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The Importance of Building an Online Community

Last week I had the honor of having Angela Marti (@whereisangiee on Instagram) as the first guest of my IG live series with creatives on Instagram. This first episode was all about the importance of building an online community on Instagram.

Having a real and genuine online community has never been as important as it is today. COVID-19 has shown us all, and brands especially, the importance of having a committed audience in order to survive.

For those who missed the episode, here is the transcript of the questions we asked each other. You will find lots of valuable information and insights about the Instagram algorithm, content creation, and more!

Juan: Hi Angie! Please introduce yourself (where are you from, background, where you live) and tell us why you started using Instagram in the first place.

Angie: Hi everyone, my name is Angie (@whereisangiee).

I was born and raised in Canada to Polish-Spanish parents. I grew up in a very multicultural environment due to my background, which allowed me not only to have a very rich cultural experience and speak four languages fluently but also set the foundations for my love of travel and exploration.

After university, I moved to Spain and have been living here since 2014. That move to Spain was what set in motion my Instagram, which originally served as a type of photo diary for my friends and family back home to see what I was getting up to. Since its foundation back then, my Instagram was always a place for me to share my photos and thoughts while also connecting with other travel lovers and ex-pats in similar situations to my own.

How about you Juan, I’m sure many of my followers would love to know where you are from 3and what was the purpose behind your Instagram originally?

Juan: Right! So I am from Colombia, but I’ve been living in Spain for the past 11.5 years. I owe my love of travel to my grandparents and my parents. From a very young age, they took me traveling everywhere with them. I think the first time I was on an airplane was on my way to the Dominican Republic and I wasn’t even a year old.

My love for photography started more in my teenage days when I purchased a digital camera and I was the typical kid that was taking photos everywhere and uploading them to Facebook.

I started this Instagram account years later because I wanted to improve at photography and Instagram was the platform that really pushed me to be better and keep learning. I originally started it as a travel account, but since covid, I have been just taking photos of Barcelona (and some places in Spain).

And what about you? You traveled a lot before Covid and you have amazing photos. How did you learn to take photos/edit, etc? Or who takes your photos?

Angie: Thank you so much, Juan! I have always had a love for photography. I took several photography courses back in high school and continued to grow that hobby in my spare time throughout university. To be honest, my favorite subjects are animals and landscapes, in contrast to what you see on my recent feed. In fact, if you scroll back to earlier photos on my feed you’ll see I used to post mainly photos of locations.

However, with research and time, as well as feedback from my followers over the years, I have now taken to post more pictures with myself in the frame. The editing is all self-taught. I like to watch editing tutorials and learn from other photographers in my spare time, and I think over the years I have developed my own style (which is sort of anti-preset since I like vivid colors and staying true to locations).

As for who takes my photos, there is a lot of work behind the scenes that occurs behind the word of every creator and I think it is super important to give credit to those that make the vision happen. I have been lucky enough to have had people help me create my visions throughout the years including Aldo, my fiancé, my family, and several friends (Ben, Emily, Monika) to name a few. Creation is a team effort and I think it’s important for creators to be transparent about the work that goes into the process. If the picture is of me, then someone helped me take it. If I’m not in the picture, then it is a picture I took.

For those that do not know Juan is a photographer that takes the most incredible photos of Barcelona. Juan, what are your top three tips for photographers on this platform? Do you think creators need professional gear to create beautiful content?

Juan: That’s a very good question! So my top three tips for photographers on Instagram are basically being consistent (keep practicing, learning, editing), finding a style you enjoy and your community enjoys too, but most importantly it is connecting to other photographers. My community has been really supportive, they have given me feedback, helped me with shoutouts, and just been there since my early days.

Regarding the gear, I don’t think nowadays you must have expensive or very professional gear. In fact, I have a standard SonyA7, which is probably outdated by now, but the photos I create with my phone are sometimes even better! I think a lot comes with the eye of the photographer and being able to find unique perspectives, angles, etc, and then of course with the editing.

So you are not a Travel Blogger, you are a Neuroscientist. Tell us a little bit more about what you do in your daily life.

Angie: I talk about this frequently, but I am not a full-time content creator. I do in fact have a full-time job as a researcher. I work at one of the main hospitals in my city where I conduct research on migraines and headaches using electrophysiological techniques. I’m always open to discuss research and migraine in my inbox. As well as being a full-time researcher, I’m also in the fourth year of my Ph.D. So you can say, I keep very busy. The critical thinking and research that I do in my everyday life, I apply to learn more about Social Media (in fact, I have worked as a part-time Social Media Manager throughout University) so it has always been an interest of mine. I really enjoy analyzing the way social media affects our behaviors and understanding the machine learning algorithms, which give us so much stress.

Juan, do you believe you can be successful on this platform without being dedicated to it full-time? What’s your take on this?

Juan: So basically it depends. It took me 2 years to grow this account to 12k and I have to admit I spent A LOT of time… mostly engaging. It’s been fun, but it can be quite overwhelming too. I feel Instagram has changed a lot and nowadays there are other ways of being successful on this app by having a clear purpose and a strategy. I didn’t have one when I started and I was just doing it for the fun and for sharing my art.

What about you? You have a very engaged community, but you don't spend a lot of time on IG. has it always been this way? Or did you spend more time when you first started?

Angie: Yes, those who have been with me for a long time, and I know some of you have been here for close to seven years now, know that I don’t live on this platform. My followers know I prefer to post less frequently, but provide quality content, discussions, and information when I do. In fact, I frequently encourage others to spend less time on social media and to take breaks when necessary. I feel like we are caught up in this feeling of having to create constant, high-quality content and that’s simply not sustainable in the long run. Creator burnout is a real thing and I think many of those that have expressed frustration, or a lack of motivation would benefit from time away. I personally get my best ideas when I disconnect for a while.

By disconnecting and being present in the real world (listening to how people feel and navigate daily life) I am then able to better connect with you and the users of this platform. And I think I am the prime example that you don’t need to create daily content to grow on this platform. On a side note, I have also found that my content performs better when I leave more time between posts. Some people are not on the app every day and this allows them time to catch up when they come back on. And it’s also less overwhelming for users. You really need to find that balance between holding peoples’ interests and oversaturating them.

Finally, if you post less frequently my advice would be to create themes (such as Travel Tuesdays) or choose a day to post (for ex. Post every Wednesday), this will create consistency and generate expectations in your followers.

For those struggling with consistency, what advice would you give Juan since your content is always so organized and well planned out?

Juan: Actually up to a couple of months ago I was always so busy with work and clients and my content was a bit all over the place, posting whenever I could and almost on the go. Now I have a bit more free time and I have been planning a content calendar and schedule, trying to be more consistent and organized. My best advice would be as you say: to take a break and get your ideas clear, make a plan, a posting calendar and schedule and be realistic in the amount of time you can and SHOULD be spending on IG.

Speaking of which, The Insta-game has changed A LOT in the past years. What are your thoughts on this? Is it for good or for bad?

The importance of building an online community on Instagram

Angie: Yes, Instagram is not the same world it was back in 2014, nor is it the same world it was back in 2018. Just like the world we live in, Instagram and social media platforms are constantly evolving and adapting in a quest to understand and ultimately profit off of human behavior. It’s important for users to remember that Instagram is a privately-owned platform, and at the end of the day it runs on a business model, whose ultimate goal is to generate profit. Therefore, what you wish to gain out of this platform may not be what is ultimately in Instagram’s best interest. That’s really important to remember as you navigate this platform because ultimately Instagram has two goals: keep you on this platform as long as possible (hence favoring content that keeps you hooked) and running an ad-based framework, where you have to pay to be seen.

Juan: So you think Instagram is becoming less of a "Social" Media and more of a Sales/Promotional media?

Angie: This was to be expected for those of us that followed the rise and decline of Facebook and saw how organic reach was choked down to below 1% to feed an ad-based model and I am afraid Instagram is heading in the same direction.

Now, that’s simply me being realistic, but I do still believe that by understanding the algorithm and human behavior we can ultimately still grow and flourish here. So although we cannot do anything about the changes, we can still work within the framework we are given, and not all of the changes have been bad either. For example, Stories are one of the most effective tools on this platform and have certainly favored the growth of many creators.

What do you think of the new features that Instagram has been integrating from other platforms such as Reels? Ultimately good or bad? How to make the most of them?

Juan: To be honest, at first I think it was a shame that Instagram was migrating from being a photo-sharing, life-diary kind of app to a sales and marketing app. Today, I think this is actually amazing for small business owners, creative entrepreneurs, creators, etc. The fact that Instagram has (and keeps on) changing and incorporating new features is a magnificent opportunity for letting your creativity out, reaching new people, and showing different facets of your personal brand or business.

You mentioned that it fascinates you to study the effect that social media has on human behaviors. What are your insights about this?

The effect of social media on human behaviours
Angie loves understanding the effect social media has on our brains and behaviours

Angie: Yes, I would argue that analyzing human behavior as it relates to social media is sort of a hobby of mine. I use the research skills I possess as a neuroscientist to critically examine the way in which social media shapes us and the long-term effect it may have on our well-being. I think we are only now starting to scratch the surface of the deep effect social media may have on each and every one of us. From shaping our opinions to potentially extremizing our views (a big problem by the way and one I recommend watching the Social Dilemma to learn more about), social media is chipping away at us without our conscious knowledge.

We know that the love and support we receive on social media activate dopamine and the reward networks in our brain, the same networks that are activated when we eat good food, exercise, love, gamble, etc. Therefore, social media creates a physical change in our brain, and over time these connections strengthen and become habits. The effort of checking our phone is small but the reward is big and that’s what keeps us hooked on social media. We also know that social media has been linked to increased anxiety and depression, poorer sleeping habits, and constant comparison. In fact, Instagram is considered to be the most negative social media network out of all of them in terms of its effect on us.

What are some effects social media has had on your life, Juan?

Juan: Well it has had both negative and positive effects. I have fallen into the number trap where you compare your likes, followers, views to others. In fact, I used to have another account with more than 30k but it had grown wrong with automatization tools, follow/unfollow, and other techniques that I didn’t feel proud of. That’s another reason why I decided to start this one from scratch and focus on my photography skills.

On the other side, it has helped me improve my photography skills, it has helped me connect to other photographers, content creators, nomads, bloggers. I have met really kind people from all over the world and this is something that we can’t forget. The importance of being able to connect with other people like you. Especially in times like this when we are all craving human interactions. It’s nice to know there is a community of people online that are willing to listen to you, give you advice, feedback, etc

This brings me to your Community. Every Sunday you have your 'Social Sundays'. I think these are absolutely amazing and I have learned lots of things from you. How did you get the idea of this? And do you have plans of expanding this in the future?

Angie: For those of you that follow me, you know that I pour a lot of work into my captions. I try to create content that generates discussions, questions social media trends and encourages people to think critically. I created Social Sundays when I realized that a lot of the questions people were consistently leaving on my posts had to do with topics such as growth, reach, and hashtags and that many of these constantly trended as topics people were confused about. I am lucky enough to have an audience on here and having been on this app for so long and having consistently done research from the social media perspective, I wanted to help others on this platform navigate and understand the constantly changing algorithm and tools available to them. So, every Sunday I pick a topic and teach my community about it more in-depth.

We have covered topics ranging from gaining followers, unfollowing without apps, optimizing hashtags and SEO, using reels to your advantage, creating your own gifs, improving reach, and much more. I put a lot of effort into the chats and they are usually a product of a lot of research. This is also my effort in providing resources that are free to my followers. I am very grateful to my audience and believe that I would not be here without their presence, and this is my way of giving back.

How about you Juan, I’ve noticed you’ve been expanding into spreading your social media knowledge on your platform. What are your next steps? What do you wish to offer to your audience in the future?

Juan: Actually yes! Many people knew me as Juan the photographer, but in reality, I have been working as a social media marketer for the last seven years. After Covid hit, many people lost their jobs, stability, etc, but I think that also made many realize that being self-employed and having their own online business doing what they’re good at is possible.

Right now I want to empower other creators and creatives to learn to use social media to their advantage to build an online business… I’ve started to share tips on Photography (for those photographers that follow me) but also tips on IG growth, on marketing, on being an entrepreneur, etc I will continue to offer content of value here on Instagram and I’m planning on expanding outside of this app with blogging, youtube, I’ve recently joined ClubHouse and love the fact that you can have actual conversations about topics you know about, etc,

So now let’s talk about The Big real question: How do you build a real community online?

Angie: If you are asking this question then you are already on the right track. I think many people are on this platform in a quest for numbers and if that’s the goal then you’re most likely going to be severely disappointed and frustrated. If however you focus your energy on connection and community the experience becomes a meaningful one and more likely than not, much more rewarding. A happy creator is an inspired creator and we know the best content comes when we feel good on the platform.

So how do you build a community?

First, you need to have a PURPOSE. A WHY on this platform. Why are you here? Why should people follow you? This is ultimately the most important question you need to answer and it will be the foundation for everything.

Second, you need to create content of value. We are seeing a trend where more and more people are seeking out value on this platform over just pictures. People want to learn, to be educated, to grow, to talk, to be seen. Therefore, you need to start thinking of creating something tangible for your followers, some benefit for them to follow you.

Third, it’s all about that connection. Superficial posting is no longer the way on this platform. People are tired and they want to feel authenticity from their fellow creators. They want to feel heard and listened to. So build those relationships with your community. Support mutually, respond to comments that people leave on your posts, and most importantly ENGAGE. Talk to your audience and ask them what they like and what they don’t like. They can ultimately provide you with the most valuable feedback.

Finally, be consistent. You don’t have to be on here every day, but create initiatives that bring people back to your platform and keep them curious and checking in with you.

How do you believe we need to act to build a community, Juan? What are your steps to build a community on Instagram?

Juan: I couldn’t agree more with everything you have said. I think that gone are the days when everything was about the person behind the account, where everything was superficial, and vague. Now, as you mentioned, people want to feel like they’re part of something like they’re being heard, they want to feel identified with what others are saying, etc so I think that the best way of building a community is being YOURSELF because we are all unique and different and beautiful, so this authenticity is what will certainly attract other like-minded individuals.

And always trying to give value to this community too. As you said posting a beautiful photo is not enough anymore! There has to be a context, there has to be a why and a story.

Do you have any tips and advice for people who have just started in this game? Is it's for personal use? Or if it's for building a personal brand or a business?


  • Don’t focus on the numbers. Focus on the connection, on the person on the other end of the interaction.

  • Think carefully about your ‘whys’ and create purposeful and meaningful content

  • Be yourself, don’t copy other influencers

  • Analyze the behavior of your followers and influencers you look up to

  • Be critical of what you see on this platform

Juan with the knowledge you have now, what advice would you have given yourself when you first started on this platform?

Juan: I would have told myself obviously not to compare to others as everyone’s journey is absolutely unique. I would have told myself to have my purpose because I certainly didn't have one. I would have told myself to give more value. Even though I can say I built a strong community, I wasn’t giving much value besides beautiful travel photos and I could always give more.

You can find the Instagram live by clicking here.


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