Trend Spotting: Instagram & the U.S. Government

You just never know when the first whiff of a trend is going to reach out and grab you to say, "Hey, pay attention to me!"

I was scanning through my feeds tonight, and realized that I'd just seen the third article in a week about United States government agencies now on Instagram.

I know, your first thought was, "Instagram, really?"

You mean the popular social/photo sharing application started by two Stanford University graduates and purchased by Facebook a little over a year ago for a cool billion dollars? The free iPhone and Android application used by 130 million users a month who've shared 16 billion photos, at a rate of 45 million photos a day, and which garner 1 billion likes a day?

Our federal government at the forefront of social media?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

The first item I saw about the White House featuring President Obama, really didn't surprise me, and I retweeted it without much thought.  I wrote a blog post late last year, How Social Networking Won an Election and Paid for Cancer Treatment, about the unbelievably social-savvy team working on President Obama's re-election team. 

 And the article from Mashable about the Department of the Interior joining Instagram actually delighted me — a new opportunity to view stunning photos —  636 at last count. (This is from someone who is notoriously lacking in the photo taking skills arena, according to her teenager.)

Just one row of stunningly gorgeous photos from the Department of the Interior's Instagram account. And they're all this beautiful!

But tonight, the article from Forbes about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) extending the reach of The TSA Blog TSA Week in Review feature by opening an Instagram account and sharing photos of confiscated items — now that one both made me pay attention and frightened me. Fireworks, loaded guns, a belt buckle knife. Seriously, what were these people thinking?

Instagram photo of a belt buckle knife confiscated by the TSA.

Of course, now I'm intrigued. It turns out that NASA has been on Instagram long enough to attract 345,000 followers. The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources only has 66 followers, but I'm sure they'll catch up. The U.S. Air Force has 1287 followers. I'm stopping now — I could easily stay up until 3 am googling, finding and following these accounts.

When you step back and take a look, this trend makes sense. Check out the website. It's enabled with social sharing buttons, and has hundreds of free apps. (When I'm done with this blog post, I'm definitely going to check out CIA Mobile.) Many agencies have Twitter accounts.

If you want to reach out to and connect with people — prospects, customers, constituents, students, friends, volunteers, advocates — you need to go where they are. As the U.S. government has clearly figured out.