can copy and paste these days and many do.  If you don’t provide a link, a user never has the option of learning more.
  3. Hashtags – Instagram limits you to 30 hashtags per post.  That is a LOT of hashtags.  When using Instagram you will notice people DO use a lot of hashtags.  Not only that, they use a lot of hashtag-speak (where you talk in hashtags).  If you plan on using hashtags that relate to your programs, choose them wisely and use them consistently.  I usually limit them to 5.  However, I use hashtag-speak to add some character when needed.
  4. Using older photo’s – while Instagram is designed for mobile devices and smart devices, it can be reluctantly used on a desktop.  You may have archive photo’s you want to share log in using the desktop version (or a 3rd party API) and use local photo’s. You’ll notice many photo’s on users accounts that were NOT taken with smart and mobile devices.  They probably used an alternate option or the desktop link to do so.  Another option is to load them on your mobile and smart devices by choosing Dropbox (if you store your photo’s there) and choosing that as your photo source (you can link other photo sites too but that is dependent on your smart device and not a direct part of Instagram).
  5. Interact – this is pretty good advice on ANY social platform.  No really, interact.  Respond to your comments, follow other users, and in general share the love.  According to Instagram, most interaction takes place in the first 5 hours of posting a photo.  Therefore, if you post, do it when you can interact and have time to follow up.

Fun ways to engage your audience in Instagram

Don’t forget that FUN is part of the equation in Instagram.  Shake it up a little and be creative. Everyone wants to see beautiful photo’s and interesting finds.  Cooperative Extension is positioned well to take advantage of this tool.

Photo Contests – You can run a photo contest in Instagram much easier then some other tools.  This is because you have users tag their photo’s with a specific hashtag (set by you) and nobody has to upload their photo’s to a site (that needs management).  You can then collectively see all the photo’s at once by aggregating them with a hashtag collector (use Instagram to search by hashtag, or use a third-party like GramFeed),  You’ll still have to design rules and perhaps consult legal about the contest, but it is easy to manage.

Theme days – like every social platform, you can utilize themes around a day or a concept.  Throw Back Thursday (TBT) can be photo’s from your programs past, or perhaps Cooperative Extension’s past.  National Child Nutrition month could be the theme of an entire months Instagram photo’s.  Be creative.

Ready-Set-Post – ask users to post their photo’s on their feeds using a hashtag and create some photo challenges.

Demonstration Posts – You can include short video’s posts or pictures that demonstrate a idea, technique, or concept related to your program.  Think about what your client benefits from knowing.  How would you post that in a photo or video?  How does a bit correctly sit in a horses mouth?  What does a bushel of corn actually look like?

Shout out about Cooperative Extension – most consumers don’t know the majority of things that Cooperative Extension is involved in on a daily basis.  We get to see some of the most interesting things on a daily basis.  You can simply show off all the great things we do and see.  What does branding cows look like?  What does a marine agent actually do?  If you’ve every tried (unsuccessfully) to explain your job, maybe its time to try photos!  Check out the Texas Travis County Agent on Instagram to see an example.  Want to see a fun example of hashtag campaigns check out #plelfie which is a campaign on Plant Selfies from Texas’ Travis County horticulture agent Daphne Austin!

The Last Word about Instagram for Cooperative Extension

There are a few limitations for using Instagram that make it less convenient then some tools, and that includes the issue that you have to have a single log-in for a user (which means you have to use a personal account, or you have to establish a program account and login and out or use a 3rd party API to post).  Depending on how you want to use your social tools that can be manageable.
There area also some really cool things going on in Instagram that make it an amazing tool for Cooperative Extension, and that includes creating hashtag campaigns and programs to really highlight your outreach and engagement efforts.  Future blogs will detail some of those practices.

Free Webinars on Instagram in Cooperative Extension Programming

Give us some feedback in the comments about what you like about Instagram and if you’ve used it in your programs


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