Doubling its user base in just two years, Instagram is the fastest-growing social media network out there. It now has more than 800 million monthly active users, and its posts attract a staggering 4.2 billion daily likes.

Yet only around 39% of global NGOs say they have an Instagram profile. Of those, 42% say it is very or somewhat effective in meeting their aims and objectives, compared to 58% who say it isn’t.

With an emphasis on all things visual, Instagram can help you cultivate and organise users with compelling storytelling through video and imagery to inspire people to get involved with your cause. Powered by online communities, the app provides ample opportunities for your cause to be discovered and for you to engage with new and existing audiences.

Instagram and social media more generally have been the subject of much discussion and debate about their impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. What the campaigns and organisations listed below highlight is that, in an era when social media use shows no signs of slowing down, we must embrace the platforms and use them to challenge, inform and educate.

Below are some of the ways that activists, NGOs and grassroots movements are using Instagram effectively, to achieve their advocacy goals and bring about real, meaningful change.

UN Foundation

One of the many benefits of using Instagram for your campaign is the ability to build communities around your cause and encourage supporters to take action by sharing images, stories and videos to raise awareness and facilitate discussion. That’s exactly what the UN Foundation set out to do ahead of the COP 23 conference in November 2017, where world leaders met to discuss pressing environmental issues. According to the UN Foundation, 2017 was an unprecedented year for climate change, with extreme storms, droughts, flooding and wildfires signalling the need to accelerate climate action. To bring the issue to the fore, the UN Foundation partnered with Climasphere in a campaign to show how we all witness climate change.

#EyeOnClimate asked users to fill Instagram feeds around the world with powerful messages about our climate. User-generated content posted on Instagram with the campaign hashtag was featured on the UN Foundation’s and Climasphere’s Instagram profiles. The campaign produced hundreds of unique perspectives on climate change from across the globe, including this time-lapse video of wildfires in California.

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@frostjeff shared this wildfire time-lapse for our ongoing #EyeOnClimate series—a campaign dedicated to raising awareness of climate change impacts and solutions around the @UnitedNations’ Annual Meeting on Climate Change, #COP23. . “Four years ago I set out to show, rather than talk about, an effect of climate change that is happening right now by creating an art film, California On Fire. One of these effects is the intensification of natural weather systems everywhere. In California this manifests as drought, which leads to dry conditions and is the reason fires start with more ease and burn both faster and longer than they have in the past. Part of my process has included firefighter training and travelling to approximately 45 large fires to date. For more, add @frostjeff and watch a preview at” . . . How is your #EyeOnClimate? . . . Share your climate change story with us, using the hashtag #EyeOnClimate. Click the link in the bio to learn more about the campaign and follow @Climasphere to see more photos.

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#CookForSyria, “the supper club that became a global movement”, is an international fundraising initiative that encourages everyone from top chefs to people at home to cook using Syrian ingredients and raise money to support victims of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and those dispersed throughout Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and beyond. #CookForSyria was started by award-winning Instagrammer Clerkenwell Boy, journalist Serena Guen and others as a one-off charity gala dinner to raise money, through food, for Unicef UK’s Children of Syria fund. With growing involvement from leading chefs, it expanded into a 100-restaurant campaign and a number of pop-up cafés.

The volunteer-led movement has gone from strength to strength, with supper clubs being hosted in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Dubai, Edinburgh, Hong Kong, London, Melbourne, Paris, San Francisco, Sydney and elsewhere. Aiming to preserve and celebrate Syrian culture amid one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time, the campaign has also produced a not-for-profit cookbook with over 100 donated Syrian-inspired recipes.

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Beautiful Syrian inspired kibbeh, stuffed with confit duck and apricots – served on smoky aubergine labneh from our #CookForSYRIA recipe book… || VOTED # 5 for *BEST IN TASTE* 🎖 by a panel of expert judges and available every day until Sunday @TasteOfLondon with £1 from each dish donated to UNICEF's emergency Syrian relief fund || Thank you to @thegoodegg_ for the brilliant recipe and @zafferanoparty for the amazing behind-the-scenes team work 🙌🔥🌿 Come down to the #TasteMakersOfLondon stand curated by @ClerkenwellboyEC1 & say hi… with wonderful dishes by @melissa.hemsley @iamlaurajackson @rosiefoodie 😘 #CookForSyriaRecipeBook #TasteOfLondon #ThisIsLondon @Unicef_UK @nextgenlondon @London

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For Clerkenwell Boy, the mission is simple: “Through cooking, sharing recipes and the power of social media, we invite everyone to help make a difference and positive contribution towards this important initiative.” So the next time you hear someone criticise Instagram as “just people sharing photos of their lunch”, remind them that doing just that has raised more than £350,000 for Unicef’s Children of Syria fund and increased awareness of the plight of children in the war-torn country.

Louise Delage

Recent years have seen the swift rise of Instagram “influencers”, people successfully building massive communities of followers as they share insights into their daily life and tips on topics such as health, beauty, fitness and lifestyle. Their ability to engage and influence large groups of people served as inspiration for Louise Delage. Louise was the archetypal #instafamous “influencer”, amassing more than 100,000 followers in mere months with images and short videos of her supposed “beautiful life” of never-ending parties and vacations.









What her followers failed to notice was that “Louise” was accompanied by an alcoholic drink in each post. She wasn’t a real person at all but rather the brainchild of the Addict Aide and BETC “Like My Addiction” campaign to raise awareness of alcoholism among young people.

Not only did the “Like My Addiction” campaign attract global media coverage, there was also a significant increase in clicks to the Addict Aide website. The campaign succeeded largely because it tapped into how people use Instagram and consume content on the app. Who the target audience were, and what social media platform they were most active on, were given careful consideration and no doubt informed the campaign concept and execution. 

The Worldwide Tribe

The Worldwide Tribe is an organisation and online community founded by Jaz O’Hara which aims to help and raise awareness for refugees across Europe and the Middle East. After she visited the Calais Jungle, a notorious makeshift migrants’ camp, Jaz’s social media post about it went viral. She has continued to visit and work in camps in France, Greece, Turkey and Jordan, supporting people as they travel to safety. Starting as a fundraising effort, the online community raised more than £150,000 for the Calais camp. Now Jaz and her team use creative storytelling to give voice to the voiceless, while also running and supporting tangible grassroots projects on the ground.

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PART 2 of 2 Yesterday Arash got home from college, to a letter. A letter from the Home Office. He sat with my mum to open it, and they struggled to find the words they were looking for amongst the pages of writing. THE APPEAL WAS SUCCESSFUL! Arash has been granted asylum. We couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe it. My mum said he instantly looked like a new person. Like a weight had been lifted and like he could breathe again. Finally. Finally Arash can start his life. Finally we can get to know him for who he really is, without the constant, crushing fear at the pit of his stomach. Finally he has reached the light at the end of a long tunnel. A tunnel so dark most of us could not even imagine it. Finally he can smile again. This is a smile I hardly recognise. The smile of a new boy. A new life. A new hope. Welcome home Arash. We love you so much. . . I am sharing this story because Arash is one of many boys living this reality. Many young boys are being deported from the UK to Afghanistan, to face great danger alone. Sending teenage boys back to Afghanistan like this is a breach of human rights, and it is important that we all know that this is happening in our country. Please REPOST this story to raise awareness about the thousands of boys just like Arash. COMMENT anything you would like to say to Arash. And to DONATE to our continued work supporting refugees across Europe follow the link in my bio!

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The Worldwide Tribe is successfully using online efforts to facilitate offline action, and vice versa, in the refugee camps, telling the stories of those they met along the way to the active online community on Instagram and other social media platforms. Speaking to Red Magazine, Jaz is clear on why she harnesses the power of social media to bring about change: “social media isn’t going anywhere, we either embrace it and use it to its maximum potential, or don’t. I choose option one.”


See Me, a Scottish programme to end mental health discrimination, launched a campaign in September 2016 which encourages people to ditch the Instagram filters and be candid about their day-to-day lives in a bid to banish stigma surrounding mental health issues. People used Instagram to share both the highs and the lows with #MyUnfilteredLife. For See Me, “seeing that it is okay to share how you really feel and that speaking about your mental health is a good thing, could make a huge difference to someone struggling alone.”

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When we're online we love to show off our good times and the things that make us smile, and that's great! There isn't anything wrong with sharing what makes us happy. But we think that showing the mundane or less glamorous side to life can be good too. Only seeing how great other people’s lives are on social media can make people feel worse about their own life. Many of us will experience a mental health problem but many of us will keep it a secret for fear of stigma and discrimination. Seeing that it is okay to share how you really feel and that speaking about mental health is a good thing, could make a huge difference to someone struggling alone. We want to create a culture where people can speak openly about how they are feeling, be it good or bad, and get to a place where everyone feels comfortable about letting others know if they are struggling. Let's show people that it's okay not to be okay and show some of the stuff we normally keep hidden… messy hair, unwashed dishes… whatever it may be. Tag us in your #myunfilteredlife photos and let others know that life isn't always as perfect and valencia filtered as they might think. #mentalhealth #endstigma #mentalillness #health #wellbeing #letstalk #myunfilteredlife #seeme #scotland

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With #MyUnfilteredLife, See Me’s organisational aims and objectives were to build their Instagram community, show more personality, and engage younger audiences ahead of a children and young people’s campaign they were planning. The response was beyond all of their expectations. #MyUnfilteredLife attracted more than 1,000 posts, See Me’s Instagram following grew organically by 3,000, and their best post received 185 engagements, up 925% on their previous top post. But the biggest mark of success? The campaign continues to this day, with daily posts from users navigating the complexities of life. As young people continue to post, share and like, the See Me campaign shows how we can use social media to challenge how we use it to address the stigma over mental health. – #GunsOut is a digital platform powering offline action, mobilising young people to sign up for a volunteer, social change or civic action campaign to make a real-world impact on causes they care about. In response to mass shootings and gun violence in the US, asked its members for their views on guns on college campuses. They found that 7 out of 10 would feel less safe if concealed-carry handguns were allowed on college campuses, and 85% don’t feel that young people’s voices are represented well in national conversations about gun violence.

In response, partnered with leaders in the gun violence and prevention movement, including the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and The Campaign To Keep Guns Off Campus, to give young people a tangible way to take meaningful action on the issue. Supporters were encouraged to share a picture of themselves flexing their “guns” (i.e., biceps) on social media, tagging their college president, saying that the only guns they want on campus are the ones they can flex. The objective is to urge colleges to sign an official letter against concealed-carry on campus.

The campaign saw new colleges and universities across the US join the coalition, bringing to 44,000 the number of students who now had support from their college presidents to keep guns off campus. While the #GunsOut social media campaign might be over, the movement is still going strong – continues to enlist advocates to rally support against guns in their college.

Watch the #GunsOut campaign video below, and check out some other campaigns that have brought about real change.

Andy’s Man Club – #ItsOkayToTalk  

Luke Ambler founded the mental health support network Andy’s Man Club in 2016 after his brother-in-law Andy died by suicide. With male suicide rates three times higher than female rates in the UK, Luke wanted to make a difference. He started the #ItsOkayToTalk campaign to provide a safe and open space for men to talk about their mental health. To get involved, people take a selfie while making the okay sign, share it on social media and tag friends to encourage them to do the same, spreading the message that it’s okay to talk.

Attracting local, national and international media attention, Andy’s Man Club has gone from strength to strength, extending the campaign offline and growing to a network of fourteen community clubs, two college clubs, and seven prisons with up to ten clubs in each. Andy’s Man Club plans to continue its mission, encouraging people to talk and providing a platform to do so.

Whether challenging mental health stigma, telling the stories of displaced refugees, or mobilising grassroots support for women’s rights, these campaigns are successfully showing how social media is a perfect campaigning tool and how Instagram’s youthful users are more active than most.