Social media can be an incredibly powerful tool for building a community around a niche or shared interests. For Ronnie Frey (Interior Designer turned Content Creator), social media has given him a platform to pursue his passion for architectural photography and build a like-minded following along the way.
Ronnie has always had a keen eye for detail. With a passion for architecture, design and a love for photographing the world around him, his Instagram account Doorways of Chicago (or D.O.C., for short) was born in 2018 and started growing more rapidly in 2020. Today, it boasts over 30.5k followers and counting.
In this chat about all things business, social media and finding success online, Ronnie shares his honest tips for growing an engaged audience on social media and what the future holds for Doorways of Chicago.
What is the story behind your business? How did you get started?
“I got into the photography industry almost by accident. I had no idea I could take good photographs! I am an interior designer by trade and have practiced design for most of my career life.
Having studied architecture in my college training, I developed a love for it, especially vintage or historical architecture. I’ve always loved doorways which have so many different philosophical meanings, aside from their aesthetic beauty. So for fun, I started going around capturing photographs of amazing doorways in Chicago and posting them on my Instagram account @doorwaysofchicago.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I got laid off from my retail job. The very next day I decided to work on growing my Instagram account like it was my job. I had gained around 5,000 followers. I knew I had something that I could eventually monetize but it was going to take some work to get to that point. Today with over 30,000 followers I offer content creation, influencer promotions, photography prints, greeting card collections and architectural walking tours in Chicago and more.
As a photographer I am known for my keen eye, often showing an angle of a building or a detail of a structure that most people have never seen. I’m known as a storyteller and my audience loves to read the history behind each post.
Aside from the photography, I am most proud of the architectural walking tours I have designed and I’m really excited about expanding that portion of my business. The biggest compliment about my current tours is that people are calling them ‘time travel’ experiences.”
When building your business, how did you use social media to build awareness and grow a following?
“Social media has been vital and crucial in building my business. While in the beginning stages (I’m talking when I was at 400-500 followers) I never stopped posting. I showed up every day for over two years before any monetization opportunities ever presented themselves. Consistency is the key. I kept working at it even when it seemed like nothing was happening.
I made sure to respond to every message and comment during the early years. Now I can’t respond to every single comment but I always make sure to respond to as many as I can.
Additionally, I made sure to stay true to myself and to show what I wanted to show, even if sometimes it seemed like the engagement was maybe not what I had thought it would be. I wanted people to see the real me and to know me for my specific passions.
Social media is how I sell most of the tickets to my tours and also photo prints and greeting cards and I have even started to work with as a content creator for other Instagram accounts.”
How do you use social media to showcase your photography and content creation skills?
“I post one photo daily of a doorway or the architecture the doorways belong to. I love vintage planes, trains and automobiles so I post that content as well. This past year I purchased a few drones and a gimbal stick and started creating reels using that content. I just love it!
I have had musical training all my life and in college as well so to find just the right song to compliment the footage and create the mood I am after is so rewarding. I can combine all my passions into a video that is only a few seconds long. I call them my little movies!”
What Plann features do you love as a photographer?
“Plann had been a strong part of my account’s growth. I love that I can drag and drop all the photos and visually plan my feed! I also love the scheduling feature because I often decide what I am going to post the next day while I am lying in bed at night. To know it is all handled with the text, the hashtags, and tagging really takes a lot off my mind.
I also love being able to create and save hashtag sets in the Plann app. Additionally, to have the desktop version that syncs with my phone app is so wonderful. I do a lot in the mobile app but sometimes I enjoy working on the desktop version and to know that everything immediately syncs is priceless! The cross-posting to other social media platforms (like Facebook) is also so useful!”
What was the first thing you noticed when you started using Plann?
“Since I was able to predetermine what my feed would look like I noticed a definite uptick in followers. You only have a few seconds to capture someone’s interest when they visit your profile and for them to decide if they want to follow you so I realized my feed needs to look amazing at all times.
I also use the results and analytics feature a lot in order to always have a current media kit available to potential clients.”
What are your top three tips for growing an engaged audience and following on social media?
“Do the work: Show up every day. I rarely miss a day but consistency is the key. It has been a lot of hard work, learning about social media algorithms, hashtags, new platform features, and how to organically grow an Instagram account. At the same time, it doesn’t feel like work because I love it so much.
Engage with people: If someone leaves a thoughtful comment on a post I will even visit their profile to see if I can find their first name and use that in my response. Be social! I love the interaction with people, both with friends and clients I have gained as a result of my Instagram account.
It’s an amazing thing to be able to touch people’s lives through photography and to really embrace the social part of social media! I’ve made so many great friends and clients purely as a result of being on social media in this capacity.
Say, “Not today, Satan” to your inner saboteur: I’ve had to learn to get out of my own way, believe in myself and not doubt my instincts. Almost instantaneously, when I decided not to care what anyone thought anymore, to quit listening to my inner saboteur, and to put my head down to do what I do best, the magic started happening.
In this business I believe you need an unshakable belief in yourself, even if you’re the only one who can see your vision.”
What’s next for your business?
“To get paid to travel and present those experiences through my eye is now a dream of mine. So, I am working towards making that happen! I want to keep building my tour business, so I am adding more tours as often as I can. Over the past 12 months, in addition to my regular tours, I’ve conducted some private tours for companies like Match.com, Teknion Furniture, Delta-Brizo Showroom and some private family tours.
It is also exciting to be involved with a start-up phone app called ‘eATLAS’, which allows you to take app-guided walking tours that I and other tour guides have designed. The beauty of these type of tours is you can go wherever you want, whenever you have the time, all by using your phone.
This app is currently available for all iPhone and Google phone users with several tours mostly in the Chicagoland area. I have designed seven tours for the app and am working on many more. Their goal is to have tours available from around the globe for their users.
I would love to create a series of coffee table books of my photography and to get my card collections into some retail stores. I also have an idea to do a series of videos going door to door and telling people’s stories, from shop owners to restaurants and more. I have done a few already and now I want to scale it up and make it a thing. Maybe it can become a TV series! I like to think big!”
Ready to grow your business or brand on social media?
If you’re looking to find success with social media just like Ronnie, Plann is your all-in-one content creation suite that allows you to manage all your social media channels effortlessly. From mapping out your strategy and designing your assets to saving plug-and-play hashtag sets, you’ll find everything you need to succeed inside Plann.
Sign up for your free 7 day trial of Plann Pro today and skyrocket your success on social media!