What I’ve learned from growing alongside social media

Brandy Ruiz, center, holds a sheet cake while another classmate pretends he is going to slap it out of her hands. Another classmate is watching and another is filming on a smart phone.

Brandy Ruiz, center, directing Borderzine colleagues through a social video.

I created my very first instagram account at 12 years old, just two years after the app was launched. It was that same year that I also created a YouTube account where my middle school friends and I could post videos for the fun of it. After that, I created my Twitter account at 14. I don’t think I was trying to do anything with social media, let alone understand what a digital footprint was. But, a little over 10 years later, social media is now a big part of my career in media.

Me in 2009 on my parents laptop. I usually spent my time searching things up on the internet or playing Wizard101.


I still remember the first photo I posted on Instagram. I thought a picture of a far away hill would be the best first photo for the ‘gram. But it ended up as just a boring view of the street and the houses seen from my bedroom window. I deleted it a few minutes later. My first post on YouTube was trying to be funny with a fake makeup tutorial with some really bad makeup. But, I deleted that too. On Twitter, my first post was likely something about One Direction. But, you definitely won’t find it on my feed any more. My point is, it took me a while until I started to figure out what I wanted from social media.

A screenshot of Brandy's instagram in 2014, right after middle school.

A screenshot of my Instagram account in 2014. I had just rewatched Sailor Moon and become obsessed with Japanese Anime, hence the profile picture.

It wasn’t until high school that I got more serious about creating the perfect Instagram feed. It was a creative outlet for me. After seeing how other people curated their feeds and posted professional photography, I wanted to give it a try too. That choice ultimately opened doors to opportunities for me.

When I started college, a friend who did marketing work for Red Bull saw my Instagram and connected me with a job as a student marketeer. That role included promoting on social media. Later, I became editor of my college bilingual magazine, Minero, where I designed, planned and created posts for social media alongside other things. Then I did an internship with local media outlet El Paso Matters, where I created the organization’s first TikTok account and contributed to other social media platforms.

Learning to navigate the online world of content creators, trends and the latest platforms sounds easy, but it’s been quite a journey.



During the early days of YouTube and Instagram, watching creators like Zoella, whose fashion hauls kept me in the know about trends and MyLifeAsEva, who had a lot of DIY fashion content, was just in fun. But as soon as I saw people like Jack and Finn Harries who, at the time had been known as Jacksgap on YouTube, things changed for me.

I was in middle-school, living in a trailer park in California an hour away from my school friends as my family was getting ready to move to Texas. I was staying up late and watching a lot of videos. It was 2013 when the Harries twins posted the first video of their four-part series, “The Rickshaw Run,” a travel-vlog series that recorded their journey across India in a rickshaw.

The video had all the essentials of a good story: characters, a plot and unexpected twists. But above all, it showed something that I wasn’t seeing a lot of from other content. It seemed to be genuine in depicting people and places far away.

Looking back on it now, knowing what I know, one would argue that nothing on social media is genuine. But, the people and the sights in these videos weren’t your typical beauty influencers pretending to be a high-schooler or pretending to like a certain brand to appeal to a certain audience. What I was seeing felt honest, felt entertaining and above all intrigued me in ways that made me want to learn more.

At 13, I didn’t realize what this meant. Now, 10 years later, I realized that this is where my passion for telling stories through social media began.

What I learned

After years of watching and learning from creators across all platforms, I realized that there are many ways to tell one story using text, video and photos. And being able to do it all is more important than ever.

For example, on Instagram, it isn’t enough just to post a photo. If you don’t have an engaging caption to create context, you might as well forget it. It has to have something to spark a discussion so people can comment on it. A lively comment section is essential. When there’s no activity happening in the caption/comment sections of your post it means there’s no sense of community to drive more people to your post.

Engagement is one of the four key things that Instagram takes into account when elevating posts in the timeline. If someone likes a photo of yours, they’re likely to be shown another post of yours. But if they don’t engage with that next one, they likely won’t be shown any more of your posts and you’ve lost a potential fan.

You also need to consider how different people respond to different types of posts and develop your own campaign strategy. Some may interact with a static post of an image with text, but others respond better to video reels, or Instagram stories or interactive polls. For example, imagine you’re at Coachella. Sure, you can take a really nice photo of yourself in front of the infamous rainbow building and post just that. But maybe there’s that one friend from high-school who watches every single story you post, but never likes your static posts. Because of this, you need to create a story for something else that happened at the festival as well to make people want to see where you are. This is how you maximize engagement.

Collage of 3 days of selfies at festival



Now, the introduction of new platforms like TikTok have created a shift in short-video focused content strategies once again. It’s still important to create static posts on Instagram and interactive stories. But, now people have to worry about posting a reel to make sure that each person in their audience can be reached.

It seems like it’s getting more and more difficult to stand out in this crowd of perfect people.

The rules change everyday and it feels like a game of who is going to get it first. But, I think it’s worth it. In a few weeks, after I graduate with my degree in multimedia journalism from UTEP I will be working as an audience engagement fellow for Texas Tribune. I’m excited to be combining my love for journalism and social media and learning more from this pioneering media organization.



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