One Year for @RobertEarlShack on Instagram

Robbie Shackelford, known on Instagram as @RobertEarlShack, has been the director for Harding University in Florence for the last 26 years. He’s also my uncle. For the last year, he’s been using Instagram as he “aggressively seeks beauty in every day.” It’s been fascinatingly fun to follow. 

26 March 2014 - The Beginning

One year ago, Katie and I were eating dinner at Robbie and Mona’s, having just gotten back from a few days of snowboarding in Chamonix. Inspiration often hits after a delicious feast, and this occasion was no exception. The thought came to me:

What if Robbie were on Instagram?
— Jeremy's Italian-feast-inspired brain

I quickly explained the point of Instagram: how to post a picture and how to follow a few people (@jonny@SethDaggett, @RebekahClair@KatieDaggett5, and @markslagle were the first, if I remember correctly). 

And voilà (French…sorry), @RobertEarlShack was born:

Tonight's success: getting Robbie on Instagram. @robertearlshack

A photo posted by Jeremy Daggett (@jeremydaggett) on

I showed him how to post pictures and how to like pictures, and that was it. I didn't fully explain mentions, hashtags, comments, or notifications. No need to complicate it. Neither Facebook nor Twitter had worked with Robbie before, so the last thing I wanted to do was overload him from the get-go with too many pictures or rules.  This needed to come about slowly, organically.

That night, Robbie posted three pictures in the span of 30 minutes. While Katie, Mona, Chicca and I went into the living room to chat, he stayed in the kitchen and posted his first picture. A few minutes later, he came to the living room entrance, snapped a photo of us, and went back to the kitchen. Two more photos. 

These pictures only garnered him 10, 12, and 11 likes, respectively. But they gave him the feedback he needed to let him know this thing actually worked. He even had his first conversation as a comment exchange with @markslagle’s snarky joke about Mona’s hairy legs. I can't prove it, but I'm sure that was significant. 

“Three pictures,” I thought. “Pretty good. I wonder if it’ll stick.”


What happened next I attribute both to Instagram's simplicity and to Robbie's way of viewing the world. Robbie started posting pictures. Lots of pictures. And as people started following him, he started following people, liking and commenting on their photos. Robbie is social at the heart of his being. When he meets people, he makes them feel special. When he talks to you, you're the most important person in the world. And since his mission is to aggressively seek beauty in every day, he naturally sees the world in snapshots. Pair that with his propensity to be social, and you've got a dangerous combination of Instagram overdrive.

It exploded. and It was awesome.

In one year, he has posted 1,665 pictures (and counting). That's just over four and a half pictures a day. He’s following 1,138 people and has 1,138 followers. For comparison, I, a social media devotee and advocate, follow 159 people and have posted 71 pictures to my 390 followers in my 4 years of using the service. By all accounts I'm a lightweight Instagram user. But still, I'm a millennial. Robbie was born in Naples in the 1950s. 

Pretty. Cool. 


About 3 weeks in to Instagram, Robbie started using hashtags. His first hashtag is one of my all-time favorites:

Toasting with gelato. A #gelatoast

A photo posted by @robertearlshack on

Besides event-based hashtags (like the three semesters following ours with him: #hufsummer2014, #huffall2014, #hufspring2015), his all-time most used hashtag is #italianphraseoftheday. It was born with this video and a gentle nudge from @markeslagle:

Un buon espresso di mattina! Che bello!😊😀

A video posted by @robertearlshack on

Buon giorno a tutti! Non c’é niente come un buon espresso di mattina.
— Robbie, #italianphraseoftheday

Not only did he start sharing like crazy, he’s developing a new way of teaching Italian with #italianphraseoftheday. Anyone who has watched all 326 of Robbie’s videos and pictures with that tag will have an above-average conversation ability. Robbie definitely cornered the market on that hashtag, and it's been a cornerstone piece of following him for the last year. 

Other hashtags of note include:






These mostly belong to Robbie as well. I nominate that the first be changed to #thecreativecreatorstrikesagain. 

While not a hashtag, Robbie’s easily most-used comment is the acronym VVB. It deserves an honorable mention here. I would wager a bet that most of Robbie’s 1000+ following get it by now. In case you don’t, here’s the first time Robbie explained it to the masses (on Instagram, of course):

Vi vigliamo bene, we care for you!vvb

A photo posted by @robertearlshack on


To wrap this up, I present three highlights from the last year. 

Robbie’s most liked and commented photo, one from Robbie and Mona's 37th anniversary a few weeks ago:

My best friend and the love of my life for 37years! I❤️u Ramona Francine!! #HUFSpring2015

A photo posted by @robertearlshack on

That I can tell, Robbie hasn’t drunk the “selfie kool-aid” yet (in that he talks about taking selfies), but he gets pretty close here, talking about people he follows on Instagram:

Robbie has come a long way since talking about the pictures in his feed as “people sending him pictures.” In an email to me at the end of this past January, he said this regarding Instagram:

I have enjoyed Instagram! It has been a way to get re-acquainted with folks from the past, see marriages, see babies born, see ex-HUF friends get together, etc.etc. Thank you for sharing it with me. I do not always get to stay up with it but try to when I have time.

In the same email, he also mentioned the Paper app by 53, which my brother Seth introduced him to. He’s been using it as a digital sketchbook, which must be super cool for someone who’s been doing art for almost half a century. This brings me to my third highlight:

Did a little sketch on Paper for iPad . That was fun! Vvb #buonagioranata

A photo posted by @robertearlshack on

It’s been a fun, fun year to follow Robbie on Instagram. I can’t wait for technology to advance far enough so that Robbie can share some of the smells coming from the massive pizza oven at Trattoria dell’Insegna del Gallo. 

A Toast

I’d like to propose a toast. Raise your glasses, or whatever piece of glass you’re using to read this post.

Here’s to seeking beauty in the ordinary.
Here’s to learning. 
Here’s to traveling with open eyes.
Here’s to social media at its best, when it connects us with people past, present, and future.

Here’s to Robbie.

I just wish I could toast this over gelato. #gelatoast

Have a story of reconnecting with Robbie over the last year? Share it below. Even if it’s just a funny hashtag, comment, or favorite memory from the past, that’ll work.