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Special Project

Special Project
From the 11th Annual Shorty Awards

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em: Philadelphia introduces the Instagram Exchange Program

Entered in Travel & Tourism


VISIT PHILADELPHIA is our name and our mission. As the official tourism marketing agency for the Philadelphia region, our purpose is three-fold: build Greater Philadelphia's image, drive visitation and boost the economy.

For the last decade, we have made a name as a social media pioneer, leading the destination marketing industry into new platforms and new ways to use them. Today, our company's social media accounts—known by fans as Visit Philly—serve up content to 1.6 million (and always growing).

We noticed that New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, DC all vie for the same leisure travelers. But, while we compete for the same audience, we are also prime feeder markets for one another. In 2017, VISIT PHILADELPHIA spearheaded the perfect program to address this relationship: the Influencer Exchange Program, where each major metropolitan destination selected a major Instagrammer from their community to sponsor on a Northeast Corridor journey.

We had four primary objectives for this social media marketing initiative:

Quantitatively, we would measure success of the program two ways: engagements and impressions on the photos from the project—on DMO accounts and influencer accounts.

Beyond the numbers, we knew that success would mean building better relationships with our colleagues at East Coast destinations and seeing positive comments on Instagram from potential travelers to measure their interest in visiting.

Strategy and Execution

Strategy and Tactics:

According to Visit Philly's annual social media survey of more than 4,000 of our dedicated fans and followers, Instagram is the second-most-consulted social media platform that people use while they're planning travel. We wanted to leverage this inspirational power of Instagram to showcase Philadelphia—and its restaurants, hotels, outdoor spaces, Historic District, public art and attractions—through the eyes of some of the most influential and trusted local photographers.

The research and reasoning behind our strategy:


The key DMOs for Philadelphia, New York and Washington, DC each identified an Instagram influencer in their community with a strong local following. The three influencers that we invited from each city were:

Washington, DC:

New York City:


Once we had chosen the influencers, we developed a contract that held each photographer responsible for posting at least three static photos a day and 10 Instagram Story posts a day.

We secured transportation and lodging partners, which were also guaranteed (via contract) at least one post for each partner:

Beginning in September and ending in December 2017, the influencers traveled (with one guest) to each of their non-hometown cities, and they spent at least two days on each trip.

The influencers posted to their individual Instagram accounts. DMOs and partners were able to repost content on their own Instagram channels as they deemed appropriate.

In addition, we (Visit Philly) paid our influencer representative Albert Lee $300 per day to cover food and other travel-related expenses.


Evaluation: Success, Results or ROI:

Total coverage:

Washington, DC coverage:

New York City coverage:

Philadelphia coverage:

While we were very impressed by the total coverage, we were moved by the overall sentiment in the comments on these posts. It was clear that the images created during the Instagram Exchange Program were inspiring travel decisions (see below and find more in the attachment).

We saw hundreds of comments on posts, including:

The results were impressive, but the relationships that developed were priceless. Early conversations with our partners in Washington, DC indicate that they would like to repeat the program with new influencers.


Entrant Company / Organization Name

Visit Philadelphia

Entry Credits