The (usually) quiet town of Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape will see its beards-per-capita ratio go through the roof this weekend as South Africa’s Instagram community arrives for the country’s first, official, national Instameet. The event, which takes place from Thursday to Sunday, is organised by the @southafrica Instagram account and SA Tourism.
Craig Rodney, MD of Johannesburg-based communications agency Cerebra and the man behind the @southafrica account on Instagram, says more than 450 people have registered for the event, and by Thursday afternoon, more than 150 of those had showed up and checked in.
While there are a number of official walks, hikes and other events planned, attendees have been encouraged to organise their own outings and take the opportunity to explore the picturesque town of Graaff-Reinet themselves and interact with its residents (rather than, you know, sticking to themselves and taking advantage of the extremely affordable — by big city standards — food and drink on offer).
Rodney says the event is a “cool opportunity to explore South Africa and get as many people as we can to descend on the amazing town of Graaff-Reinet”.
So, why Graaff-Reinet? “Graaff-Reinet is not almost, but almost, in the middle of South Africa. It’s an amazing town with a lot history, and it’s equally inconvenient for everyone to get here,” he quips.
“Instameets are nothing new. The idea isn’t anything new, but the idea for a national Instameet happened around this time last year when there were the usual Heritage Day arguments on social [about what to do] … I realised I’ve got a platform [in the form of the @southafrica account] to put a different spin on Heritage Day.”
Attendees have been encouraged to tag their photos with the #MeetSouthAfrica hashtag so that they — and anyone else who’s sufficiently interested — can follow the weekend’s events and possibly accrue some new followers in the process. But does the event go beyond Instagrammers merely flattering one another’s egos?
“I think [the event] is important to challenge everyone to get out of their comfort zones. It’s not a world-changing event, but within the Instagram community it’s a cool event. Instagrammers tend to shoot what’s local to them. This is a great opportunity to get all of the country’s different Instagram communities to come together in a central place.”
One of the best things about Instagram, according to Rodney, is its ability to get people out and about and actually interacting with one another. “Instagram, since it’s inception, has had this thing about people getting together to go and take photos,” he says.
“The event gives people more to talk about than just asking, ‘How many followers have you got?’ — which is a big conversation on Instagram — I think it’s an opportunity to have a conversation beyond that. It’s about asking, ‘Where did you go?’, ‘Where did you stop?’, ‘Which part of South Africa did you come from?, ‘Who are you?’, ‘What’s your story?’.
The Facebook-owned image-sharing service recently reported it has over 400 million users globally. More than two-and-a-half million of which are in South Africa, at research firm World Wide Worx’ last count.
“Having a couple of hundred people armed with storytelling machines exploring South Africa and exposing these cool, individual stories, that for me is priceless,” Rodney says with a grin. “That’s why I’m doing this.”