When Izzy Ramos’ boyfriend Neil asked her to move with him from their rental apartment in Miami to his home state of Washington, she was intrigued.
When Neil explained that he had lived in a little town called Shelton, she did what any millennial today does when considering a move: She hashtagged it.
Though the hashtag for Shelton didn’t result in much, a few clicks around her smartphone landed her at the hashtag #AberdeenWA. It was then that Ramos agreed to move.
“I loved it here the minute I finally found some images,” Ramos said. “It was so different from anything I had ever seen before, I had to experience it.”
For someone born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami and who spent years working in Louisiana, the Pacific Northwest is an enchanting world. Much like every person with a smartphone in their hand today, Ramos was eager to share the sights of this new locale.
There’s an app for that
That desire explains the very rapid rise of Instagram in the last few years. The phone-based app enables users to upload photos, add filters, crop and stylize the image before posting it along with a caption of unlimited length. Followers can “like,” comment on and share the image.
When an entire generation that grew up using Facebook migrated quickly to Twitter, Facebook felt the threat. So Facebook bought the photo-sharing startup Instagram in 2012, and it took off. The app gave millennials a new way to talk to each other and to anyone who would listen.
It seems now everyone’s listening.
Very quickly, marketers pounced on Instagram, and within a year it had surpassed Twitter for followers. Today, Instagram has more than 400 million active users boasting 3.5. million “likes” per day. By comparison, Twitter has around 320 million active users, and Facebook still dominates the field with 1 billion active users.
Though Facebook remains the grandpappy of all social media, its little company Instagram is exciting and engaging today’s smartphone user.
Which is precisely what drew Ramos to the app.
A handheld travelogue
It’s been three years since Ramos and her beau moved to Aberdeen together and almost the same amount of time since she started her Instagram account @GraysHarborLiving.
What struck Ramos the most about her arrival here, was how few photographs of the beauty of the area she was seeing online. She initially posted a few on her Facebook so that her friends and family could see where she had moved, but then the idea struck to be more proactive about sharing this unique area with the world.
“With positive images about life in Grays Harbor through the eyes of those who cherish living here, the hashtag #GraysHarborLiving plays a key role in this mission,” Ramos said. “It’s not all about my own experience; it’s about everyone who takes pride in living in this beautiful jewel of a place.”
Britta Folden agrees. She started the Instagram account @LilHipPocketGuide about a year ago to showcase Grays Harbor County in the way that she felt wasn’t being portrayed.
“I find that Instagram is the best way to reach a wide geographical audience of people who love beautiful places,” Folden said by email. “It’s fun to share the nooks and crannies of Grays Harbor with the rest of the world (and a lot of locals, too).”
The art of the matter
Kyle Pauley of Cosmopolis agrees. He uses his profile @Weareaxb to share his artwork, his own experiences and, recently, as his home marketing base for his campaign for a seat on the council in Cosmopolis.
His experience using the app is like that of most users. City councils everywhere commit budgets and long-term efforts to municipal beautification projects, but those aren’t really what today’s Instagram users are interested in photographing.
The very nature of the app inspires an individualized experience. Users are looking to show the world their view of it, or their experiences, so they’re more likely to photograph recognizable monuments that are universally recognized as cool.
“No one is coming to Aberdeen and getting selfies in front of the murals,” Pauley said. “They’re taking selfies at the Cobain park and in front of the ‘come as you are sign’; those landmarks are the parts of the city that are recognized around the world.”
Instagram inspires the user to find the quirks in everyday life and share them. The quirkier the better, the more unique the better, and all of it adds up to more different views of the same place to a larger audience.
Pauley believes that the use of Instagram around town allows for the people to share the Aberdeen they see every day, from their own perspective. The world sees a wider view of the area that isn’t filtered through a marketing directive.
Big cities, small world
It’s a developing trend of citizen marketing that makes meet-up groups called “Insta-meets” one of the most popular forms of getting to know your neighbor in big cities such as Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Detroit and New York.
It’s also a way to express a love of photography.
“I’m a photographer, and I’m in Portland earning my bachelor’s degree in communications,” said Sierra Duarte, whose grandmother owns Clark’s Restaurant in Artic. “With the food movement so dominant here, I had to get our little family-owned place on the map.”
Duarte started @ClarksWA about a year ago and has been able to tap into hashtags that attract visitors coming through town, one of the elements that all marketers use to build their customer base.
For locals like Ramos who just want to show off their town, it’s an in-her-pocket way of showing off our little corner of the country.
“My followers are growing every day,” Ramos said. “It’s exciting to introduce people who have never heard of Aberdeen and show them this amazing little town.”
A version of this article first appeared on The Daily World.