Inside the New York Auto Show's Instagram Engagement Strategy

Find out how the show generated 16,000 images from the public and a select group of influencers.

By Mitra Sorrells May 6, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

At the show's social media center, known as the Buzz Hub, attendees could view the event’s Instagram feed, charge their devices, and use iPads to see tweets, news stories, and a virtual tour.

Photo: Courtesy of New York International Auto Show

When it comes to social media, the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” is not just a cliché. Photographs are consistently some of the most engaging and shared content on social networks. That’s why the New York International Auto Show, which ran April 18 to 27 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, created a campaign that focused on using Instagram to share images of the newest automotive models and concept vehicles. The effort generated more than 16,000 photos on the platform with the #NYIAS hashtag and nearly doubled the show’s followers on the site, from 8,500 to more than 15,000.

The strategy, developed and executed by Situation Interactive, involved both public outreach and the targeted engagement of a select group of Instagram influencers. The agency created what is called the “Instagram Start Team,” a group of five active users who were granted access during the two initial days that are exclusively for the press.

“When the media comes, they may be working for a select publication and they may have a very specific agenda of what they need to cover and what the focus of their reader is. Here is an opportunity for this group to come, their audience is diverse, and they are not responsible to someone who hired them to come there. They’re shooting what’s of interest to them,” said Alan Liebensohn, the show’s executive director.

Situation Interactive selected the group not only based on their follower count—which varies from less than 1,000 to more than 128,000—but also because they are either car enthusiasts or New York-centric photographers. “We wanted to make sure that … having photos from the auto show and of the vehicles wouldn’t be a jarring left turn from what their Instagram feeds are already showing,” said Stephanie Sciandra, the agency's creative strategist. They took a total of 90 photos, which the show has permission to use in future promotional materials.

Thousands more photos were shared on Instagram by the general public, starting on opening night when organizers offered free tickets to the first 100 people who posted a selfie showing the event’s logo. Throughout the rest of the show, organizers handed out merchandise such as T-shirts and hats to people who shared images on Instagram. “It’s not, ‘Take a photo for your chance to win.’ It’s more that we are already getting these amazing photos and how do we randomly surprise and delight these super-enthusiastic auto show attendees who are already taking great photos and engage with them and give them a little cherry on top,” Sciandra said.

Another new visual element of the show this year was a virtual tour created in partnership with Google Business View. Two Google-certified photographers spent eight hours overnight at the show photographing all four floors. Organizers shared the tour on the event website and on social networks. “A million square feet at the Javits Center is intimidating,” Sciandra said. “To be able to look beforehand and see where cars were and plan your trip and path accordingly was a really nice resource for people.”

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