Social Enterprise Instagrams

Reading this week:

  • The Emperor’s New Road by Jonathan E. Hillman
  • Shadow Cities by Robert Neuwirth
  • Blinded by Humanity by Martin Barber
  • Africa uprising: Popular protest and political change by Adam Branch and Zachariah Mampilly

I was at a little bit of a loss as to what to write about this week. I haven’t done much and we’re about to embrace the crush of writing papers that I should have started weeks ago, but haven’t. I thought about writing on my reflections on Thanksgiving, and how my single favorite expression of American-ness is that people, as soon as they find out you don’t have a place to go for Thanksgiving, will invite you to their place, even foreigners who don’t celebrate the holiday (there’s a lot to unpack about the history of genocide against Native Americans, but still the invite-you-over bit is nice). Or maybe review the various Thanksgivings I’ve had over the years, with my fellow Navy peeps or abroad in the Peace Corps. I even pondered if there was something to write about the Berkshires, where my super amazing girlfriend and I went, I think primarily for sheep photography opportunities, as demonstrated at the top.

Instead of all that, I’m going to briefly make fun of the Instagram accounts of various social enterprises. As detailed in my blog post about development apps, I had an internship where I looked at development grants. As part of this, I looked at these organization’s websites, and I was always somewhat intrigued as to the bevy of social media profiles they inevitably displayed on their webpages. My thesis here is gonna be that I’ve never seen a good corporate instagram. Like, LinkedIn I understand. Facebook has an excellent argument, because for a lot of the places where these development-focused social enterprises work, Facebook kinda is the internet due to their Free Basics program. But Instagram? Why are any of these peeps on Instagram?

The absolute easiest victim I’m going to have here to today is Potential Energy, who took the classic route of having some engineers design a “better” (I shouldn’t put that in sarcasm quotes, it’s well-designed and pretty great) cookstove, figuring like, marketing and supply chains and all that would be easy. A quick Google search reveals that the top-followed brands on Instagram are almost all fashion or beauty brands, which naturally play well to Instagram. But cookstoves? What are you going to post about with a cookstove? The whole NGO sphere probably needs a real strong rethink about how they market themselves. It’s been sufficiently skewered elsewhere, but in the same way that I’m someday going to make a submarine movie with no external shots, someday I’m going to start an NGO and include no children (smiling or otherwise) in my marketing materials. Clearly Potential Energy has similarly failed to come up with anything to do with their Instagram (their latest of six posts was two years ago), but nonetheless they still link to the thing right on their homepage.

My personal favorite social enterprise Instagram account is actually Orb Energy. They’re not actually so social enterprise-y, they are in fact a pretty run of the mill solar installer, but hey solar is great and they do some neat financing stuff. They’ve neatly solved the problem of what to do with their Instagram account by just posting photo after photo of solar installations, and lemme tell ya: oooh baby. Sure, they’ve only got 266 followers, but taking photos of their latest rooftop solar project and slapping that bad boy up on Instagram has to be pretty low overhead, and if you’re a fan of just panel after panel of sweet sweet photovoltaics, this is the account for the #SolarInfluencer in you.

Two of the companies I find most impressive for their absolute dedication to the craft despite the complete lack of any possible benefit are PCI Global (who also has a Pinterest???) and the RAND Corporation. Both are big ole’ corporate entities who clearly have dedicated social media teams, producing high quality content and thought-out infographics. They deliver this hot hot content to their combined sub-5K followers, which puts them firmly in the micro-influencer category, good for them. I wonder how these social media teams are assessed on their annual reports. Clearly it’s not on a cost-benefit analysis, as far as their Instagrams go. I personally like to think these are a small band of people absolutely dedicated to their craft, valuing the work for its artistry instead of any commercial success. Except I hope they get paid well. It’s pretty good stuff!

And with that we’ve pretty much reached the limit of the the kinda intelligent things I have to say about social enterprise Instagram accounts. I rounded up a few others I thought were good examples of I dunno, something. SafeBoda I like for its clear orange aesthetic and how it features its employees with nice messages about safety. Grillo I was going to mock for not having posted anything (at time of writing) for over half a year, and mostly featuring pictures of sensors. I have a few others (Keheala, Zola, VisionSpring) in case anyone wants more examples of the genre, but really it’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel here. Kinda weird, and also why would anyone do that?