Photo by Benjamin Fitch
Photo by Benjamin Fitch
The walls of Instagram’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California are covered with blown-up images of the photo-sharing app’s famous “grams.” With their pleasing filters and rounded corners, the pictures have redefined how we view the world in the internet age. From children jumping off a dock, to eggs sizzling in a pan, to a white skeleton painted on a black horse, the app can make even the mundane feel monumental.
Instagram photos also include captions, and for as long as Lizzie Fuhr, ’10, has worked as Instagram’s community content manager, she has written or edited nearly all of them. Fuhr is the social media platform’s chief wordsmith. She interviews the users whose photos are featured on the site’s flagship account, @instagram, and crafts their stories into paragraph-long bursts for the account’s 228 million followers.
“I believe in what I do with every fiber of my being, which is so rare,” Fuhr explains. “Every story that I get to write, every person that I work with, every advocate, is a real person, and we get to help make the app a little bit smaller for them.”
Alongside her team of 40, Fuhr also coordinates with Instagram offices all over the world, each of whom manages their own local-language accounts. The collective goal is to highlight “positive, hopeful” experiences, Fuhr says. To that end, she also organizes weekend hashtag projects to further engages users, like #WHPstripes, which was inspired by a photo of a woman dressed in a striped dress emerging from a curtain of striped fabric.
The photo led to this WHP caption edited by Fuhr: “This weekend, take photos and videos that capture stripes created by colors, textures and surfaces…see what stripes nature has to offer…from repeating red lockers in the hallway to the way office buildings cast shadows at high noon. Try to notice them—along with the lines created by highways and streets on your commute.” The project inspired 6,181 posts.
Even before college, Fuhr seemed destined for a life in social media. “I couldn’t wait to know where I was going to school so I could get a Facebook account,” she remembers. Until 2006, Facebook was limited only to people with college email addresses, so Fuhr and her friends in Boca Raton, Florida, would peek at the account of an older friend attending the University of Florida. Once she chose U-M, Fuhr used Facebook to meet her roommate and connect with friends before even setting foot on campus.
Michigan “was that first instinctual choice that I made about my future,” she recalls. “I didn’t really know anyone there. I just knew it was right.” At school, Fuhr pursued her passion for writing, majoring in English. She especially enjoyed professor John Rubadeau’s personal essay class.
“She’s a perfect fit for the type of class I teach because she was willing to share,” Rubadeau says. “She has a joie de vivre that just endears her to everybody who ever meets her.”
More instinctual choices followed. A yoga devotee, Fuhr moved out to San Francisco after graduation to live in an ashram. She rose at 7 a.m. to practice yoga up to three times per day but the solitary life didn’t take. The Bay Area, however, did, and Fuhr stayed to join the website Popsugar, where she mostly covered health and fitness.
At Popsugar, Fuhr was also covering Instagram, reposting images from the site and adding captions of her own. She had been an early adopter of the social network herself, and its profile skyrocketed after Facebook purchased it for $1 billion in 2012. Working for the site in 2015 seemed a logical next step. Yet as much as Fuhr thought she knew about Instagram’s world, she was about to get an education.
“My experience had been very insular” before arriving at the company, she said. “It was all about my friends and my family and what they were doing, perhaps some celebrities. But I didn’t know about this vast world of artisans and makers and artists and people sharing their everyday life on the platform.”
On @instagram, stars like Taylor Swift share real estate with users like “Grandma Pat,” an 85-year-old Orange County, California resident whose short video series, “10 Seconds With Grandma,” has made her an online sensation.
Last June, Fuhr left Instagram for a Denver-based creative agency, ready to branch out. But the company’s pull was so strong she returned within a few months, resettling with her boyfriend and dog in a house overlooking the beach in Half Moon Bay.
Now with new Instagram expansions like the recently launched Stories feature – a tool to share sequential posts that disappear in 24 hours – it seems unlikely she’ll be leaving again anytime soon.
“I’ve been here for two years and I still open it up in the morning and I’m happy about it,” she said with a laugh. “Not many people can say that about what they look at all day.”
Andrew Lapin, ’11, is a film critic for NPR and has written for the New York Times, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and over a dozen other publications.