How to engage your community with Instagram callouts

The NPR Visuals team has engaged with the smartphone-toting, photo-taking, audience by asking them to share photos around various themes, stories and series on social media. Instagram in particular has been a useful platform for these storytelling projects, NPR Visuals assistant producer Emily Bogle said.

Emily shares when to do an Instagram callout, how to plan, carry one out, and many more tips below:

What Is a Callout?

A callout means we’re asking our audience to share something with us. On Instagram, it means asking for photos or videos on a specific topic using a hashtag to gather it all together. You can also do photo callouts on other social media platforms, or even via email.

Read this post to learn more about six ways to use social callouts.

When to Do an Instagram Callout

NPR’s new global development blog is called “Goats and Soda.” NPR asked people to share their own photos with #goatsandsoda on Instagram and Twitter. Credit clockwise from top left by Instagrammers @le_cuidad, @cleanwash, @kathiemiller and @glomean

First off, the most important word is visual. Make sure this is something you can actually take a photo of (like goats). Ask yourself: is it natural to take a photo of this?

Timing is important. Make sure there is enough time to plan and promote the callout so it will succeed. Consider doing it for longer series so interest can grow over time.

Finally, do you want audience involvement in this series or story? If not, it won’t make sense to ask for their stories and photos.

Starting Your Callout

Planning is your friend. Create a roadmap that includes how you will use photos, how you will collect them, and brainstorm a hashtag that is specific, but not too confusing.

Before you launch, make some example images. Ask colleagues or friends to submit some ‘seed images’ that will serve as a foundation. Include example captions. This way people will have a guide for what you’re looking for.

How to Launch Your Callout

Photos that KPCC and NPR used as example images for a callout called #PSHardwork. Credit clockwise from top left by Instagrammers, @shelserkin, @johnwpoole, @mishobaranovic

Write a blog post that introduces the series.

This introductory post from a collaboration between NPR and KPCC clearly defines the guidelines, deadline, that they’re looking for stories not just pretty photos, and provides examples.

This post from the Cook Your Cupboard series was a helpful secondary introduction post with tips for taking good photos with your smartphone. There were noticeably better photos submitted and the audience knew what the team was looking for.

Share your callout widely and across many channels. Be persistent. Not getting much pick-up? Can you reach out directly to popular Instagrammers in your community? Can you promote it differently?

Think of many ways to get the word out, and continue writing stories about it including submissions. This will reward those who already shared images. Stories don’t have to be online – stations have done related stories on air that they found from submissions.

Wrapping up Your Callout

Plan a meeting to discuss what worked and what could be improved for next time. Adapt and make changes for next time.

Despite preplanning, some callouts fail. That’s ok! Learn from this for next time and make changes needed for the next callout.

Tools to Help During an Instagram Callout

Responses from the #WHYISTAY callout on This callout was started by WFAE and involved many other member stations. Credit Websta.Me

Some of the tools that can help with workflow during an Instagram callout:

  • is one site that offers search capabilities on a desktop (Instagram only has search on the app)
  • If This, Then That creates commands that can help you multitask. For example, if you post a photo on Instagram, it posts to your callout Tumblr. It is very easy to use, but you can also use it it more advanced ways. 

Teresa Gorman is a former member of the NPR Training team.