Can city authorities use Instagram data to improve policy measures?

Knowing and acknowledging what Instagram users are interested in could assist in the selection of more appropriate policy measures, says joint research from Modul University Vienna’s Department of Tourism and Service Management and Dr. Irem Önder of the University of Massachusetts.

Dr. Ulrich Gunter
of MU Vienna’s Department of Tourism and Service Management and Dr. Irem Önder, previously of MU and now working at UMass, believe possessing information on the current and predicted behavior of local and visiting Instagram users could help alleviate asymmetric information on the part of city authorities and destination management organizations. Uncovering the differences between residents and visitors could also potentially help city authorities and the destination management organization to moderate crowds between attractions in specific hot-spot areas, as well as allowing them to rethink public transportation routes and schedules.

“Whenever an individual uses the Internet or any digital device for any purpose, they leave electronic traces behind. These traces are called digital footprints, which can be collected and analyzed to improve services or products. Today, this type of data can also be used to understand and predict consumer behavior”, says Dr. Ulrich Gunter.

“Social media also include similar types of information, such as geotags, which are attached as metadata to photos, videos, or other types of social media posts, and provide the geographical location in the form of latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates”.

This information gives researchers the opportunity to identify the geographical location of the user at the time a photo was taken. Only metadata from those Instagram users whose profiles had not been set to “private” could be obtained.

Dr. Gunter and Dr. Önder’s research used a sample group of 627,632 individually geotagged photos with time stamps running from October 30th, 2011 (4:15:51 p.m.) until February 7th, 2018 (6:16:23 a.m.). These geotagged photos were extracted using Instagram’s Application Programming Interface (API), based on the hashtag “#Vienna” within the geographical boundaries of Austria’s capital city.

The ‘popular indicator’ rankings

First - Schloss Schönbrunn topped the ‘popularity indicator’ rankings across the given time period with 1,331,652 Likes, 33,076 Comments and 18,833 Photos across residents and visitors.

Second - St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

Third and fourth place were Stephansplatz and Schloss Belvedere, respectively.

Interestingly, Instagram users enjoy taking and liking photos at the Art History Museum, but prefer to comment on Instagram content just one kilometer away at the Albertina Museum, with each location taking seventh place overall in the respective categories.

“It is concluded that Vienna’s city authorities may still want to improve their public transportation routes and schedules linking the large and distant top-50 locations such as Donauinsel or Prater internally in order to ensure sustainable mobility”, says Dr. Ulrich Gunter.

“In the future, the locations popular among visitors but as yet unknown to the destination management organization and the city authorities should also be appropriately integrated into city guides, in particular into their mobile application versions.”