Instagram is more than just ‘social media.’ It’s a place to remember your travels, share your talents, create a portfolio, and cultivate a network of people you share interests with. This cultivation of a community is something Donjay (who prefers to go by first name only, #coolkid) is all too familiar with. As the community manager–aka genius mastermind–of InstagramAZ, Donjay truly understands the power, depth, & inspiration Instagram offers to people who want to form a genuine community. To see why he created a digital neighborhood for Arizonians & why he is so passionate about creating a community, read on!
Tell us a little about your background and how you got into photography.
I originally got into photography as a teen. I took photography classes in high school, spent a lot of time in the darkroom, and even ended up becoming the yearbook photographer. Out of high school, I worked at a photography company for a few years, taking portraits, group shots, candids or whatever. At that point, photography became more of a job though, and it was something I did less and less for enjoyment on my own time. Eventually I stopped shooting professionally; and not long after, I stopped shooting altogether.
Fast forward some years, and a buddy of mine (@menace) introduced me to an app called Instagram. This was pretty early on, only a few months after the app’s release in October of 2010. But, for me, Instagram immediately made sense. In the years between being a photographer and downloading Instagram, I would always take little “artsy” photos with my phone anyway – just random scenes that caught my eye as I went about life. Only now with Instagram, I finally had a place to put these photos. And, there were all these filters I could use to make my photos even “artsier” too, haha!
So, it was really Instagram that reignited my passion for photography. It’s not just the fun of sharing my work with folks around the globe, but it’s also getting to see the world through their eyes too. I find myself being inspired daily. I believe that being exposed to so much creativity from all over the world has made me a better photographer as well.
What made you start InstagramAZ?
Not long after joining Instagram, I discovered hashtags, and I noticed that they were being used for more than just categorizing your photos. I saw there were communities forming around these tags, and specifically geographic Instagram communities. There was one community I stumbled across called @igerssf that really piqued my interest. I’m originally from the Bay Area, and here is this group of Instagrammers in my old hometown that organized a community for themselves. They would have contests, get together to take photos, or even post about impromptu happy hour “InstaMeets.” I decided that I needed to be a part of a community like this in Phoenix. However, when I searched for the local Instgrammers community, I couldn’t find one. That’s when I decided to start @instagramaz.
How would you describe the Phoenix community?
The first word that pops into mind when I think of our Instagram community here in Arizona is: unity. It’s a small word, but an important one. And, it’s something I’ve worked extremely hard to propagate, nurture, and sustain. I love the fact that hundreds of folks, from all walks of life, can gather together and enjoy themselves simply because they enjoy photography and want to be around other creatives.
The other word that comes to mind when thinking about the community here in Phoenix is: creativity. I get to meet so many people that are passionate and driven to make art, whether it’s in the form of a photograph or a movie or a meal, a product, a performance…you name it. I think we’re at a really great time here in Phoenix where there is a flourishing community of creative people all doing amazing things and all willing to help one another out. It’s wonderful and I’m happy to be a very small part of it.
What do you think brings a community together?
Having a common passion brings a community together. Hard work is what keeps it together. I don’t run things by myself. I may have been the one to start things off, but there are a lot of other people that have helped and/or continue to help keep the InstagramAZ community going. I can think of so many that contribute so much that I’m hesitant to mention anyone for fear of unintentionally leaving someone else out.
If I listed only the people with passwords to our various online accounts, it would still probably be too long of a list to print. However, these people are empowered to act as community representatives on our various platforms, and folks may at times be talking to them (not just me): @phxtarin, @ryannealcordwell, @slowjam98, @dmg429, @adventuresteph, @alexwhiten, @darcadi, @roni_carrillo, @desert_oasis. There are more folks than this that help out in other ways, and I wish there was room to list every single one of them. All of their contributions are important and also work to keep the community going.
Why did you choose to build InstagramAZ on Instagram rather than any other social media platform?
Creating InstagramAZ wasn’t a very calculated decision. Meaning, I didn’t really aspire to create an online community – it wasn’t even a desire to run the community. I only wanted such a community to exist. But, it didn’t; so I made it up myself. Thus, InstagramAZ was simply born out of my love for Instagram and my desire to connect with other creative people that also wanted to have fun.
What kind of social media marketing/community collaborations have you done to help spread the word about InstagramAZ?
We’ve yet to do any formal, strategic promotion of the community. However, my focus isn’t really on things like follower counts either. Instead, my aim is to put out a high-quality offering to the community on a consistent basis. I work hard to make InstagramAZ a community worth following in the first place. That way, when people come across the profile, I figure they have no reason not to follow.
What do you look for in a photo when reposting images on InstagramAZ? Is there a certain type of photography or story a photo should have in order to be featured?
Overall, we’re looking for images that will stop people from scrolling for a second. We’re looking for those “wow” photos. We all scroll through our Instagram feeds much faster than we realize. So, if someone pauses for more than the typical 0.5 seconds they usually give a photo, then that’s an outstanding post. Obviously, we only feature photos shot in Arizona too. Moreover, pretty early on we made it a point to get the entire community involved. So, sometimes we’ll have the person who is featured on a particular day be the one to choose the photo that we feature the next day. It’s just another thing we do to keep things community-centered.
What is an Instameet? Do you have to have a big Instagram following to attend?
An Instameet (or InstaMeet) is literally people on Instagram meeting up in person. The concept probably sounds a bit strange to someone who hasn’t been to one before, but I assure you it’s a lot less awkward than it sounds, haha!
Through the photos we post on Instagram, we show little glimpses of our life. It’s a shared experience; we’re seeing the same things that they saw with their own eyes. It’s only natural that you develop relationships through all of this sharing. So, Instameets are just occasions to get together and continue the online conversations face to face. It’s really cool to meet the person behind the profile.
You don’t have to have a big following to attend. You just need to bring yourself and your phone (or camera if you shoot with one). Everyone is welcome: all ages (most of the time), skill levels, etc.
What advice do you have for someone who feels intimidated about going to an Instameet?
First off, don’t worry about what to bring or what to wear or what you’ll say. Just bring yourself. That awkward “I don’t know anyone” feeling fades really quickly. Before long, you’ll realize, “Wait, I do know people here!” You’ve likely been following some people for months or years, and now you’re just talking in real life. The conversation picks up where it left off on Instagram. Effortless and fun. A lot of friendships have formed as a result of Instameets, which is really the best part: discovering that this online community is actually your real life community as well.