How this Australian Instagram account amassed 3.2 million followers

CNN  — 

Instagram and travel go hand-in-hand these days – the free-flow jaw-dropping cliffs and picture-perfect sunsets have inspired new adventures all over the world.

One Instagram account that we could double-tap for days? Tourism Australia. The colorful stream is jam-packed with ticklish koalas, whale sharks, cliff treks, enchanting flora and surreal desert scenes.

Currently, the account has more than 3.2 million followers and reports 20% year-on-year growth, with 100 million views on Instagram per month, making it the world’s most popular among global tourism brands.

We caught up with Nick Henderson, Tourism Australia’s global manager of social media, to learn more about the strategy behind the account’s success.

Based in Sydney, the Melbourne native says it comes down to a mix of stop-in-your-tracks images, great storytelling and a sense of humor.

What’s your basic strategy?

“We use our Instagram account to inspire people around the world to visit Australia by showcasing incredible destinations and experiences across the country,” Henderson tells CNN Travel.

“We cover everything from the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru to lesser known locations, such as the Buccaneer Archipelago in Western Australia or Lord Howe Island.

“It’s not just about eye-catching imagery, though visuals are certainly a priority.

“We also tell interesting stories about the locations, experiences and tourism operators to give our audience a great sense of what they will experience if they visit.”

How do you source amazing images?

“We use a combination of user-generated content, and images and videos that we source,” says Henderson.

“We encourage Instagram users to share their photos from around Australia using the #SeeAustralia hashtag.

“Each day, up to 4,000 pieces of content are submitted to us through the hashtag from tourists, tourism operators and local Australians passionate about where they live.

“We also work closely with a core group of contributors who I believe are some of the best photographers with accounts on Instagram, anywhere in the world.”

What do you consider when curating photos?

“We believe the images we post should be an accurate representation of what people will see during their visit, so we avoid posting shots that are heavily filtered or edited,” says Henderson.

“We also want to showcase as many of the amazing tourism operators and stunning destinations within Australia as possible.

“Travelers to Australia love our beaches, food and wine and native wildlife so we ensure those types of posts make up a core element of our content strategy.”

Why do you think the account is so successful?

“We publish really authentic content rather than highly edited images you could expect to find in glossy tourism brochures – the account shows the real Australia,” says Henderson.

“We also don’t take ourselves too seriously and try to bring a smile to people’s faces through the content and captions we publish.

“Through our captions, we publish detailed information about the experiences people can have in Australia and we even have many locals telling us that they are constantly discovering new places in their own country through our Instagram account.”

Which post was the most popular of all time?

“A series of images from New Year’s Eve in Sydney has been our most successful post to date with more than 220,000 likes,” says Henderson.

“Despite the popularity of this post, I don’t think our social media coverage of this event quite does it justice. To witness the fireworks display in person is a truly unforgettable experience.”

“This shot of the wreck of SS City of Adelaide on Magnetic Island in Queensland captured people’s attention attractinpig more than 185,000 likes,” says Henderson.

“Incredibly, what’s below the surface looks even better than what’s above it as a stunning dive sight.”

Any advice for aspiring Instagram gurus?

“When you work in social media, it is important that you don’t take things too seriously.

“When we saw this shot of a turtle on Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef we were a little taken aback as the turtles found there are known for being very friendly,” says Henderson.

“Thankfully ‘Wayne’ was a hit with our Instagram audience.

“The most important thing is to find a way to stand out. If your feed looks like the feed of every other travel-based account people aren’t going to have any reason to follow you.

“Actively engage – comment and like – on posts of those accounts that are relevant to you. This will help you build relationships with the owners of other accounts and could present opportunities for cross-promotion.

“And, if you run a business find ways of encouraging people to share and tag images of their experience.”

Wayne's not normally in such a bad mood - he's just not his usual happy self on Mondays, which is understandable! Thankfully, the other turtles that live on @queensland's #GreatBarrierReef are very polite and love to swim with humans. Photo: @_markfitz

What about photography tips?

“If you can capture an image that really stands out, there’s a good chance it will grab your audience’s attention,” Henderson recommends.

“Try to surprise people, make them laugh, or intrigue them – anything that will stop them from scrolling past your content.”

“There are some basic principles that you can apply. For example: shooting a subject that features bright colors will give you an edge.

“Something really easy to shoot, such as a shot of Sydney’s Bondi Beach with blue sky and turquoise water, always captures people’s attention as does a shot of Melbourne’s colorful street art-covered laneways.”

Any key colors that perform best?

“We find that any image that contains the colors pink and purple performs particularly well, such as shots of New South Wales in spring or Western Australia’s Lake Hillier,” says Henderson.

“Another tip: You should also shoot your image in portrait orientation so that it covers more of the feed – this may not sound particularly advantageous but makes a huge difference.”

On Wednesdays, we wear pink. This vivid pink body of water is #LakeHillier, and you'll find it on Middle Island near #Esperance off the far south coast of @westernaustralia.  Photo: @jaimenhudson

Do you use Instagram Stories as well?

“We do use Instagram Stories regularly. We find they’re a great way of engaging directly with our audience and its format allows us to tell more of the story,” says Henderson.

“For example, we recently asked our audience what was the one thing they’d like to know about Australia and had thousands of replies.”

“We responded directly to the most common questions and are progressively addressing questions with information contained in our captions.”

Why do you think Oz is a fantastic destination for Instagram?

“There are so many jaw-droppingly beautiful places and fantastic experiences to capture in Australia,” says Henderson.

“On any given day we receive images of sun-drenched remote beaches, unique Australian wildlife, bubblegum-pink lakes, iconic city-based ocean pools, outback moonscapes and world-class food and wine in stunning settings.

“And the best part is that, unlike some tourist destinations. it’s rare to find yourself competing with hordes of other tourists to get the perfect picture.”

Any personal favorite posts?

“Visually, this photo of a whale shark taken at Ningaloo Reef on Australia’s Coral Coast is a personal favorite of mine,” says Henderson.

“We see so many incredible photos of people swimming with these phenomenal creatures at Ningaloo Reef but not from this angle.

"Ahoy there, I'm coming up for a look!" snapped this astonishing photo of a #whaleshark at #CoralBay in @australiascoralcoast.

What’s your personal favorite place to travel in Australia?

“It’s hard not to love the Great Barrier Reef,” says Henderson.

“It’s almost impossible to capture a bad photo when swimming with the abundance of colorful marine life and incredible coral formations on the Reef.

“I also love the ruggedness of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, where the road hugs the coastline.

“Many tourists travel this road to see the Twelve Apostles but capture some of their best shots along the journey there.”

Have you learned any habits about travelers through the account?

“Yes, definitely. We’ve seen that Instagram can play a role in people’s decision-making process on where to travel,” says Henderson.

“Places like Rottnest Island in Western Australia and the lavender farms in Tasmania have seen significant growth in visitation, partly as a result of their ‘Instagramability’”.

If we’re looking for uncharted Australian territory, where should we go?

“The Whitsundays in Queensland are absolutely stunning and, while it is a very popular destination, there are plenty of uninhabited islands that can make this part of the world feel very uncharted at times,” says Henderson.

“Another beautiful part of Australia that is less well known is the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.

“Parts of the peninsula are rugged, remote, and absolutely spectacular.”

Have you been inspired to travel anywhere, based on the photos?

“My wishlist continues to grow. Every day someone submits a photo of Australia that puts another thing on that list,” says Henderson.

“Today, my top three consists of Kakadu in the Northern Territory, a road trip around Tasmania, and the Kimberley in Western Australia.

“Ask me tomorrow, however, and that list may be different!”

Nawurlandja lookout, Nourlangie Rock
Beautiful aerial footage of Kakadu, Australia
00:51 - Source: CNN