Butler County Man Is TSA's Social Media Guru
Editor's note: This story first ran in December 2016 and has been updated. Curtis "Bob" Burns died October 19, 2018.
An Instagram account that catches hundreds of thousands of eyes and a blog that's regularly featured on national news are both managed by a man sitting in his house in West Chester.
Bob Burns runs both the Transportation Security Administration's Instagram account and its blog from home.
Burns blogs for the TSA and advises the other social media team members. Burns says he convinced his bosses he didn't need to be in the Washington headquarters.
"With a job in social media, you could work from anywhere as long as you have a connection."
He joined the TSA in 2002 and became the agency's first social media guru. That happened because he wanted to fill out his aviation security resume and volunteered for a TSA advisory council. That led to a stint on the communications committee, which got him in front of the agency's administrator.
When the TSA authorized a blog in 2008, Burns was tapped for the job. By 2013, he helped start the Instagram account.
"Prior to launching the account for TSA, I had used Instagram personally," Burns says. "Quirky photos are pretty much golden on Instagram. We had been sharing these types of photos of prohibited items on the TSA blog and I just knew that if we started sharing these same photos on Instagram, there would be an audience."
We’re pretty sure this isn’t a letter opener. A bladed dragon claw perhaps??? Whatever it is, it should be packed in checked baggage. It was discovered in a carry-on bag at Atlanta (ATL). A photo posted by TSA (@tsa) on Nov 27, 2016 at 2:26pm PST
Burns says the TSA's blog has about 104,000 followers. The Instagram account has around 921,000. Both feature stories and photos of items confiscated at security checkpoints across the country.
"It definitely helps people see what we're finding. I know on Instagram alone we've received so many comments from people saying 'I didn't think TSA actually found anything. This Instagram account has opened my eyes.'"
Burns says TSA agents find an average of 60 to 70 firearms in carry-on bags a week.
"They're seeing all these pictures of all these firearms we're finding. All these crazy knives. We found a live grenade. All sorts of dangerous items, and a lot of the items are wacky and quirky."
Burns says the TSA doesn't actively try to get more people to follow or read. He says he wouldn't be surprised if the Instagram hit 600,000 soon.