Creating Inspired Connections – Why I Started The #SL_Inspires Instagram Community

As a full-time social media strategist and SEO blogger, I spend the majority of the day immersed in virtual communities. I am the online “face” of eight companies from across the country in a variety of states and cities from Texas to Colorado, and along the central coast of California.

I believe in the power of social media and how this innovative platform can be used for more than building a following or increasing sales. The power of social media lies in the connection you can create with someone whether they are a block, a state, or several continents away. When working with any of my clients, I stress the difference between working with Silver Light Media as opposed to other public relations firms is my insistence on Creating Inspired Connections.

Many people don’t know that I started Silver Light while enrolled as a full-time college student at Boise State University. I had a limited budget and minimal amount of time to dedicate to the marketing of my business. After graduating from college in May of 2014, I had time to start thinking about my marketing efforts like I never had before while I was enrolled in college.

I relocated from Boise, Idaho to Denver, Colorado and wanted to connect with new people through social media as well as in-person. During this time having people submit photos to a hashtag on Instagram was a somewhat new practice that was taking off. I decided I wanted to have a hashtag for my business that would be inviting enough for others to submit photos to it as well.

Crafting A Hashtag

If you are using social media for your business and don’t already have one, I invite you to consider crafting a hashtag for linking and community-building purposes. In case you don’t know the purpose of a hashtag is to link related content together for search purposes. Being aware of its use you can see how having a hashtag specifically for your business can help with user-generated content creation. Whenever I start working with one of my clients on a social marketing campaign, I always add in user-generated content if it is applicable because it is highly efficient and easy to generate if you take strategic steps, first. I will save those steps for my next post, but I will share a little more from my brainstorming session.

Many businesses use their company name as a hashtag. I thought about and often do use #silverlightmedia as a hashtag on some of my social media posts. The only problem with this hashtag was for me; it didn’t give anyone a reason to use it. So I started to think of ways to tie my business name to some action or feeling that other people could associate with when posting their photos.

Since my company tagline is Creating Inspired Connections, I pulled from my rhetoric. I’ve always loved the word inspire and its derivatives. To me, the word reflects positive emotions that captivate us to feel something. I began to think of how I could combine “Silver Light” and “Inspire” since I knew all the words, together, would be too long, so I took the first letter from each word “S” and “L” with the plural “Inspires.” It wasn’t my first instinct to use a character but the look of the tag “#SL_Inspires” seemed more ecstatically pleasing than “#SLINSPIRES.” I typed the tag into Instagram and found out no one had used it. My new hashtag and one of my smartest branding moves I’ve ever made for my business finally manifested.

Building A Social Media Community

I will be the first to admit the first month starting any content strategy campaign is TOUGH. Mentally prepare yourself if you are ready to take the leap. Social media platforms are hindering organic reach more each day so be prepared to revise your strategies if needed and don’t give up be consistent in your posting, especially during the initial stages of starting a new platform.

When starting my hashtag, I had seen countless of other posts that I was using as an example. It seemed easy, “Use this hashtag on your post for a chance to be featured.” Seemed to be the general breakdown of what every photo sharing platform was emphasizing, the trouble is how do you know when people are going to start submitting to that hashtag? If you are persistent, probably sooner than you think, I started using it on my posts and including a call to action at the end. One day I checked my #SL_Inspires hashtag and was excited to see another user had used the tag.

My First Tagger – Jacque B from Pagosa Springs, Colorado

If you are looking to build a hashtag interacting with the first few people that engage is critical. I was ecstatic the day Jacque B – @jacquebblackie on Instagram used my #SL_Inspires tag. Jacque B was the first person to use it apart from myself. I immediately shared her photo to my following thanking her with credit. When you are in the beginning stages, make sure to give as much praise as possible.

You never know if you say something the person likes they could “Regram” the photo sharing it with their followers in turn, or at least you will get the person engaged enough to use the tag again. This stage is where community building starts. If you are looking to build not simply a following but a “virtual community” you MUST be willing to be as active in that community as possible. After, Jacque B’s feature more users started to use my #SL_Inspires hashtag. My community grew with photographers taking gorgeous landscape shots and sunset captures.

Now that you’ve learned why I started a hashtag for others to submit photos to and my #Sl_Inspires community on Instagram I would like to especially reference a few of the users who have made my online community so successful. I would love to be able to reference everyone but since there is so many of you I can only include a handful.

@GabrielzShotz from Lake Tahoe

One loyal community member who has been using the #SL_Inspires hashtag since its creation over three years ago is @gabrielshotz in Lake Tahoe. Many people when creating a hashtag tie a particular location to it.

This is done when you want to attract users from a particular region. I never wanted to do this because I wanted to attract users from different areas and places around the country and even world. I loved from the beginning that people in other regions were tagging #SL_Inspires on their posts and not just users in Colorado. Gabriel shares mostly photos from the Lake Tahoe area but includes the tag on his photos when he is traveling. Check out the captivating photos to see what inspires Gabriel.

I want to personally thank Gabriel for the years of support of my Instagram community. Seeing your beautiful photos has inspired me to take more of my own. Lake Tahoe is a stunning area that I wish I had the chance to visit more often. Through Gabriel’s photos, I feel like I have a “locals perspective” of the area. An opportunity I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the time I’ve spent building a personal connection with the photographer.

@TWHarms from Oklahoma

Another early supporter of the #SL_Inspires community is Tony – @twharms. 

Tony is from Oklahoma and captures gorgeous landscape shots and photographs for many concerts and events. Check out his photos to see how Tony shares his inspiration. Though I did not make my hashtag location specific, I’ve noticed over the years that the majority of tags come from users in Colorado followed by California.

Tony’s photos have always caught my eye because of the wonderful ways he can capture unique lightning and shares many photos taken of musicians. Music is a passion of mine that I’ve seen paralleled in his photography. Thank you, Tony, for your support from Oklahoma and for the hundreds of photos you’ve tagged with #SL_Inspires. I can’t wait to see more moments you capture.

Bridging Online and In-Person Connections with City2Snow

Next, I want to highlight a business from Denver, Colorado who’s virtual support has turned into a working partnership. The power of online connections truly come into play when you meet in person and take the relationship to the next level. City2Snow is a lifestyle company. I became familiar with the business through a giveaway I won years ago. I’ve used their tag #City2Snow on my posts and was pleasantly surprised to see the company use my hashtag, as well, one day.

Their virtual support created an opportunity to bridge an in-person connection. I emailed the owner about collaborating in the future. That decision led to co-sponsored giveaways and other business opportunities. You never know what can happen when you take time to build a connection. My company Silver Light Media regularly partners with City2Snow. Follow @City2Snow on Instagram and stay connected to a company providing music coverage in Denver and snow reports in Summit County.

I believe these users would have eventually stopped using my hashtag if I hadn’t taken the time to get to know them more personally. Social media has allowed us to be connected to people like never before and provides an intimate look into someone’s life. When you can connect with someone on this level “selling” isn’t needed because you’ve already created something more personal.

  @MontereyBay_Secret from Monterey, California

I would like to finish by taking a few moments to discuss one of the more exciting moments I’ve had since starting this virtual community on Instagram. I was attending a Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Mixer in Monterey, California when I handed my business card to a woman I just met. She glanced at my logo and said: “Silver Light Media, I know that name.” I looked at her with suspicion as I hadn’t done much marketing in the area.

“Yes, I know you, I follow your business on Instagram. You are always liking and sharing my photos. I love it. My photos get so many likes when you share them. It makes me so happy to see all the support for my photography on your feed.”

At that moment the years of sharing photos and starting seemingly random conversations with people online were worth it. I met someone from my online community who was thrilled to meet me because of the support I had for her passion of capturing moments around Monterey. I understood that my approach to social media was worth something more than substantial numbers. My support and the support of others who liked her photos was inspiring this woman, which was all I ever set out to do. When you set out to create something inspired it creates a ripple more significant than you can ever know. If you feel an urge to build a similar community don’t hesitate and know I am here for guidance. Drop a comment below or share this post if you found it helpful!

#AskAryonna for Social Media and SEO Advice – Stay Tuned for the #SL_Inspires Photo of The Week