Instagram #Inspiration: Benefits and Tips for Service-Oriented Organizations

Social media has been a driving factor for the marketing departments of many businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. People are on social media more than ever before. In 2015, 76% of Internet users in the US had at least one social media profile. So naturally, marketers go where the people are. For both non-profit and for-profit businesses, social media is a way to gain more resources. Whether it’s through advertising the next big thing in subscription-based deliverable goods or boosting support for a local fundraiser, social media is crucial for development.

Parks and Rec gif of Tom Haverford saying, "Every day I start by hitting up Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, and Instagram."

So, how can AmeriCorps and other service-oriented programs utilize social media in a savvy way to promote volunteerism and the awesome work they do?

Well, I could speak about the benefits of every social media platform out there, but I won’t. Instead, I’m going to focus on a little Peer Leader Pet Project that Chelsea and I have been working on since way back in September 2015, when we first started at VM: INSTAGRAM! First, I’m going to introduce why VM has an Instagram, and then I’ll follow that with some general tips for success!

Instagram by the numbers: InstaWHOA

Now, I am personally drawn to Instagram, because I’m a creative person and I really like visual interpretations of people’s worlds, but let’s look at some of the numbers: Instagram is the third most-used social media platform, capturing the attention of 28% of Internet users (following Facebook and Pinterest). On June 21st, 2016, Instagram announced that they had hit 500 million users, more than 300 million of which use Instagram daily. In addition to this, Instagram reports that 80% of their users are from outside of the US.

Nina Garcia saying, "This is such an Instagram moment."

Instagram has a huge, global pool of users to connect with, which means organizations have the potential to reach a whole bunch of people–whether they’re potential AmeriCorps members or just want to find a place to volunteer in their hometown–that they would not have reached otherwise.

“Don’t tell me–SHOW me.”

As I mentioned before, Instagram is unique from other social media platforms, because it’s focused on images and videos. This allows for a compelling, creative method of telling your organization’s story. And to VM, storytelling is important. For Chelsea and I, the VM Instagram is a way to show off the cool stuff our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are doing. We like to focus on the interesting, not-your-everyday-job type of activities (like hanging out with horses that are older than you, see below). This material not only gives our followers a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on during a Volunteer Maryland service year, but it also shows how much fun we have during our service year! Our current AmeriCorps members get to feel proud of what they do, potential AmeriCorps members can see a glimpse into a future with Volunteer Maryland, our partners get more air time, and other organizations can see what we’re up to.

View this post on Instagram

Happy #AmeriFriday from Freedom Hills! VMC Valerie, her volunteer Katherine, horse DeeDee, Program Manager Nicki, and Peer Leader Chelsea enjoyed some time in the #sun today after a successful final #partnership meeting. Thank your for your #service to #veterans and the #disabled Valerie and Katherine! (And DeeDee!!) Fun Fact: Katherine and DeeDee will soon compete together in a Dressage show for their Century Club Award, available to a horse and rider team whose combined age is 100+ #AmeriCorps #ServeWithMe #NationalService #AmeriCorpsPride #AmeriCorpsAlums #VolunteerMaryland #VM #horses #farm #equinetherapy #volunteer #volunteers #Friday #easternshore #PortDeposit #Maryland #MD #vets #rehabilitation #dressage #seniorhorse #DeeDeeis30

A post shared by Volunteer Maryland (@volunteer_maryland) on


“Follow4Follow?”: Connecting with other programs

Many AmeriCorps programs are currently on Instagram! The Corporation for National and Community Service, Points of Light, AmeriCorps Alums, City Year, the Choice Program at UMBC, and Arizona Conservation Corps are all awesome accounts to follow, because they always have interesting posts and they demonstrate effective Instagram usage. We can also connect with any organization that has a public account, and we can even repost each other’s content. For example, AmeriCorps Alums liked one of our group photos and reposted it on their account to show off some AmeriPride, which also granted VM a bigger platform (see below).


Tips for InstaSuccess:

Follow others, especially organizations that are doing awesome stuff like you!

When we first made the VM Instagram account, we immediately set out to follow all of the organizations that were like us, and then we branched out a bit. So follow all of the accounts linked above, but also check out the  Maryland State Archives and Maryland’s Office of Tourism (incredible use of Instagram by some of our own state agencies), as well as Baltimore City Rec and Parks, Maryland Food Bank, and ALL of the National Parks Instagrams (and there are so many), but especially the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Hashtags. Use them. All of them.

Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake yelling, "Hashtag!" in unison, while creating a hashtag symbol with their fingers.For every picture we post, we use the AmeriCorps hashtags (#AmeriCorps #AmeriCorpsAlums #gettingthingsdone #servewithme, etc.) and we also try to make use of other popular hashtags like #tbt/#throwbackthursday or #wellnesswednesday. Get creative and make your own hashtag for a weekly activity, but don’t forget to…

Post consistently.

Pretty self-explanatory, but but don’t abandon your Instagram for long periods of time and get disappointed that you had no new likes or follows. We generally try to post 1-3 times a week. Nonprofit Tech For Good recommends to post at least weekly and has lots of other good recommendations in this. 

Infographic describing the best and worst times to post on social media.

Mix it up

Instagram allows you to post photos, videos, and (if you have good apps) collages of anything you want, so mix it up in terms of content and layout! Post selfies, landscapes, action shots, some Boomerang videos!

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