Since its launch in late 2010, Instagram has become one of the most popular mobile photo-sharing services on earth and now boasts more than 300 million users. Instagram is no longer just about sharing square-cropped happy snaps with friends and family, it’s a global community of mobile photography enthusiasts and a means of promoting people, products and in some instances, even places.
It’s this idea of promoting a particular country and showcasing its natural (and urban) beauty that led local Instagram enthusiast Craig Rodney to start the @southafrica Instagram account. Instagram users are encouraged to tag photos they consider quintessentially South African with #ThisIsSouthAfrica and Rodney then selects the best images and shares them via the @southafrica account, along with a link to the Instagram account of the photographer in question.
But the account is more than simply an advertisement for all South Africa has to offer, it’s also intended to inspire feelings of national pride. “I want it to make people feel love for South Africa, whether they’re locals, South Africans living overseas or foreigners wanting to come to SA,” Rodney says.
The @southafrica Instagram account was originally registered by an American who had visited South Africa, but there was little activity on it. When Rodney first become interested in starting a South Africa-themed account he contacted the account owner and asked if he could take over @southafrica. Thankfully, she agreed.
“The account was first registered when Instagram launched in 2010 but it wasn’t being used,” Rodney explains. “In its current form, the first picture was posted on 25 May 2013.” Today the @southafrica account hosts more than 750 images and has garnered more than 42 000 followers.
Rodney, who is also one of the founders of Johannesburg-based digital agency Cerebra, essentially runs the account single-handedly, though he says he occasionally ropes in “guest Instagrammers” to look after the account while he’s travelling.
Asked what inspired him to join Instagram in the first place, Rodney says the service gives users the “ability to travel the world and see things through other people’s eyes” while also making it possible for people “to see the world through your eyes”.
“I love finding new, cool people on Instagram. And then there’s the community. The South African Instagram communities are incredibly active and friendly – you can find a walk in almost any town or city at any time. It’s amazing.”
Rodney says this sense of community is integral to Instagram. “Community is a very big part of what makes Instagram cool. Meeting new people and going on walks and photo adventures is a big part of why I love Instagram, and the community is the central heartbeat of the scene in South Africa. If you took that away you would lose a major component of what Instagram is about.
“That’s not to say the community is critical. Comparatively speaking, the number of people who actively participate in the community is small relative to the total number of Instagram users, but it’s definitely a big part of the soul of Instagram,” he explains.
What does Rodney imagine the account will look like in five years time? “That’s a long way away in social media terms. I want it to be the portal through which millions of people can fall in love with, or stay in love with, South Africa. I want it to be a big contributor to the Instagram community, helping bring people together and exposing and profiling talented people. I want it to be something all South Africans are proud of.”