Laney Tipton and Toni Chester are the very definition of young professionals in the Triangle – they’re fun, laid-back and prefer to spend their weekends exploring new breweries or restaurants in their beloved cities.
After graduating from area colleges – Tipton, 25, from UNC-Chapel Hill, and Chester, 29, from N.C. State – the two have done more than just live Triangle culture.
They’ve found its heartbeat and lassoed it as co-captains of the RDU Baton.
RDU Baton is primarily an Instagram account (@rdubaton) – although it also runs on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr – of Triangle residents showing off their favorite haunts throughout their day.
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“One of the coolest things is that there are so many new things opening up in the Triangle that it’s hard to keep up,” Chester said. “But with the Baton, you can. It’s way to keep up with it.”
Like anyone familiar with the area would suspect, dogs and beer primarily hold the limelight, but nature trails, gourmet desserts and local businesses pop up just as frequently. All on an account that boasts more than 12,000 followers.
Tipton and Chester meet weekly at Café de los Muertos on Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh to work on the project, but mainly just to catch up because they’re good friends.
The two former co-workers took over the project from their friends Brittany Iery and Susannah Brinkley a year and a half ago to keep it running. Originally, the idea was inspired by John DeGuzman, who started NYC Baton. His project has since fizzled, but the tight-knit community in the Triangle has allowed the RDU Baton to blossom over the course of three years.
Recently, similar Instagram accounts have launched in Texas, Washington and even Milwaukee. Both women love to offer advice to those who want to launch their own account.
The Baton is not a money-maker. It’s a hobby, born out of a love for the Triangle.
“I love the storytelling aspect of it and different perspective every day,” Chester, a graphic designer at the N.C. Museum of Art, said. “We’re both from small towns, where you know everyone’s business, and now in this big city with so much to do. ... There’s a part of me that misses the small town vibe being connected to everyone, and the best thing about Raleigh is that it’s a big city with a small-town attitude.
“The Baton is exactly like that, and showcases that so well. It allows people to have a voice in such a large city and share what they love with 12,000 people.”
“Batoners,” as they’re called, take their day’s task seriously. After all, by the time they hold the account, they’ve often waited seven months for their day of fame.
Many Batoners take the day off work to hit their favorite spots. Most prepare a laundry list of captions and locations ahead of time. Others cancel at the last minute, cracking under the pressure of having their daily lives under the scrutiny of an army of neighbors.
The pressure is somewhat self-imposed, the captains say, but it isn’t ridiculous. Comments are frequent, frank and self-policing if a photo gets too close to being an advertisement or breaking one of the many policies.
The captains’ favorite day was by Kelly Thompson, who snapped shots of random acts of kindness and spread gift cards at the different spots she visited.
Another that stood out was N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, who snapped a photo of fried chicken in the legislature’s “secret” cafeteria.
In the future, the women have big plans for the account. Although they’re strict about small business promotion and keeping advertising to a minimum, they’d like to see it become a platform for more charity work and to encourage tourism. They also have a rebranding planned for the near future.
“It feels like you’re doing something good,” Tipton said. “I’m a believer (that) social media can have an impact. It’s a tool that can have a greater impact on people’s community.”
“It’s a love letter to the city,” she said. “It’s a connection to the place where they live and if the account can be a part of that, that’s a really beautiful thing to see.”
The captains offer their tips for holding the RDU Baton:
▪ Be creative. Pick a theme for your day.
▪ Make a recommendation. Why do you love that spot? What’s the best thing about it?
▪ Short and thoughtful captions – people love trivia and fun facts.
▪ Don’t stress out about it! Have fun!