How Impact Hub Baltimore built its Instagram following to 4,500+ - Technical.ly Baltimore

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How Impact Hub Baltimore built its Instagram following to 4,500+

Jermaine Bell on how to build a narrative — and community — through visuals.

Jermaine Bell's last day at Impact Hub Baltimore.

(Photo via Facebook)

This is a guest post by Jermaine Bell, formerly of Impact Hub Baltimore.

When I first began working at social entrepreneurship space Impact Hub Baltimore (IHB) as a Baltimore Corps fellow, my role as the program and outreach coordinator was clear. I was to bring awareness to the work that the IHB staff and volunteers were doing and to cultivate a diverse and equitable community. So I took to social media and now, Instagram is the largest form of communication that the organization has. It’s far-reaching, effective and immediate.

The team, which began as SocEnt Baltimore, consisted of the three cofounders: Rodney Foxworth, Pres Adams and Michelle Geiss. Lindsey Henley was the community host, who managed the internal activities of the volunteers and the space itself, and Ore Akins, Andrew Hazlett and Bryan Connor were three other volunteers who did our web development. That was the entire team. At the time, our small team was just right, as we were operating out of four rooms and a shared kitchen in a rowhome in Charles Village.

But, one year after becoming part of the international Impact Hub global network in 2014, we signed a lease to move into an 8,000 square feet location on North Avenue with way more than four rooms. There was also a lot of new activity for us. An upcoming popup at Open Works’ Makescape, Steve Case visiting the space for Rise of the Rest, an entrepreneurial pitch bus tour and our next SocEnt Breakfast, a monthly breakfast series started by our founders Rodney and Pres. This breakfast was organized to bring people from every corner of Baltimore together, and it worked so well that it’s how Rodney and Pres met Michelle and became a team.

The only thing missing from these events was documentation and external communication with our community. I began an Instagram account with one picture of Pres and Michelle as we were having a construction meeting. I happened to see Impact Hub’s name in the building’s ledger and had them pose beside it. The irony was we were unable to get into our actual space.

This set the tone for our story. I began documenting all of the day-to-day happenings at both our rowhome location and the North Avenue location. That way, our community got to watch us literally build our space.

There were just two rules. The photos I took had to be candid and they had to be amazing. When I planned the opening house party, I took photos of everything. When I planned over 20 happenings in January, I took photos of every speaker and every attendee. I learned that our lack of staff as an startup was an excellent way to get my hands dirty.

I began to create themes for each month. In March, we celebrated International Women’s Day all month long with women who worked in various sectors like communications director of Code In The Schools Charlotte James, a candlemaking workshop with Knits Soy And Metal owner Letta Moore and a lunchtime conversation with Bromo District director Jess Solomon, What Weekly’s Katy Meacham  and the all-female arts collective The Balti Gurl.

I soon began thinking of programmatic tie ins that could also broaden our appeal on social media like popup chefs, yoga and rotating exhibitions of local artists’ work and artisan workshops.

It’s important to note that our social media was our most prominent means of communication. We could not afford a ton of print communication, and I don’t think people pay attention to print like they do social media. We do have an email list, but we only use it biweekly, as opposed to Instagram, which was a faster way to communicate with the public.

Thanks to the artist residency that I created with New York Times bestseller, D. Watkins our presence also began to grow rapidly. (I interviewed Watkins for BmoreArt in May of 2015.)

By March, just six months after being on Instagram, we had 2,000 and followers and 1,100 followers on Facebook. We had a Twitter account well before I began, but because of the visual nature and invited voyeurism of Instagram and Facebook, Twitter wasn’t enough and without Instagram and Facebook, our presence was invisible.

In April, the team and I sat down and discussed a title change for me. I became the marketing and programs director. I led over fifty programs in twelve months and helped to coordinate numerous other community-driven events, which were now being generated by the community’s wants and needs. In August, it was announced that under my creative direction, Impact Hub was named “Best Creative Space” by Baltimore Magazine.

I recently wrapped my yearlong fellowship at Impact Hub Baltimore. But I am proud to say that the Instagram had over 4500 followers, and the Facebook had 2,000 during my departure. And, to think that it all began with one image that I took with my phone’s camera.

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