Nicole J. Davis
This is the Perfect Social Media Strategy
What if I told you that there exists a perfect Instagram account? One that appeals to people from all backgrounds, regions, and all along the political and cultural spectrum. A single Instagram account that is both a meme queen and a powerful educational tool. One that Zoomers and Boomers, and all those in-between, love in equal measure.
What if I told you that this Instagram account was run by a bureaucratic agency within the United States Federal Government? Would you believe me?
Well, it’s true! This perfect Instagram account belongs to none other than the US National Park Service (NPS, @nationalparkservice)
A Little History The National Parks Service was formally created in 1916. Today, the agency is responsible for protecting 84 million acres of land across every state. Writer and historian Wallace Stegner called national parks, "The best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst." The NPS protects not only wilderness areas, but national monuments, historic and sacred sites, sea, river, and lakeshores, battlefields, recreation areas, and gardens in the US capital. The NPS also supports non-profits, arts organizations, public schools, universities, as well as research, innovation, and environmental stewardship institutions. “There is nothing so American as our national parks. The fundamental idea behind the parks is that the country belongs to the people.” — President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1934 What was true then, is true today more than 85 years after FDR spoke these words. While the technology has changed, and the ways in which we learn about and access these spaces has evolved, the idea that national parks are for the people continues to endure. This idea extends to how the NPS engages with its audience on social media. NPS on Social Media What makes the NPS’s Instagram account stand out in the crowded online space is that it is, first a foremost, a force for good on a social platform notorious for making us feel bad. The NPS isn’t selling us anything, other than appreciation for America’s wilderness and history. The NPS takes seriously its responsibility as a public service and uses social media to engage and inspire, while reminding us that the land belongs to the people and our people are diverse.
So, it isn’t difficult to see why the account boasts 2.9 million followers, 70k average post likes, a respectable 2.1% engagement rate, and an average of 500 overwhelmingly positive comments per post. Not bad for a US Government agency and its band of nature lovers in khaki short sleeves! The NPS’s success on Instagram can be distilled into a simple formula, one that can be easily adapted for any brand, industry, or marketing campaign.
The Formula The NPS uses the below strategy with intention and near perfect execution.
Educate and Inspire
Humor and Relevance
Focused Mission The NPS’s Instagram is a master class in staying in one’s lane. Their success in this arena is due in large part to a strong formal mission statement.
“The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
All NPS social content fits neatly within this focused and intentional mission and it never strays. This helps build and maintain trust among followers. Users know when they visit the NPS’s page, they will only see content related to the NPS. That is critical when establishing a strong presence on any social platform, but especially Instagram where followers can be fickle.
Visual Consistency The NPS is unique in that it can source its content from all of its physical sites. This includes every wilderness area it protects, all the flora and fauna found within those areas, the stories, histories, and visitor experiences in the parks are all at the NPS’s fingertips. There are many ways they could approach sharing such a wealth of content. However, the NPS’s visual brand is pretty straight forward and exactly what users want.
There are very few text posts, they don’t over-design, and they don’t post images of influencers in straw hats. Nope. All they post is high quality, unfiltered pictures of natural beauty. This consistency is another way in which the NPS builds trust among its follower base. The NPS gives the people what they want. Educate and Inspire
When it comes to nature, the NPS is among the best educational resources found anywhere. They showcase their knowledge and expertise front and center on their Instagram feed. Perhaps the best aspect of their posts is the caption text. When they post a beautiful vista of Yellowstone, Joshua Tree, or an
adorable otter, the caption always contains interesting, useful, and contextual information. A user could spend 15 seconds or 5 hours on the NPS’s feed and walk away having learned something new. Did you know badgers can run 20 miles per hour? Well, now you do. Thanks, NPS!
Humor and Relevance The NPS has an excellent sense of humor. We guarantee at least one, if not several, of their posts will genuinely make you laugh out loud. They’re meme queens and have their finger on the pulse of pop-culture moments while never being afraid of a good throwback. Their jokes are punny, relevant, and able to be appreciated by people of all ages. It is one of the reasons that their captions are always worth reading. Everyone can enjoy a good joke about fish.
The humor is one of the best aspects of the NPS’s Instagram account. It not only keeps their content feeling fresh and relevant, but it carves out a space for good old-fashioned fun, with shareable, tagable content that everyone can participate in.
Adopting and Adapting the NPS Strategy The NPS account, while not an obvious candidate, is truly a great example of a scalable Instagram strategy that can be applied to any user, business, brand, or marketing campaign. The strategy, distilled down to its most basic elements is simple:
Focus on what you do best.
Use high quality images meant to catch the eye.
The NPS is proof that the formula works. Now go enjoy pictures of America’s parks!