Diversity & Inclusion
COVID-19 / Data / Social justice / Social media

7 tips on Instagram advocacy from viral sanitation worker Terrill Haigler

With a unique social media strategy, @yafavtrashman has raised awareness — and donations — for sanitation workers' safety during the pandemic. Here's how he did it.

Philly sanitation worker Terrill Haigler, aka @yafavtrashman. (Courtesy photo)

Since launching six weeks ago, Philly sanitation worker Terrill Haigler’s Instagram account @yafavtrashman has gained more than 15,000 organic followers.

The affable Haigler — now locally famous, considering recent profiles in The Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY, Philadelphia magazine, etc. — uses the account to answer followers’ questions about delays in trash pickup and what it’s like to do his job, but also to advocate for hazard pay and more personal protective equipment for sanitation workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid a busy work week, he shared seven key tips for raising awareness via Instagram with Technical.ly:

Be authentic.

Haigler created his Instagram account to help give the public closer insight into his and his coworkers’ experiences in handling trash during the pandemic. The app’s reliance upon photography and consistent posts made it perfect for his plan.

“Instagram brings a human element and holds everyone accountable,” Haigler said. “Here are true facts and pictures of piles, of trucks being full, needles, rodents and hairs. We’re in a time where camera phones speak louder than articles at this point. I just wanted to be honest and truthful and give the public a look at something no one thinks about.”


Always remember your “why.”

For Haigler, remembering the purpose of why he created the account is important. Raising awareness for sanitation workers’ need to receive hazard pay and PPE and maintaining a healthy relationship between sanitation workers and the public were top priorities.

“I think we are closer than we have ever been to getting [hazard] pay and I think because of the support of the page, the powers that be are taking it seriously,” said the North Philly-based father of three. “I couldn’t have done this without the public being so concerned about the issue. If it wasn’t an issue for them, it wouldn’t have taken off. To have the support of the public has been key. I have people dropping off water and Gatorade and PPE all day. I have people tired of waiting taking their own trash to sanitation centers.”


Use data to your advantage.

Haigler is a proponent of using analytics and data to most effectively engage his followers. He values the advantage Instagram gives him in understanding their viewing habits and engagement patterns.

“I’m more aware of the power of what you post and how you post down to the timing,” Haigler said. “With Instagram, you can get insights with data and see when followers are most active. If they’re most active Monday at 11:30 a.m. I can post then. Just to have the ability to look at data, it helps me curve my activity so that I’m hitting at all the ‘hot spots.'”

Build a team quickly.

While Haigler makes an effort to reply to every direct message and and question he receives on Instagram, he said having a support system of people can help allows him to be as effective as possible.

“Eight hours of the day I still have to throw trash,” he said. “That is my occupation and pays my bills. It’s nice when things pick up and if you already have people in your circle who can do things. Now I don’t have to sift through emails. My manager does that. The bigger your Instagram following grows, the bigger your team and workforce needs to be.”

Philly sanitation worker Terrill Haigler on the job. (Courtesy photo)

Be humble and don’t be afraid to talk to people.

Haigler considers himself a talkative person, and given his gregarious temperament, it should come as no surprise that he appreciates the ease with which Instagram allows him to chat with several people at any given moment.

“I’m a talkative person and like to go live and answer questions,” he said. “The advantage with Instagram is that it’s really easy to reach out and be accessible to the public and reach thousands of people at one time with information.”

Offer clear ways for followers to help.

Haigler said that having clear and easy ways people can help your cause are integral components of the process. Over 18 days, the link to a GoFundMe in his Instagram bio has helped sell 1,028 shirts featuring a cartoon sanitation worker with all the proceeds being used to purchase PPE for his coworkers.

“I have three tips to how people can help,” he said. “They can buy a t-shirt, put up signs using the hashtag #SupportSanitation, and be patient — give grace and some understanding to sanitation workers during the trash delays.”


Give people information they need.

Haigler emphasized the need for transparency in raising awareness for a cause. Growing complaints on delays in trash service led to public outcry against the work him and his coworkers were doing. Haigler saw an opportunity to share information with the public that could lead to better understanding.

“There was a need for info on why trash was being delayed,” he said. “That was the main thing. When I get on Instagram Live, I said that out of 11,000 sanitation workers, 200 are quarantined and dealing with COVID. Then the public decided that they needed to change their attitudes.”

Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Series: Coronavirus

Before you go...

Please consider supporting Technical.ly to keep our independent journalism strong. Unlike most business-focused media outlets, we don’t have a paywall. Instead, we count on your personal and organizational support.

3 ways to support our work:
  • Contribute to the Journalism Fund. Charitable giving ensures our information remains free and accessible for residents to discover workforce programs and entrepreneurship pathways. This includes philanthropic grants and individual tax-deductible donations from readers like you.
  • Use our Preferred Partners. Our directory of vetted providers offers high-quality recommendations for services our readers need, and each referral supports our journalism.
  • Use our services. If you need entrepreneurs and tech leaders to buy your services, are seeking technologists to hire or want more professionals to know about your ecosystem, Technical.ly has the biggest and most engaged audience in the mid-Atlantic. We help companies tell their stories and answer big questions to meet and serve our community.
The journalism fund Preferred partners Our services

Join our growing Slack community

Join 5,000 tech professionals and entrepreneurs in our community Slack today!


The Trump rally shooter perched on a building owned by American Glass Research. Here’s everything we know about it.

Quantum computing could be the next hot tech — if only that breakthrough would come

Here’s how the global tech outage impacted many of the vital systems across the mid-Atlantic region

Inside Philly City Hall’s new $6.85M lighting system, with hundreds of LEDs that dance with color

Technically Media