February 20, 2015

7 Tips for Hosting an Instagram Tour of a Historic Place

One of the realities of the preservation movement is that it needs to continue to cultivate younger, more diverse followers. But to reach a generation that may be less interested in learning preservation facts and figures and more interested in experiencing history through lenses like design and pop culture, you need a different approach.

Hosting an Instagram tour of a historic place can do just that, and has the added bonus of meeting Millennials where they spend a good chunk of their time: on their phones.

The idea is to offer a behind-the-scenes, curated tour of a historic place and have attendees document the experience through photographs. The photographs are then aggregated and shared on Instagram and labeled with a hashtag that helps identify the event. (Check out this tour example at one of our National Treasures, Union Station.)

Smartphone Users

photo by: Andres Rodriguez

An Instagram tour is a great way for preservationists to reach a younger demographic that is increasingly inseparable from its smartphones.

Here are seven tips to running a successful Instagram tour.

1. Be Organized

Have people sign up for specific time slots and be sure to keep your tour sizes manageable -- about 12 to 14 participants at a time. Keep in mind that some people will be no-shows while others will bring last-minute guests. Give yourself a headcount cushion to make sure things run smoothly.

2. Make It Unique

Your tour should offer a new experience for your participants. Revealing new elements of a place’s history, showing spaces that are usually off-limits, or highlighting areas in the middle of restoration efforts are great ways to generate buzz and make participants feel special.

3. Choose a Good Tour Guide

Make sure the tour guide for the event is a strong storyteller and public speaker. Their enthusiasm and deep knowledge of the place will set the tone for the event. Have them point out unusual or little-known historical facts about the site and find elements that your participants are likely to relate to. It’s also important for the guide to understand what spots will offer good photo opportunities.

Tour Guide

photo by: Mr.TinDC/Flickr/CC BY ND 2.0

Having a good tour guide will make the tour that much more enjoyable for the participants.

4.. Make Each Stop Matter.

Each of the places you intend to show participants must be both historically relevant and visually appealing. When planning the event, include 7-10 minutes at each stop for photographs and a short explanation of the stop’s significance.

5. Promote a Specific Hashtag

Instruct your participants to tag their photos with a predetermined hashtag that references the site or organization. This will make it possible to track their photos during and after the event. It will also help promote your work.

6. Make the Digital Physical

Find a way to make the tour live beyond Instagram. A good way to do this is to select some of the best photos from your tours, blow them up, and showcase them at your site. The photos can be the centerpiece of a follow-up event that brings participants back together to talk about their experience. A follow-up event also helps you build rapport with your new supporters.

7. Build Relationships

Use the tour sign-up process to gather participants’ contact information. That way, after the event, you’ll be able to reach out to them and encourage future interaction. You can also use Instagram tours as a way to generate awareness leading up to larger events or milestones for a site. The tours can serve as interactive advertising opportunities that will familiarize new allies with your organization.

With these seven tips in mind, your Instagram tour should be ready for its close up. All that will be left to do is have your participants point and shoot. Good luck!

David Weible was the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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