Before starting my business, I really loved Instagram.
It was just a bit of fun - dinner pics, holiday snaps, pet portraits, with a handful of filters available to perk up your skin tone in that beach selfie or to give your shots a vintage-hipster-circa-2012 feel. All shown in real time as and when people were posting (putting the "Insta" in the 'gram).
Fast forward to April 2018, and how things have changed.
Instagram has fast become one of the most popular platforms for marketing purposes, with over 25 million active business accounts using the site daily. It's easy to see why - the data capture features are impressively vast, allowing you to track the age and location of your followers, see your most popular posts by number of likes, and note what days you receive the most engagement, amongst a plethora of other stats. Plus, with a pool of 500 million daily active users on Instagram, we have an enormous audience at our fingertips just waiting to find us and what we do. All for absolutely free.
Yes and no.
You can tailor your Instagram feed to be whatever you want it to be, and for those of us that use it for business, it's likely you'll be following people in and around your industry.
A simple scroll through your feed can alert you to upcoming events, show you what your peers have been up to, and gives you the opportunity to network and to get your name out there with the top players in your chosen field. Instagram is a great place to shout out about your new project or a big win that you want to gain some acknowledgement for, and watching the "likes" roll in can be just the pinch of validation you need that day.
The downside is... there are 500 million daily active users on Instagram. And you are just one of them.
One of 500 million people scrabbling for visibility in the dense world of the internet, actively being told that social media sites can be the gatekeepers of success for our blogs, creative businesses, modelling careers, side hustles.
I can't tell you how many articles I've read about how to crack the Instagram code and beat the algorithm; what time of day to post, how many times per day to post, which hashtags to use, how many words need to be left in your comments for it to count as engagement. Whole working days have evaporated under the glare of my laptop screen burning bright with advice, scheduling templates and well-meaning yet contradictory blog posts.
Not to mention all the plotting and planning involved in creating that perfectly curated grid. Hours spent thinking up the content, precisely orchestrating the photographs, painstakingly editing the shots. Don't get me started on captions and hashtags. You know some people outsource the writing of their captions for optimum engagement? Madness.
And let's be real here - how many of us are running this show alone, juggling day jobs, children, other life commitments alongside our creative gigs? I only have 2 or 3 days per week to spend on building my empire, so when I lose nearly a whole day to chasing my tail with little to show for it by dinner time, cue the feelings of frustration and failure.
Aside from the actual logistics of getting your work seen, there's also the matter of the well-documented effects of social media on our mental health.
It's been a hot topic in the news lately, with teens that have grown up with these platforms reporting massively increased rates of anxiety and depression. Of course there are other factors at play too, but we can't ignore the huge impact that our absorption of the highly curated projections of others' lives has on us.
The notion of "compare and despair" coined by comparison coach Lucy Sheridan sums up a lot of the beef I have with the way Instagram makes me feel. When I see one of my peers absolutely smashing it on Instagram, of course I'm chuffed for them.
But I very swiftly fall into the trap of playing the numbers game. Comparing the number of followers, number of likes on posts, number of posts put out in a week. Comparing our ages and the amount of time we've been in business, wondering why I've not had any opportunities come my way (and of course conveniently forgetting all the opportunities that have come my way, funny that) and wondering why I'm not as successful as them.
It exacerbates issues with low self-esteem and reinforces my overwhelming need for validation.
I don't think I'm alone in this feeling.
However, when it comes to business, a presence on social media is non-negotiable.
So what can we do? How can we foster a healthier relationship with Instagram whilst still maintaining a presence for the sake of our businesses? I have a few ideas:
Stop overthinking it.
There is no code to crack. There is no secret formula. There's just an immense amount of people fighting to be seen in the illimitable crowd. All that your number of followers represents is the amount of people that have managed to find you in the Insta-jungle, it does not equate to how good you are at doing what you do. The algorithm is as puzzling to everyone as a Rubik's cube, so save your brain power for things that really matter rather than wasting it trying to out-fox the technology.
Create more, curate less.
The amount of time wasted fretting and obsessing over curating the perfect grid and sticking rigidly to a daunting posting schedule could be spent so much more valuably. Work on honing your skills and developing your craft; this is, after all, the thing you want people to buy into.
Allow yourself to log off.
On the days where I'm having a bit of a life or business wobble, there is no way that rapidly scrolling through Insta is going to lift my spirits. I've learned to recognise when it's time for me to log off from social media. If this period goes on for a few days or a few weeks, that's OK. It's OK to not do the thing that makes you feel shit about yourself. Put your energies elsewhere in your business; design a new product, get your finances in check so you feel like a badass when tax season rolls around, attend some events and get networking. Keeping productive is the best way to ward off any negative vibes.
Keeping it real
Here's a couple of my favourite real-talk Instagrammers:
Allison Sadler (@allison_sadler_) - Allison ran the fantastic #freeupmyinsta last year, inviting us all to take a breather from rigid curation and relax our feeds a little. I hear there might be another one coming soon, so follow Allison to keep updated.
Rosh Thanki (@roshthanki) - colourful creative blogger Rosh always features some "Rosh Realness" in her IG posts, such as telling you a bit of background about the perfectly edited shot you're double-tapping, and featuring the un-edited photos in her blog posts.