How Tourism Australia dominated Instagram

If you want to exponentially grow your Instagram account, get other people to do your work for you.

Just ask 31-year-old Jesse Desjardins, social media manager for Tourism Australia, whose @Australia Instagram account recently hit 500,000 followers, making it the most followed account among travel and tourism brands globally.

“If we went out and took the photos ourselves, it would be impossible to get the same results,” said Mr Desjardins, who is one of just three on the Tourism Australia social media team who trawl through around 900 photos a day posted to the @Australia account from around the world. Instagrammers use the hashtag #SeeAustralia to have their shot seen by Tourism Australia, who then republish the best five or six shots each day. Since the account, which is managed 24 hours a day, was launched two years ago, almost half a million photos of beaches, kangaroos, deserts and other iconic Australian imagery have been sent in by followers.

“We choose images based on research that Tourism Australia has done,” said Mr Desjardins. “Obviously people come to Australia because of the landscapes and the animals, the things that make Australia unique.”

Australia has blown other global destinations out of the water in terms of Instagram followers, with Canada, for example, attracting 52,531 followers, and South Africa drawing just 1098. Travel industry website Skift recently looked at 2000 accounts of destinations as brands and out of the 200 most popular photos, 197 were from Tourism Australia. And while the average destination gets 360 likes per photo, Australia gets more than 8200, Skift's research revealed.

Jason Clampet, Skift co-founder, said that one reason for Australia's Instagram success has been the destination itself.

“Australia is pretty photogenic,” said Mr Clampet. Instagram users also share their images with @Australia, because “there's a big chance their images will be broadcast out to hundreds of thousands of people and they'll get credit in the process”.

But the biggest reason, he says, “is that the Tourism Australia social media team figured out a way to encourage people to share their photos and then broadcast them back to travellers who may be dreaming of a trip one day, or just got back from one, or are trying to decide if they want to go or not.”

Indeed, 18 months ago Tourism Australia wrote a social media strategy entitled the World's Biggest Social Media Team, which aimed to create a platform that the industry and fans could build on top of.

“It's all about the strength of our community,” said Mr Desjardins. “I look at other brands in the US, better-funded brands who would have social media teams of 50 or 60 people. We only have a small team, but when you look closely it's actually the 900,000 people who work in this [tourism] industry and the 23 million people who live [in Australia] who are all part of our team.”

But has all this Instagram success actually attracted physical visitors to Australia? “Absolutely,” said Mr Desjardins, although he's unable to put a figure on it. "We know from the feedback we get that tourism operators get a huge amount of additional interest, enquiries and bookings when they're featured in our social media posts,” said Mr Desjardins.