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Open Road with Josh Johnson by Bridgette Shima

If you’ve been on Instagram as long as Josh Johnson has been, then you can pretty much say that you’ve been around since day 1.

JJ runs one of the most active communities on Instagram.   He and his team post daily challenges, features, tips and more.  His involvement within the app is over and beyond – all because of his passion for photography and his love for Instagram.

I got the chance to meet JJ in person Wednesday night along with Kevin Kuster and the FIAT crew.  Seattle was the first of their four city tour throughout a five day course.  Photographers met near the EMP and walked around Seattle Center taking photos while getting in a few words with JJ.

Personally, I wanted to see for myself who the man behind the JJ name was and find out what he’s been up to since his last interview with Dave. I have to say though, that I wish we had more time to talk.  There’s way more to JJ than what you read here…

Did you ever imagine you would become such a well know figure within Instagram?  How do you keep going strong? 

It’s all due to the power of the app itself – the ability to share and interact and be creative. From personal experience, I remember taking pictures with film.   Shooting the pictures, taking them to the drug store and picking up the photographs and showing them to my my friends.  I was proud of what I did.  I messed around with different filters, the whole process was exciting.  Now take the work that goes into that process and cut down the reward into minutes and seconds.  Snap the picture and get the reward right away by people appreciating your work right away.

I already had experience doing workshops so I decided that this was a big deal and I wanted to be a part of it, so every day I put in a little something.

My success is due to my passion and consistency; the way that Instagram works resonated well with what turns me on and because of that I’ve stuck with it.  I’ve been lucky enough to have been with it from the beginning.

We both know that it’s not just about the photos, it’s about the community as well.  With so many people that you engage with, how do you keep that under wraps?  Do you have time for an online conversation?

I take the whole process very seriously.  This is what I do.  This is my job.  I don’t take any one piece of it at a time very seriously.

How do I not get overwhelmed? I recognize that I use Instagram very differently than other people.  There are very few accounts and relationships that I think long and hard about protecting.  Whatever comes across my screen I pay attention to.  I may not interact with a conversation but I will repost images on my account even though I’m not commenting on a lot of pictures.  I do make up for this by participating in other ways.

What’s your criteria when featuring photographers?

For me, I would be the first to say that a huge portion of it is personal esthetic. #1 would be for the subject of the image to be clear and relatively isolated – it’s about cutting out the background and distraction.  It feels good to me when I can look at an image and say to myself, this photographer knew what they wanted me to see and took the time to frame it and expose it accurately in a way that makes it easy for me to understand what they’re trying to say.  It feels like it’s been thought out and given a little bit of love.

This even includes street shots.  This means that the person that shot the image thought about the background, and even though it looks spontaneous, the street photographer deliberately wanted to catch that moment in an esthetically, pleasing way.

I want to find pictures that have a clearly defined subject.

Tell us about “collaborative marketing”.  How are you making it work for you?  

I want to do something significant, to make an impression in the world.

A lot of times the opportunities that we get to make this impression happen when there’s change.  There are changes happening now that can lead to something significant where our creativity is being sparked because of technology and more specifically, mobile technology.

There used to be a certain amount of experience and effort to be a photographer ten or fifteen years ago.  There was the purchasing of the camera and film, whole process of shooting the picture and having no idea what it was going to look like and not being able to see it for three or four days.  That’s what it took to realize the creative buzz.

Well, nowadays you don’t have to buy a camera because it’s in your pocket.  You don’t have to buy film because it’s obsolete.  You don’t have to learn about exposure because you can look at your screen and either it looks good or it doesn’t.  And so, we’re saying we’re looking for change and the opportunities to make a difference.  People that didn’t see themselves as being able to feel that creative buzz, because they didn’t have the time nor talent, can now get it on Instagram and feel creative and feel good.  And I think this is happening to a lot of people.  There’s an opportunity to help people through that process and to lead during this change.  And this is what I want to do and how I want to position myself and my company.

2nd opportunity is anybody that’s in the marketing world will say that everything is changing.  Certain rules don’t apply anymore.  There’s been a mixed bag when it comes to internet advertising.  I think maybe the human brain has the natural ability to block out ads.  Marketers don’t know how they’re going to connect with us consumers down the road as this trend continues.  There are billions of dollars out there that used to go towards, and not necessarily, into making this world a better place.  And because the rules have changed, society has the opportunity to reset the rules. We get to decide for ourselves where these billions of dollars go.

As a community it’s fairly easy – we want to make connections, make friends and meet each other face to face.  This is the very beginning.  I’d like to see this grow and grow.

I’ve seen it with Alt Hotel, now that was a huge success!

Right, we had over 100,000 images submitted and 5,000 on the wall, sponsored by Alt Hotel and Polaroid.

People will have this experience for a lifetime, to say that their photo was part of an art installment is worth more than an ad somewhere.

Engaging with the community is about creating relationships, which is much more valuable than paying for 30 seconds to try to convince someone to buy a product. What do you see happening with this new wave of marketing? 

Marketing is more and more about relationships.

Companies are starting to avoid talking about their product. This is because of their existing relationship with the community and the presence they have already.  It’s about catering to their experience.

Do you get tons of partnership offers?

We’re not especially active trying to get business.  People find us.  We focus on community more than anything.

Who’s on your team?

There are 4 of us on the core team:

Kevin was the 1st person I was in contact with, he emailed me about two years regarding the shooting at the Colorado movie theater.  He reached out asking if we could do something and from that interaction, we kept in touch.  I was at a point where I knew I needed a business manager, which is what he does, running these kinds of events.  He was the first person I brought on the team to take it to the next level.

Emily is my Director of Operations.

Michael is a lawyer and he handles the books.

Tell us more about the Open Road Challenge with FIAT.  

This is our second one.  The first was last fall and we went from Chicago to New York, 5 different cities total.

It’s a photowalk tour to bring everyone in the community together to meet face to face, take pictures and have a good time.  We’re driving in a FIAT and they’re giving away a car.  Last year there was a nomination process and there was a team which chose some photos to post for public voting.  This year, it’ll be done differently.

Tag it with one of the daily hashtags for a chance to win.  For example, #fiatwaterpromo.

Enter as many images as you wish – @littlecoal won it last year!

Have any future projects you’d like to share with us?

We can’t announce anything yet but we’ve got a couple of accounts that we’re working on.

One final question… which company would you dream of working with at the moment?

Roadtrek Motorhomes. I lived in a Roadtrek Motorhome for about a year, ten years ago.  I’d love to spend some time in another one.  How about a giant caravan trip?!

Josh Johnson and his crew are currently touring the west coast.  

For complete details please visit his Instagram gallery to find the meetup location nearest you so that you, too, can be a part of the Open Road event! 

Thanks to FIAT and the JJ team for putting Seattle on their map.  We had a GREAT time! 

And, if you ever get that RoadTrek Motorhome, be sure to reserve one for us!  ; ) 

Image by Bridgette Shima  

A special shoutout goes to Michaela with Instagramers Seattle for getting the word out.  

To see more photos you can check out the hashtag or Facebook album

Find Josh Johnson: Instagram | Website | twitter