The best of non-profit advertising and marketing for social causes

Social Photography in your Communication Strategy: Instagram

Social Photography in your Communication Strategy: Instagram

Instagram is huge. Recently it became the largest mobile social network. Remarkable because the social photography app is only available for the iPhone until now.
I started with Instagram also last year. I stopped with Twitter and now I’m trying to express myself without words. I love it.

I was curious if brands, and in particular non-profits, use the network in their communication strategy. That was a disappointing search.
Socialfresh published an article in the autumn last year with a small list of brands using Instagram. And I found a smaller list of non-profits.

One of them is charity: water, the non-profit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations.
Gorgeous pictures from their field work and inside pictures which give the viewer a nice insight in their work.
I spoke with Paull Young lately, the Director of Digital at charity: water. I was curious about their thoughts and strategy. Read it after the break.


Clean water from a charity: water project in Brus Laguna, Honduras.


When and why did you start with Instagram?

charity: water is proud to have been one of the very first brands to join Instagram in January 2011. You’ll see in Instagram’s 2011 year in review that we were the first on the platform alongside NPR and the Boston Celtics.

Was it a corporate decision or accidental?

charity: water is an early adopter brand and we pride ourselves on being deeply ingrained in the social web — we love getting involved with new startups and trying innovative approaches to connecting with our supporters as well as bringing new people to the cause. In this case, several of our staff were using Instagram personally and loving the app (I blogged about it back in December2010). We like to use a policy of ‘do it wrong quickly’ in our approach to digital, we already had a huge library of great images, so it was an easy decision to start trialing instagram to see if our supporters would enjoy it!

What is the purpose?

Inspiration is the most important part of our digital strategy. We want to help people understand that they can truly change the world by joining the charity: water movement. We do this through a variety of tools – videos, photography, GPS of every water project. Instagram gives us one more avenue to put content in front of people and hopefully make an impact on them. I love the thought of someone riding the bus to work and thumbing through their Instagram photos, to suddenly be transported int o the developing world through images of people celebrating access to clean water.

Along with images from the field, we also use Instagram to give supporters a view into our day-to-day at charity: water – pictures from charity: ball, even pictures of the April Fools Day pranks the staff play on each other!


Founder @scottharrison addresses the crowd at charity: ball



Thanks to our friend @shak and his team at @spotify, our entire staff got a surprise in the mail today — signature charity: water rain jackets! We’re so excited, we’re hoping the sun goes away and it pours so we can really put them to work…


Is it part of an overall strategy?

Yes, Instagram is a tactic in our wider digital strategy.

Who’s responsible for the Instagram channel?

Our content team provides great images, and one of our digital staffers regularly updates the account and corresponds with our followers. We’re also working on getting our water project team and partners in the field to provide more instantaneous updates from the field as well – either by uploading them themselves or by texting pictures direct from our water projects to us to upload to the account.

Do you have guidelines for publishing on the network?

All of our photography is already approved by our content team, we then leave it up to the staff to judge the best content and schedule – informal is best here because it is more personal.

Why should NGOs use Instagram?

The most important opportunity NGOs have with the social web is to transparently connect donors and supporters with the work they are doing – Instagram can do this through beautiful visuals.

According to this list there are only four charities on Instagram. Do you know more?

No, there’s only early adopter brands in Instagram so far.

What do you think about the iPhone-only strategy (until now) from Instagram?

There’s something to be said for doing one thing, and doing it very well in an app strategy. Instagram nail this. The team is still very small and they’re doing amazing work. We’re wishing them big success!


A woman in Gatovu, Rwanda, walks home with a full Jerry can. (photo: Esther Havens)



Clean drinking water from a charity: water well in Kebert, Ethiopia, funded by Steve Spielvogel. (photo: Mo Scarpelli)


Tools and viewers

Instagram pictures are meant to share with the app but it is possible to view them in other ways.
A good widget for embedding on your own website is still hard to find.

BadgePlz made two especially for Instagram. One for embedding your own pictures. See below with the pictures from charity: water. And another widget for showing pictures based on a hashtag. We use that one on our homepage in the right column.

Other viewer tools:
Followgram: a web-based viewer and sharing tool
Webstagram: like Followgram
Statigram: a web-based managing tool for your account.
And there is lot more out there!

Founder of Osocio. It all started with collecting election posters in 1973. And that's never stopped. Read more.
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