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It’s a phone … it’s a camera … it’s a smartphone!

With the ability to take great pictures on their phones, travelers are sharing vacation photos with their personal networks more than ever. Instagram, the popular mobile app, enables users to manipulate photos with filters and then post, like and comment on other’s pictures. It’s an application with great potential for travel brands because it’s used extensively by bloggers, and consumers are catching Instagram fever, too. If you haven’t considered Instagram for your brand, it’s time you did.

If you’re still skeptical, we’ve debunked a few myths to help you see the potential and take advantage of this powerful medium.

Myth 1: Instagram is for consumers, not for brands.
Although Facebook, which purchased Instagram earlier this year, offers brand pages that are distinct from individual pages, Instagram does not. Brand and personal accounts are the same, and that’s where the power lies. Done right, consumers can have an engaging experience with your brand on Instagram. Many users are natural brand advocates, tagging images with hashtags and @ mentions that can be searched and followed on Twitter as well as Instagram. So while consumers posted those photos, your brand is benefiting from the exposure. You can also add images to create a crowd-sourced brand gallery.

Myth 2: Instagram is just another social media platform to manage. I’ve already got my team focused on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t want to add another channel to the mix.
BecauseInstagram easily integrates with other social media platforms, think of it as a tool for enhancing your social media program and not a standalone channel. Fans can quickly share Instagram photos on Facebook and other networks. And brands can get in the act as well, tweeting, using images on a blog or posting on Facebook consumers’ photos mentioning your company or destination.

Myth 3: Instagram doesn’t allow a brand to showcase its personality.
Au contraire! Brands can curate photos around specific attributes or areas of business. Instagram is ideally suited for providing behind-the-scenes looks and allowing potential customers a chance to engage in new, fun ways.For instance, Air Asia’s Instagram account is focused on showing the human side of the business, featuring many shots of employees. Colorful planes photos romanticize air travel on Southwest Airlines’ feed. Quirky pictures of four-legged guests, fish, and, of course, people are peppered throughout Kimpton Hotels’ account, reflecting its brand personality.

Myth 4: Instagram is static and one-way.
You can repost photos published by others on your Instagram account and repurpose them on your blog, Twitter feed or Facebook page. But that’s just a start. You can also host contests or promotions leveraging Instagram photos to grow your fan base and deepen consumer connections. New York City’s “I Love NYC” contest encouraged Instagram users to post photos illustrating why they love the metropolis. Judges selected the top ten pictures, which were displayed in Times Square and on the city’s social media channels. The photographer receiving the most consumer votes was named the city’s official Instagrammer for a day and won the right to photograph the mayor.

Myth 5: Instagram isn’t as mainstream as Facebook and Twitter, so we can create an account, sit back and see what happens.
Sure, it’s smart to monitorwhat’s happening, but that’s not really enough. You can create a loyal following for your brand by showing you are committed to the Instagram community and doing your part to foster engagement. It’s not easy, but it can be a “snap” and well worth the effort for travel marketers.

Vicky Hastings is managing director of Maxwell PR, based in Portland, Ore. For more such posts from her, go to the Maxwell FreeThink blog.