TSA Instagram - creating savvy travelers the punny way

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

In an insatiably hungry industry that devours content in a “you’re only as good as your last reel,” kind of way, TSA’s Social Media team has gained a worldwide reputation for creating fresh, humorous Instagram posts that have people asking, “who thinks up this funny stuff and how do they keep topping themselves?”

“It’s hard work, but it’s a blast,” said Lead Social Media Specialist Emily B. about the creative way the posts are made.

TSA’s Instagram account, boasting 1.1 million followers, is fueled by a team of five, tight-knit, diverse public affairs specialists, spread across the country in various time zones. They work for hours connected by a video chat, but hardly ever catch each other’s gaze. The verbal banter about what they’re seeing never stops while their eyes scan cell phones and monitors, constantly searching for the next suitable video or photo that will lend itself to a travel tip with a pun, joke or an alluring alliteration.

Creative methods evolve with the medium, which is to say, they change frequently, but the purpose remains the same — to educate the traveling public on packing dos and don’ts before they get to the airport.

Creating Instagram content is fluid and occupies hours of time daily, while planning for TSA’s Twitter feed, Facebook, and LinkedIn pages is strategically done in advance, with campaigns scheduled weeks or months in advance using TSA priority messaging.

Sometimes they’re on a mission to find the right photo to accompany the travel tip, but often the perfect video tips their hand and clearly dictates the content. Or sometimes, they’ll riff off one of the 1,500 national observance days, such the May 4th Star Wars day. Once the idea clears Social Media Branch Manager Janis Burl, the creative wordsmithing begins.

May the 4th post photo
The first to reach over 100,000 likes on Instagram, this TSA May the 4th post has been enjoyed by over 1.5 million account holders. (Photo courtesy of TSA Social Media)
Rock, Paper, Scissors post
Rock, paper, scissors has been elevated to rock star status, with 4.6 million likes and has reached over 50 million Instagram accounts. (Photo courtesy of TSA Social Media)

Creating travel tip content using uncontroversial, clean humor is a communal job. The team spitballs ideas in a loose, freewheeling atmosphere, leaving no good pun undone and whittles down to the final edits, allowing for good taste. The team, who we are identifying to the public as avatars for privacy sake, hold each other accountable. When one of them finds a joke off-message or possibly offensive, they respectfully say so and work until all are satisfied with the finished product.

Two years ago, a post containing an image of a firearm caught at the checkpoint was still a successful way to talk about prohibited items in carry-on bags. When that strategy began to fail, however, the team examined data and learned Instagram had stopped advancing posts with weapons. Super short videos, or reels, were catching on so the team pivoted and embraced that new form.

Rocking the challenge at over 4.6 million likes, the rock, paper, scissors reel is a cut above and made TSA IG a bona fide rock star. Don’t let the fun fool you, though. It’s intense, unrelenting work. Team members confess to being social media junkies off duty, too, skimming sites on their phones at odd hours and in distant places, always looking for content. When they find themselves in an airport they’re on high alert, hoping to capture a fun pun worthy to take back to the “office.”

“The work is hard and never-ending because we are always looking for that needle in a haystack,” said Burl. “It’s when you love what you do that the work becomes pure joy. Everyone enjoys a good laugh and we are happy that we can do that for our followers while still doing our jobs. If you want a smile each day, we hope that you will follow TSA on Instagram.”

By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs