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How Visit Philadelphia builds love on Instagram

4 min read

Brands & Campaigns

Caroline Bean is the director of social media at Visit Philadelphia, where she works to integrate a well-rounded social media strategy into every campaign and has helped to establish Philadelphia’s voice to consumers. She is part of a communications team that has won 55 industry awards, including a PR News NonProfit PR award for the With Love, Philadelphia XOXO social media campaign and two SMITTYs (Social Media in Travel + Tourism Award) from Travel + Leisure for Visit Philly’s Foodspotting and Twitter accounts.

This e-mail interview has been slightly edited.

What are your goals for Visit Philadelphia’s Instagram account?

Our primary goal for the VisitPhilly Instagram account is image building. We use photography to show Philadelphia to visitors who might not have been here in years, or at all. We want to enhance impressions of Philadelphia and increase their desire to visit. And it’s working — in a recent survey of our social media fans and followers, 71% said being a fan of our social accounts improved their impression of Philadelphia.

What are some of your strategies for gaining followers on Instagram? Also, does quality matter — do you look to attract potential visitors as opposed to Philadelphia natives?

We are not looking to have huge numbers of followers on Instagram at the expense of quality engagement, but of course we do actively try to grow the account. To do so, we cross-promote social content: we push most of our Instagram images to Twitter and sometimes pin them on Pinterest. We also integrate our Instagram account into a tab on Facebook, and throughout our website, where we created a back-end system so certain hashtagged Instagram posts automatically populate the Instagram feeds on our website. We also have a gallery of our Instagram feed on Finally, we choose Guest Instagrammers who have a following of their own. We leverage their following to get new eyes to the VisitPhilly account.

We like having both visitors and locals follow the VisitPhilly account. Locals are hugely important to us. They are the ones hosting friends and family in Philadelphia. They are the ones with huge word-of-mouth power – both digitally and otherwise. In fact, in a recent survey we found that 83% of our social fans/followers said they shared what they read about in one of our social media posts with others.

Tell me about your Guest Instagrammer program. How does it work? How do you find participants?

Visit Philadelphia launched the Guest Instagram program in April 2013 as part of our Philadelphia Neighborhoods campaign to engage the passionate community of Instagram users, show off our neighborhoods in an authentic way and grow our follower numbers to boot. We scout Guest Instagrammers by attending local Instagrammer meet-ups, asking our in-house photographer for suggestions, scouring Instagram for “notables,” and reading local press on top Instagrammers. Since the program started, however, we’ve had more than 30 requests to participate. Of those requests, we look for a person with somewhat of a following of their own, with a great sense of place in their current Instagram feed.

We agree upon a topic, a time frame and some basic guidelines, then we give the Guest Instagrammer our password. After we announce their Guest Instagramming stint via a graphic on our account and theirs, we let them go to town!

What are the risks to handing over the keys to your Instagram accounts? How do you mitigate those risks?

We meet with each Guest Instagrammer face-to-face to make sure they feel comfortable with the spirit of the program. Most of these Guest Instagrammers are not marketers – but that authenticity is what we love. We mitigate risks by signing an agreement that they will not change the profile any way and that they have to sign the account back over to us. We also have limited guidelines (e.g. no nudity, illegal activities, etc.).

What are some of the best uses of Instagram that you’ve seen? What are some mistakes that you see?

The Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board (discoverLA) has an great informational Instagram program called “#LA365,” which inspires locals and visitors to discover and rediscover all that Los Angeles has to offer every day of the year. San Francisco’s onlyinsf has a huge following (nearly 40,000!) and features a lot of consumer-generated images pulled from hashtags like #MagicHourSF.

Instagram is such an easy way for DMOs to create content that it would be a huge miss to not share that content across other social platforms.