7 ways TSA creates an Instagram feed that is ‘terrifying and totally awesome’

Snakes on a plane? No, thanks. Dud hand grenades? Bullets smuggled in Bibles? TSA catches all kinds of stuff you don’t want on board, and it is using its photos to educate the public.

You remember the good, old Transportation Security Administration, the federal agency that slows airport travel to a shuffle and peeks into your luggage when you fly.

Do you appreciate, though, what these devoted public servants and viewers of flying-public flabbiness catch every day?

Consider the knives, tomahawks, antique bombs, dud grenades, loaded firearms and hollowed-out Bibles filled with bullets that various nitwits and ne’er-do-wells try to sneak past TSA in carry-ons.

By documenting all this in photos, the TSA has won 447,000 followers on Instagram and reminded the public why a bit of patience is in order when you are asked to raise your hands and grin while standing in a digital scanner whose operator can see through your clothes.

In the Ragan Training video, “Innovate with Instagram: Secrets of building brands and followers with buzzworthy visuals,” Curtis “Bob” Burns of TSA’s office of strategic communications and public affairs explains how the agency’s Instagram account has drawn such a fascinated followership. Even Jimmy Kimmel mentioned the feed on his late-night television show.

Here are some tips from the folks in the blue latex gloves:

1. Inform the public, and win over skeptics.

In 2015, TSA screened 708 million travelers—1.9 million per day—at more than 450 airports nationwide, Burns says. The men and women in blue peered into 1.6 billion carry-on bags and 432 million checked bags while also screening 12.9 million airport employees.

TSA wants to communicate better with the public, so that they remember to stow that combat knife in their luggage rather than set off alarms trying to sneak it onboard to pick their teeth with after dinner.

“The more they know before they get to the checkpoint, the easier their travel is going to be and the easier our officers’ job in the checkpoint is going to be,” Burns says.

Likewise, Burns says, TSA hopes to change the conversation from “I got a pat-down yesterday,” to, “Oh, my God, now I know why they’re checking my bag. Look at the stuff people are taking into the airport.”

@TSA is so astonishing at times, it has won fans in the news media as well. Huffington Post headlined a story, “Here’s Why You Should Follow The TSA On Instagram.” Wired wrote, “THE TSA’S INSTAGRAM FEED IS TERRIFYING AND TOTALLY AWESOME.”

“Though bringing throwing stars and live snakes on a plane seem to be obvious poor choices, the feed proves that certain individuals just don’t heed the prohibited items list,” Wired reported, adding that “one thing the bureaucratic behemoth has definitely done right is to create an always entertaining and occasionally unbelievable Instagram feed.”

Who but TSA offers the object lesson of the traveler who tried to smuggle snakes and tortoises in his pants?

Who else would chronicle the folks who sent a rotting-corpse prop from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” through the baggage scanner? (Clearly, that should be considered carrion luggage.)

Similarly, if you want to be reassured that somebody is stopping guns from getting onto planes, @TSA is your destination.

2. Put your visual content to use.

Is Instagram for you? If your entire business has no images to offer beyond the spreadsheets you process every day, perhaps not. But if you have interesting images (including those acquired backstage) consider using the platform to inform, educate, sell and advertise, Burns suggests.

“Do you have a steady source of interesting content?” he asks.

3. Share without using the @ symbol.

Here’s an advantage over Twitter: Instagram has made it easier to share with parties who have expressed interest in your topic. Click on the curving arrow beneath the photo. When the words “SEND TO” appear, choose whom you wish to share with, type your message and send to the group.

“Once you do that now, it saves that group and you can name that group so you can have multiple groups on Instagram,” Burns says.

4. Share hashtag and location pages.

Just as you can share with individuals and groups, you can do the same with hashtags and locations. Go to Instagram search, type in what you’re looking for, and find the hashtag page. You can then click the arrow and share that hashtag page with any of your followers.

For example, TSA might share with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the National Weather Service.

5. Use Instagram’s free apps.

Burns recommends some free apps to enhance your images. Layout is a collage app that enables you to combine pictures. Hyperlapse allows you to take time-lapse videos and condense them to a few seconds.

Those features are exceedingly helpful “if you have a lot of content that you want to share but you want to speed it up a little bit,” Burns says.

Boomerang enables you to “capture a friend jumping off a diving board, defying physics as she flies back and forth through the air,” in Instagram’s words.

Also, measure your Instagram data on Iconosquare, Burns suggests. Find out the most popular time of the day people are reading your content, or learn about the followers you’ve lost or gained.

6. Edit your photos.

Filters and other tools can help you edit your photos, Burns says. Although TSA brass forbids the use of filters, the tools he does use include Lux, which has a sliding bar that helps you to correct underexposed photos and adjust contrast.

“You can make some pictures look pretty snazzy with these filters,” Burns says.

“It’s important for me to have this, because a lot of the pictures I get are taken in the field in a poorly lit environment.”

You can adjust everything from warmth and saturation to color and highlights, while also shifting the tilt of an image.

7. Be judicious with hashtags.

“Hashtags can also drive people crazy,” Burns says.

He learned this in the most public of forums. One of the first Instagram images TSA posted made it onto “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Victory! Except for this: “He said we use hashtags like a 13-year-old girl.”

Live and learn—just like the guy who thought “praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” was a biblical mandate.

In the end, @TSA has helped thousands understand what security officials are up against.

Says Burns, “It’s nice to have [more than] 400,000 people there that you can communicate with when you need to.”


(Image via)


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.