Although some Duke-UNC relationships come to duels, sophomore Sara Shmueli and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sophomore Brooke Bekoff have made their Instagram partnership thrive.
The pair created an Instagram account of memes about the hit musical "Hamilton" that has already attracted nearly 60,000 followers. The account—called "meme.me.inside" in reference to one of the musical’s songs—has had surprising success, and the two were willing to tell The Chronicle their story.
“The response is incredible, and I think a lot of people consider us a friend almost,” Bekoff said.
Natives of Boca Raton, Florida, Shmueli and Bekoff went to the same school from kindergarten to 12th grade and stayed close during college. When a friend showed Bekoff the soundtrack to "Hamilton" last year, she immediately got hooked.
“You can figure out the entire story just by listening to the soundtrack,” Shmueli said.
Shmueli discovered the soundtrack later that summer, and the two started sending each other memes they made about the musical. After creating an abundance of photos, the two decided to make an Instagram account to post them online.
And they did not throw away their shot—with little initial effort, the account received approximately 1,000 followers during its debut. Since then, the account has gained about 300 new followers each day. Shmueli and Bekoff seek to hit 100,000 followers within the year—that would be enough.
It did not take long for the two to realize they needed to turn off the notifications for Instagram on their phones.
“If you had asked us a year ago, we would have probably thought this idea was so stupid,” Bekoff said. “But no idea is too stupid.”
Bekoff and Shmueli bounce ideas off each other throughout the day and create their final posts on Photoshop. Some weeks are busier than others—they are both full-time students—but they try to update the page regularly.
Shmueli said the most popular posts are their memes about the Super Bowl and International Women’s Day.
Although there are other "Hamilton" meme accounts, Shmueli and Bekoff said they are satisfied with theirs because it is unique and keeps people coming back.
“It’s not like another 'Hamilton' account you’d see since all the content is completely ours,” Shmueli said.
Their account also seeks to capitalize on events in the news. Bekoff said she enjoys handling some of the more politically-oriented posts. For example, some feature President Donald Trump and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.
Shmueli and Bekoff have even monetized their account by launching an online store with "Hamilton"-related merchandise. They have also expanded to Facebook and Twitter.
And they have not been helpless to figure out what their followers want. They know them like they know their own minds. Using Instagram analytics and feedback from friends, they try to target their posts to their audience, which is largely composed of teenage girls.
“Our followers are amazing,” Bekoff said. “We wouldn’t be here without them. It’s just really interesting to see how deeply we’ve connected with them.”
Bekoff noted that she has seen the show with its original cast on Broadway. Some of the cast even follow the account.
“I still talk about it as the best day of my life,” she said. “Honestly, it was just so incredible.”
Shmueli still has yet to see the live show. However, the two plan to see the show’s run in Durham during the Durham Performing Arts Center’s 2018-19 season.
Although they are not sure whether the venture will transition into a full-time pursuit after they graduate, they explained that it has been a learning experience for them so far.
“One big entrepreneurial lesson I’ve learned is don’t hesitate,” Shmueli said, noting that they could have launched the store earlier but eventually got the job done.
“Don’t wait for it,” Bekoff interjected.