Getting the Most out of Instagram for Travelers

If you have been following along the last few weeks, you probably noticed that I have been obsessed with Instagram lately. From finding some locals to hang out with while my car was being fixed after breaking down in Death Valley, to winning a cool prize pack from Montana Tourism for the picture I posted of the Rock Creek valley on the way to Yellowstone. Dima's Corner on Instagram

I took my sweet time jumping on Instagram bandwagon, mostly because I did not really understand the value of the service. I finally downloaded the app before heading out to Scandinavia earlier this year but I didn't post anything until a few weeks later. So what was my first post? The Peacock fountain in front of the National Theater in Oslo:

Oslo peackock fountain National Theater Nationaltheatret

Still I wasn't really sure how to use Instagram and if it is any good besides adding some cool photo effects to a picture before posting.

And then I went on an Instagram photo walk of Toronto put together by Katja Presnal of Skimbaco Lifestyle and Dustin Fuhs from Live Toronto Tours. I remember it was pretty hot and humid that afternoon so little by little, most people doing the walk bailed and went back to their hotels. For the few of us that stuck around, it was golden - from Dustin's tips on how to take more creative photos specifically for Instagram to Katja's endless wisdom on using Instagram for more than just selfies and pictures of some new shoes.

Lighthouse is cool but lighthouse reflection in a skyscraper is so much cooler!

After I 'saw the light', I was hooked and since then I have been using Instagram more and more to share pictures from my travels. In the mean time, I have had a few people approach me to help them 'get it' as well. So I figured I will share a few things I have learned - a few tips for using Instagram for folks that travel, wish to travel, or are in the travel industry.

After all, Instagram lends itself very well to sharing amazing, jaw dropping, awe-inspiring pictures, which you are bound to capture when you are on the road just as well as capturing the imagination of someone longing to do just that. The old saying of a picture being worth a thousand words is very true in this context. People react to pictures and Instagram helps channeling this reaction into growing your audience.

Instagram for those on the road

Did I catch you in the middle of your trip? Perfect! Get Instagram and get started posting all those amazing things you see around!

As you do that, don't forget to tag location of your photos. I generally try to tag my pictures with a general area rather than a particular location (Ex: Yellowstone National Park rather than Grand Prismatic Spring) and then provide specifics in description of the photos. This gives your audience a quick idea idea where the picture was taken, putting them right there, in that place rather than having to wonder and comment on your picture asking where it was taken (being very visual, Instagram posts do not generally attract many comments).

Instagram location tagging

Another thing I learned is that smart tagging is important (duh!). By smart tagging, I don't mean using the obvious #sunset or #mountains tags but rather figuring out specific tags that will give you the most benefit for a given image. Want to have more locals see your image? Try the area code tag (#416 rather than #toronto). Want to enter a contest and/or have your photo reshared? Check your destination's account for the tags they want you to use - by tagging my photo of Rock Creek Valley with #MontanaMoment, I scored a prize pack from Montana Tourism.

North Dakota NDLegendary hashtag

Lastly, I accidentally discovered another benefit of using location information when I was stuck in the middle of nowhere waiting for my car to get fixed. You can actually see who else has been posting photos at your current location and try to meet up with other travelers or locals! Normally, I use couchsurfing for that, but Instagram can work just as well. Along the same lines, if you are staying for a bit or just moved to a new city, you can see if anyone at that location is Instagramming things you are interested in. Whether you are a foodie, a mountain biker or a soccer player, find someone else posting those kinds of pictures and get in touch with them!

... those just planning their travels

Not on the road yet? Daydreaming about traveling? Instagram can help you there too!

Just search for traveling hashtags, from general such as #travel and #instatravel, to more specific such as #nationalpark or #boracay:

travel hashtag on Instagram

But who said it is just for day-dreaming? You can actually use Instagram to plan your next vacation (or add to that bucket list). In her book Instagram as your Guide to the World - How, What and Who to Search and Follow on Instagram to Help You Travel the World Katja shows how she uses Intagram together with Foursquare to create lists of locations she wants to visit from geotags of travel photos she enjoys on Instagram.

I employ a less sophisticated method - usually when I see a truly awesome location photo, I take a screen shot and then add the image to Evernote, tagging it with a region (Europe, Asia, etc) and the country, then file it away in Travel Ideas notebook. Then, when I know I will be going to a particular region or a particular country, I can pull of these up in Evernote and plan my trip to hit some of those spots.

So Instagram is not necessarily just a consumption medium - you can use it for your travel planning as well!

... and travel bloggers

Ok, so let's be frank - Instagram will not help you much with conversion since people don't tend to click on any links in your profile nor can you post hyperlinks in photo descriptions. But it can help you build up your Klout score, and more importantly, build up more audience for the numbers in your press kit (someday I will make one...). So with that in mind, how can you effectively use Instagram to build your following?

It is all about hashtags and trying to reach as many people as possible. Most of these will turn into likes but a few will turn into followers. Here the main thing to keep in mind is that once you add a hashtag to a photo, it will show up on top of the photos under that tag, but won't stay there long. With popular hashtags such as #travel, it will probably be there for no more than a few seconds. So while it will give it some broad exposure, it will only last for seconds.

Another thing to keep in mind is the limit on the number of tags - currently at 30 per photo. So at some point, you will need to go back and delete the stale tags and add some new ones.

What I do is tag my photos with a few sets of popular hashtags to get some broad exposure:

[message type="custom"]#igdaily #igers #instagood #instamood #igaddict #instagramers #instagramhub #instadaily #webstagam #picoftheday #photooftheday #instafamous #photo #bestoftheday #instapopular #picture #pictures #photooftheweek #instalife #instalive #wow #instadaily #gramoftheday #tbt #insta_global #instagold #instalovers #instabeauty #original #instacool[/message]

[message type="custom"]#travel #traveling #travelgram #instatravel #holiday #vacation #instatfravel #tourist #traveler #tourism #ttot #vagabond #beautiful #wow #amazing #fun #wow #instahappy #goodmood #feelgood #funtimes #feelgoodphoto #joy #enjoy #lovelife #captivating #goodtimes #like #follow #followme[/message]

I leave those in place for half a day each or so, then later switch to more appropriate tags such as #nationalpark, #wildlife, etc. I have also experimented with tags in other languages, mainly Russian and Spanish to get even broader exposure and had some mixed results. If you have a VA, this would be a perfect job for them.

Instagram tagging with popular hashtags to generate exposure

Lastly, be sure to find out which tags the tourism boards wants you to use before you travel somewhere. Many times they will have that specified in their Instagram profile (see North Dakota example above). Other times you may have to dig for it. I usually start with a Google search for destination's social media page and go from there. And don't forget to join other prominent Instagrammers participating in their posting series, such as Katja's #IGTravelThursdays.


Just Do It!

So all this is nitty gritty stuff. But the most important part is to have fun! Download Instagram and start posting photos from your travels. Oh, and follow me @notsupposedto so I can check out your stuff as well :)

Tips & Tricksdima