Instagram for Smaller Destinations

By Maghen Barranco

Instagram for Smaller Destinations

Instagram remains a top social platform and, with its focus on beautiful imagery, it’s an important platform for all things travel. This is especially true for smaller DMOs with limited staff capacity. Here we explore ways for your team to maximize Instagram's capabilities for your DMO.

Before you even consider leveraging emerging platforms such as Tik Tok, you should evaluate if your destination is mastering more established channels like Instagram to their fullest—especially when you have a small team that already has full workloads.

Instagram remains a top social platform for 18- to 34-year-olds, and with its focus on imagery, it’s an important platform for all things travel— from the dreaming stage to the planning stage all the way to encouraging the crowdsourced posting of photos of the visitor experience. 

After having to take more than a year's break from virtually all travel due to the pandemic, most people are eager to begin planning getaways. And, due to optimism related to increased vaccination rates and warmer weather allowing for more outdoor activities, many are growing ever more optimistic that they will actually get to take the trip vs. having to cancel or postpone it (again!).

Instagram is a cost-effective platform ideally suited for you to use to inspire travelers with pictures of everything your destination has to offer. That’s why we’ve summarized some useful tips and outlined new features for your destination to optimize Instagram.

What to post:

  1. Dreamy photos.  Instagram’s design rewards aesthetically pleasing grids—which is done through photography. The good news is that tourism is also driven by beautiful photography. Don’t get me wrong, authentic imagery matters, but the quality of your photos matters more if it will catch a potential visitor's eye. BIG bonus points each time a post is UGC (User-Generated Content). As we’ve mentioned numerous times across our blogs about social media content, UGC is a driving force in building trust, growing engagement and inspiring potential visitors to explore your destination. (P.S. crediting the creator in the caption is the way to go for all photos that are not your own.)
  1. Carousels. Posting multiple images in one post tends to be favored by the Instagram algorithm gods which then means your post will show up more often in potential visitor’s feeds. Plus, according to the latest sources, carousels generate the most engagement. Consider doing carousels that show the 5 best spots for burgers, for a drink outside, for romantic walks, etc.
  1. Video. No expensive productions needed. Just take your phone around town and capture some scenery. Most people scrolling on Instagram don’t have the volume on, so you don’t need to worry about adding music or getting the perfect interview for every video post. Authentic and aesthetic is the name of Instagram’s game. Start small and get more comfortable with it as video is only going to grow.

What NOT to post:

  1. Event Flyers. We see this every day with smaller destinations – even though it’s a big NO. It’s crucial to lift up local events, we get it. But as the destination’s representative, you are not doing your city or that event any favors with a flyer posted on Instagram. Talk with local leaders and stakeholders about what you need in order to share content about their events to promote them without showing an image of their poster. Posters are for utility poles and around the water cooler—not for social media.
  1. Off-brand, generic holiday graphics. Yes, we love Canva, too, but what no one loves is a generic graphic telling them “Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!” (If you’ve gotten this far in the blog and also have a Canva account for your destination, email me and I’ll help you get your brand guidelines loaded to your account—this has been a lifesaver for smaller organizations.)
  1. Low-rez, blurry pictures. It’s just not a good look.

Ways to upgrade your Instagram:

  1. Long-form content. Once you’ve mastered posting consistently and with beautiful imagery, you can take the next step by adding long-form content to the photos. Instagram has increasingly seen longer captions become a new norm as people are looking for more information without leaving the app. This is where strong, enticing and fun copywriting really comes into play. Consider repurposing some of your blog content into Instagram posts. One of the best ways to do this is to break up one long blog into several shorter posts that you can share over the week with different visuals.
  1. Instagram Stories. Stories live in two places—the top of the Instagram window for 24 hours, or as a saved highlight on your destination’s Instagram page. Use this space to quickly showcase what you have to offer a potential visitor: Food, Attractions, Sights, etc. which can help you build the know, love and trust factor. Feel free to use this space to show a little more personality. It can be less structured and formal, as long as it follows your destination’s vibe. Video coverage from a festival or event would be great here. Walking through a hotel to the front desk to show how friendly and welcoming the staff is, or even a weekly post from a favorite not-to-miss spot. When in doubt, check out other destinations that are rocking their Instagram for some inspiration and recreate it for your town.
  1. Highlights. It’s possible to build these highlights out so that when a new visitor comes to your page, they can easily see what you’ve got to offer before scrolling into the depths of your content for more. Keep in mind: much of the same Do’s and Don’ts are the same for Stories and Highlights: good imagery including UGC and bite-sized info (AND stay away from flyers in this space, too). 
  1. Guides. This is a relatively new feature originally intended to provide resources for people who are struggling during the pandemic. It’s now being rolled out across all accounts so you may or may not have access to this just yet. (If not, just be patient.) Guide formats are broken up into 3 parts: Places (recommend places in your city), Products (recommend your favorite products) and Posts (recommend posts you created or saved). When you’re ready to execute on the Guides, read this blog.

As travel begins to gradually pick back up, don’t underestimate the power of this free tool to showcase your location—from the best outdoor spots and COVID-prepared restaurants and attractions to the next event, attraction opening and the tried and true spots that make your destination stand out.