Void sat down with Stefan Sears, visionary behind the Instagram profile “IgersJax”, to see what his thoughts were on the creation, maintenance and impact of his own social media platform, as well as what this means for the local community and the social media world as a whole. The interview can be found below.
Void: Why did you choose to spearhead #IgersJax?
Stefan: I had been running my personal instagram account (@retardedgenius) for close to a year before I thought of #igersjax. I was taking photos around town that I was feeling pretty proud of, and I wanted to hashtag them with something unique, but also something that had the potential to reach a real audience. So my original intent was just to invent the greatest hashtag in Jacksonville, aside from the obvious #jacksonville hashtag, which was already becoming watered down with spambots and instagramers looking for more followers by hashtagging every city in the world. Plus, there were other states with cities named Jacksonville. The city desperately needed a hashtag unique unto itself. In September of 2011, the #igersjax hashtag came to be. I knew I had thought up a catchy name, so I waited to see what would spawn from it.
When I first conjured up the word “#igersjax” (short for Instagramers Jacksonville, pronounced EYE-JEE-ERZ-JAKS) and used it on my photos, I was aware of the growing worldwide community of mobile photographers known essentially as Instagramers.com. They were the ones that coined the term “IGers”, which then spawned an endless amount of IGer Communities around the World. Some communities were on a national level, some were state level, and some were city level, like #igersjax.
I figured someone would come along at some point and make an instagram profile account under the username of @igersjax, which did eventually happen. A guy named @jaxredwings opened the account about 9 months after I invented the hashtag. He chose one of my photos, tagged with #igersjax, and posted it as the 2nd post on the @igersjax profile ever, just after his photo. I was very extremely happy and felt my job was done. A few months later, he had to move out of state, and he asked me if I would be interested in taking over, and of course I would! I had honestly been secretly dreaming of running #igersjax with the guy at that point, so it was a pleasant surprise, and I am truly grateful for him. Mr.@jaxredwings. Thank you sir.
So here we are, over a year, 3,000 followers, and 30,000 photos later.
Has your success with the #IgersJax Instagram profile brought more traffic to the other site you promote, somewhereinthecity.com? If so, has it been a significant increase?
I don’t know about the numbers exactly. But I do know they have grown in the past year. SomewhereintheCity.com was essentially the first group of people to show an interest in #igersjax’ intentions. They were my 1st interview. They understood the symbiotic nature of networking with #igersjax, and realized, that if they just embrace the hashtag as a tool, that they could potentially pull more attention to their own movement. They brought up the idea of having a blog entry every Thursday, dedicated to #igersjax aptly nameded “#igersjax Thursday”.
Every week, they would go through the collective hashtag gallery of #igersjax, looking for photos from IGers around the city, that would fit their theme for the week. They would post their favorite #igersjax photos on their blog, with the names of the original IGers responsible for capturing them. I thought that, aside from their support for #igersjax, that they really ran a fresh new wholesome blog site community. Like a breath of fresh bloggy air they are! They just needed to be noticed by the people. This fresh image is exactly what I lack as a typical half-scruffy, tattooed Ginger from the South, so I thought they would compliment me and #igersjax well. The partnership was born. — #igersjax and #SITCjax
I do believe the exposure led SomewhereintheCity to a meeting with Daniel Austin (@eyeoftheiger) of JCCI/JAX2025. Daniel and JCCI helped facilitate an #igersjax photo contest with over $1,000 in printed canvas prizes awarded to 9 winners inside the Everbank Stadium during the JAX2025 Release Event in front of the Mayor. Around this same time, SomewhereintheCity brought Daniel in as one the team, and thus cementing their legacy even more. They are a great group of people doing positive things!
Do you have a favorite #IgersJax shot? What is it?
Well… It’s kindof a broad answer, because it’s actually a collage of 9 photos that were taken the day after Christmas 2012 from different IGers. There was a strange weather event that involved this huge cylindrical cloud in an otherwise clear sky, to roll over the city like some ominous arm of God. Miles and miles long, it was massive. I imagine tens of thousands of people throughout North Florida witnessed it, and a good portion of them pulled their smartphones out and snapped a pic.
Luckily, for us, a good few of those people were IGers, and they hashtagged their photos of this rare event with #igersjax, allowing us to go through and make a collage of the “best” shots. The rare cloud photos are THE quintessential #igersjax shot. They are a testament to the immediacy, importance, and power of social networking in the photography world. It’s in these moments, we realize that we all truly live among each other, under the same dome.
What are your three favorite Instagram profiles to follow?
Ahhh a dreaded sort of question for me! I definitely have favorites on my personal account like @lemon67, and @glamfather. @eye_catching_photos is a great account for variety.
But when it comes to #igersjax, I feel like I’ve made friends with so many of these people through interaction, and I’ve been inspired by so many of them, that it’s truly impossible to pick just 3 favorites. The best recommendation as to who our “favorites” are, would be to look for our “Artist Focus” post on the first Thursday of every month, where we spotlight a particular Jacksonville IGer for their consistency in solid talent and style.
Last month we featured an artist by the name of @sensosketch, and this month I believe it will be @mattdelrocco. Of course, this special “Artist Focus” is in line with SomewhereintheCity’s “#igersjax Thursday” where luckily for me, they interview the featured artist and post it to their website! Super cool!
How many people are on the #IgersJax team?
There is only me at this point. I do have my eyes and mind open to pulling in a trusted moderator or two at some point to help. I stay pretty busy with it all.
How many social accounts are you currently managing?
Let’s see, I have my own personal FB, instagram, and Vine accounts.
I am a co-manager of the Jacksonville FB Page “If you grew up on the Westside of Jax, you remember…” with over 5,000 members.
And with #igersjax, we are on instagram, twitter, and Facebook. I tend to try and post (or share) a little extra content on twitter and Facebook because of their unique social networking natures.
What is your favorite social media platform?
Being an artist and an evolving photographer, I like my Facebook, but I love my instagram.
Which social media platform do you think has the best ability to make an impact on our local community?
I would have to say that Facebook is the “greatest”.
Twitter is the “most important.”
And instagram is the “most honest”
But all three platforms serve a hefty argument for being the “trinity” of social networking. Best to use them all.
Who do you think, aside from IgersJax itself, has the best social media platform in Jacksonville? Why is it your favorite?
My personal favorite is Metro Jacksonville. I love history. I love pro-activism in people, and Metro Jacksonville seems to fit that shoe perfectly. They have a sortof underground feel that I like. All of us, want changes in the city for the better, but Metro Jacksonville addresses them head on. Their initiatives, and devotions to the heritage and potential of our city are almost non-stop. Love em!!!
How do you stay up to date and on top of the latest innovations in social media?
Internet research and general knowledge of the topic. I’m just a tech-geek at heart I guess. I also think you have to have an open mind. For instance, I’ve witnessed SO many people in the last year that have expressed their distaste for the invention of the hashtag. I can understand that it might be a little unnerving when people are running words together to add some sort of quirkiness to their posts, but when the hashtag is used properly, it can be a genius search tool. Other people hate twitter, which is probably the most important social media platform ever invented.
How do you feel about Instagram video? Will it be hard for #IgersJax to participate in this particular app feature because you can’t repost videos to your page?
Although I haven’t posted an instagram video personally, I like the ability to do so if I choose. The video stabilization is really nice. I enjoy watching other people’s videos, definitely.
When it comes to #igersjax, I imagine there are people developing apps as we speak, that will allow us to share other ppl’s videos on our profiles. I also think that there will be apps that will allow us to edit our videos in unique ways before posting them to instagram. If this is the case, then the future is wide open. The best news is that people are already hashtagging their videos with #igersjax without missing a beat.
What tips do you recommend for remaining fresh and relevant in a constantly changing environment?
hmmm… I’m no expert. But I think keeping technology and social networking in close check is going to be the only way to stay ahead of the pack. And keep that open mind! If you don’t embrace the changes around you, then you might get stuck in the past. Try not to become a novelty.
In what ways do you think the IgersJax profile is making an impact on the local community?
I feel satisfied that we have possibly helped connect some local photographers with other local photographers, where they can hang out as a group in certain locations at certain times of their choosing, doing what they love best. Photography.and interacting with friends that have the same passion. The largest group is a unique crew full of jaw dropping talent. Check out #thatjaxcrew, #jaxboomadventures, or #talbotfor9 for some good examples.
Local photographers, companies, organizations, restaurants, soccer moms, sports fans, pilots, military, police, beach combers, musicians, slackers, achievers, dreamers, car buffs, golfers, models, Christians, hipsters, and scores of other Duval Fans of all walks of life have been united under one local flag. We make people feel like Jacksonvillians. If pictures speak a thousand words, then that would mean an average #igersjax repost is 1,000 times more effective on the heart and mind, than a silly old FB post, or a tweet.
We’ve even helped facilitate a possible love connection (fingers crossed) between two successful, young IGers by merely posting a photo! The potential opportunities that come from using the #igersjax hashtag lie in wait for the few that understand it’s unique power and how they can can utilize it for their own personal gain, whether they get featured on our profile or not.. The ones that are even smarter, become our partners. I say this, not because it’s “my baby” and I’m being cocky, but because it’s general Social Media evolution. If I hadn’t come up with #igersjax, someone else would have. It’s bigger than me, or us. #igersjax is about YOU, the people. It’s a microcosm of Jacksonville, and it’s a huge honor and privilege to be at the wheel, so to speak.
Do you believe IgersJax has expanded beyond the local community? If so, how have you achieved this expansion?
I know that we have followers from other areas. Most are from neighboring cities like St.Augustine, Gainesville, and Orlando. There is the occasional IGer from the mountains or even France, that remember Jacksonville because they came here on Vacation one time and loved it.
As far as real reach, the hashtag gallery is available of course, to anyone in the world to rifle through, given they know the name. We are internationally recognized in the “World Registry of Instagramers” at Instagram, and affiliate ourselves with many other IGers communities, both state and city level under the #igersUSA flag, or hashtag if you will. #IgersUSA, or “The Instagramers of the United States of America” just recently launched their website and instagram accounts under the supervision and direction of 3 seasoned IGers Community Managers, @igersboston, @igerschicago, and @igersseattle if I am to remember correctly.
So far, they have handled everything exceedingly well. From their website to the reposts they choose to show to the world, they have a truly professional team over there. I’m also very proud to say that a photo flying the #igersjax hashtag from one of our very own Jacksonville IGers, @kremjax74 was selected by @igersUSA as their very first photo to be reposted to the planet Earth. Score one for Jacksonville! (photo attached)
I love Jacksonville. I love Social Media. I love Photography.
That’s #igersjax epitomized. Everyone’s invited.