Instagram - What people won't tell you about getting a following

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I achieved the elusive 10k after less than six months of trying to connect with like-minded creatives and lost my passion for photography in the process. This led me to delete my account, take a break from all social media and start from the beginning. I stepped away from this experience, feeling less than confident in my photography and myself. I learned some unsavoury things about this platform that I really think people need to understand.

Evidence suggests that Instagram is the most damaging social media platform for mental health. My primary reason for posting on Instagram was simple; it provided some motivation to create imagery, while I was learning to improve my work. What I found out will blow your mind. Especially if you haven’t been participating in this toxic game, which evolved in response to the new algorithm.

The current situation with social media reminds me of Lance Armstrong and his use of performance-enhancing drugs or the Australian Cricket cheating scandal and more recently, the American University scandal. There is so much going on behind the scenes that most people, brands and companies aren’t aware of. Trey Ratcliff has gone on to write a book about this whole situation.

What are we doing as a society that to get ahead, we have to find ways to cheat the system. God-given talent doesn’t cut it anymore you need to be wealthier, faster, more attractive and even more intelligent and we people will get there by whatever means possible.

Instagram - What people won't tell you about getting a following

THE INSTAGRAM PODS

The algorithm changes have created a competitive force within the Instagram community, which has people going to some pretty extreme lengths to try and beat it the system. Chat groups were established as a way to increase engagement, likes and saves. There are also Facebook groups devoted to doing rounds of comments on mass at specific times. Also, you have probably noticed that sponsored posts are more constant in your feed as it becomes more and more challenging to get your work seen.

What you need to understand about POD’s is that you are ultimately inflating your account with likes from people who may not even like your work. Their purpose is to gain traction in an over-saturated market. From a marketing perspective, these people aren’t your target follower. You want to attract people who are inspired by your content and your brand, not because they are obligated to comment, like and save. You will not build trust, and it isn’t authentic.

While this platform is meant to be social, fun and inspiring to others, this method is what is creating an elitist mentality. Full disclosure I know about these groups because, I had participated in them initially, invited by other creatives. It was recommended as the only way to get anywhere on this social platform. While I was fortunate to connect with some fantastic people, strict rules made the whole thing feel fake, clinical and not creatively inspiring. As I learned more about the tactics used to get ahead, I soon realised this wasn’t conducive to nurturing and supporting creatives in the way I had hoped. It was toxic.

These pods become little cliques of photographers, bloggers and influencers, who whinge about other Instagram users, monitoring their methods for growth and calling them out for cheating the system even when they were doing similar things. They would justify one way over the other. In some cases, these people may have just been doing well by engaging with the right people.

If you are in a POD, make sure you disclose this to brands you work with, so they can make an informed decision about whether your influence will translate to sales.

BULLYING ONLINE

When people partake in bully-like behaviour toward other users online, it makes me wonder what our world is coming too. This platform is about creating and connecting. So why has it suddenly come down to just the chosen few? There is enough room in this world for everyone to express themselves creatively; however, they feel inspired to, and that is up to the individual. Art is so subjective and who are we to question what makes great art. Significant underlying social issues are contributing to online conflict — a lack of emotional maturity, insecurity, ethics and different value systems can all foster this type of online bullying behaviour.

While we cannot blame social media entirely for the conduct of others, it has undoubtedly made it easier for people to attack an individual online. Having seen first hand the effects of online bullying, I suggest that no one would want to have on their conscience, that a mean spirited interaction was the very tipping point for someone to end their life. We are in the throw’s of a mental health crisis, be careful how you interact with others online and in the real world. We need to be kind in a world that needs more people to nurture and support one another. Embrace and support fellow artists.

Society needs so many more creative souls; because these are the change-makers. Use this platform to embrace each other's creativity and use your voice to inspire change in our society, not just for your monetary gain. Instagram can be tremendous at connecting you with like-minded creatives. Keep the experience positive and give more than you take from others.

BUYING FOLLOWERS/LIKES

You can spot the accounts who have paid for engagement and likes. The content is often extremely average, and barely anyone comments on their feed, but somehow they have 30k+ followers. You would never go a day without receiving a message from someone promising to grow your account.

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THE FEATURE ACCOUNTS

These can be a great way of getting your account seen but hundreds or even thousands of followers, but that is about all they are suitable for. They can also perpetuate the theme that exposure is somehow a currency for your imagery. These accounts have been known to use this opportunity once they have gathered a significant following to switch to a personal account having used other people's work to get ahead. This has been how several travel influencers have gained their large following. These accounts are often up for sale if you want an immediately broad audience (which is against the terms and conditions of Instagram). Still, it is incredible how many people have done this to be an overnight success. Sara Melotti, a well-known travel photographer, wrote a piece discussing the Instagram mafia and feature accounts who only support a select crew of Instagrammers. Creating this elitist bullshit that has no space in any creative endeavour, but people get fame-hungry.

FOLLOW/UNFOLLOW

The follow/unfollow method creates an enormous amount of aggression on Instagram; it is, however, a strategy that is touted by many a travel influencer to achieve a quick following. Yes, it is incredibly annoying. Everyone wants a million followers, and this method is how many of the big travel influencers got their audience. First consider that people might like your content initially but for whatever reason, decide not to stick around. Let it go. Don’t use it as an opportunity to abuse them for unfollowing you. If they come back because you posted something epic then celebrate that for what it is.

If you have someone who is repeatedly following and unfollowing, they are possibly using a bot, or they don’t realise they have already previously added you and you didn’t connect. If you use Instagram properly, you won’t know who is unfollowing you. You need a third-party app to see this information which is against the terms and conditions. If it bothers you that much, then use the block button and move on with your day.

If you unfollow an account because you didn’t connect in any way, I can’t see the issue. There are more critical things to get angry about in this world and being unfollowed on Instagram should be at the bottom of your priority list.

This misdirected anger is energy that should be invested in protecting your intellectual property rights on Instagram, more on that later. I believe that if you want to maintain your following, you need to invest your time. It’s not just about creating high-quality images anymore. You have to give back in some way. Whether it’s through inspiration, advice, kindness or support, if your content is good enough people will find you, recommend you, and you will grow without any of these tactics. Yes, it will be harder because you are competing against people playing the game, but you will be authentic and organic, and this is far more appealing to marketers because people will trust you.

If you follow someone and they negatively impact your experience, you are not obligated to remain following them. I do not care what other people think about this. I had no issue using the Maria Kondo method on accounts which didn’t continue to spark joy.

Note: Be mindful of any third-party apps you use to plan, post or edit your Instagram account. Especially if they require your Instagram login you can unknowingly accept them to comment, follow and unfollow on your behalf.

FREE PRODUCTS FOR CONTENT

Brands often approached me and offered free product in return for content. The request for content would be anything from approximately ten high-resolution images that they would use at their discretion or a single shot. The products were anything from RRP $20-$300.

Brands asking for a content package like this, for the promise of a product is a pretty big ask. Instagram has created this market, and in some cases, it can be damaging to the livelihood of professional photographers, but this is the way the industry is moving. Just remember your worth as a creator.

INSTAGRAMMABLE LOCATIONS

While I often use Instagram for travel inspiration, there is a considerable amount of people creating the same images. The account @insta_repeat is the perfect representation of people recreating the same photos for social media. The enormous growth of Instagram has seen an influx of people travel to instagramable locations.

Venice and Barcelona protested their dislike of over-tourism. People go to such extreme lengths to get an image for the gram. We need to be more mindful of how we promote locations and consider the impacts. It would be wonderful if the Instagram algorithm started rewarding those with original content rather than the repetitive images in the same places.

Images from  @insta_repeat

Images from @insta_repeat

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS

Hard-working content makers and photographers were creating these epic images only to have them used on someone else’s website without permission, credit or payment. Then there were the brands who would screenshot pictures to sell their products and not even credit the photographer. In what world is it ever ok to steal from people ? just because an image is displayed online does not make it available for anyone to use.

I firmly believe Facebook and Instagram need to work harder to protect the Intellectual property rights of creatives. Brands need to recognise the importance of creative mediums and place a much higher value on art. We also need to learn to value ourselves and the work we produce. If you are going to get passionate about something, let it be IP rights and genuine respect for creative work. Instead of going off at people online because they aren’t behaving how you would like them to.

The hashtag #createorcredit was founded by Intellectual property Lawyer Catherine Grace to bring attention to copyright law on social media and educate people on the correct way to credit on social platforms.

CREATIVES LOSING THEIR MOTIVATION TO CREATE

What I found disturbing were the disheartened messages I would receive from people asking what they were doing wrong. People didn't like their imagery, and they were continually losing followers. I would look at these accounts and see the most beautiful and creative shots, and I would explain to them what was happening behind the scenes. However, not receiving this validation was enough to make people want to quit creating altogether. 

What a tragedy this would be. Art chronicles our lives and experiences. We need Art to understand and share our personal and shared history. It connects us as humans, and while it has shifted to a digital platform, it would be of great benefit to us as a society to support the creators, the dreamers and the change-makers of this world.

Unfortunately, the algorithm change has promoted competition, hate and negativity on Instagram. With all the negatives, there are still some fantastic features on this platform. I have found inspiration and connection with people I may have never otherwise met. Instagram has excellent potential to elevate people on a creative path be mindful of the fact you aren't on an equal playing field if you are starting. Also, bear in mind that before you go on some Instagram rant because you feel entitled to have an opinion on how people should run their accounts. Consider this, on the other side, is a human being you do not know what someone might have going on in their personal life, and your misguided comments may be the very tipping point that sends someone over the edge. Positively use the platform, find inspiration and elevate others. I have met some fantastic people through the photography community so before you completely give up, consider your reason for being on the platform and know it's incredibly competitive don’t be disheartened if you don’t always get the responses you were expecting because your worth as an artist should never be tied up in likes and followers.

Brands like Unilever are aware of the fraudulent behaviour of influencers. If you buy followers people can see, if you use a bot, it’s going to be easy to find out on websites like Ninjalitics Hypeauditor or Socialblade.

Photo by  Ben Kolde  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ben Kolde on Unsplash

What has your experience been with Instagram?

If you want to learn how to build real influence in the travel and photography industry and do it authentically check out the Lauren Bath and Trey Ratcliff Course these are two people who use this platform in a healthy and productive way. With proven long term industry success. I for one am fed up with seeing endless courses on how to be an influencer from people with no credentials other than a following that they have manipulated their way to achieve.