I've been sitting and stewing on this topic for the longest time with fear around sharing it. So, let me preface everything I'm about to say with the disclaimer that I am by no means throwing a blanket statement over the entire IG community of people with large followings and/or "pretty" feeds. I'm simply noticing an overarching observation from my own activity and impulses while using the Instagram platform over the last 9 years, and I'm curious if there are others with the same or similar observations/feelings. So if you can openly read this without feeling personally targeted and insulted, please continue.
I've been a loyal user of Instagram since February of 2011 - just a few short months after it first came out in October of 2010. I was post-college in my mid-twenties, but graduated an art major, and my initial attraction to the platform was its ability to serve as another creative outlet for me - the ability to rawly capture the beauty in the everyday things, people, places, and moments I encountered on my crappy iPhone camera at the time. And filters weren't used to fake moments or hide blemishes. They were used to bring character to whatever you were capturing. For the purpose of this blog, I went to the way waaay back of my original Instagram account and pulled 18 of my photos for your viewing pleasure below.
It was pure joy digging into these moments. It was a time of purity and simplicity on the app. And even though I only got between 5-20 likes on any of these early photos, they evoke feelings that are rarely replicated in any of my later images. I bought into the shift of Instagram just like many other people. I look back on some of the photos from later and more current years and wonder, "Why the crap did I post that?!"
Additionally, the rise of the "influencer" has become a wave that evokes a sense of segregation and comparison on the platform. The difference between the haves and the have nots of Instagram, for lack of a better comparison. It's like high school all over again. The populars versus the not-so-populars. Have you noticed the flood of sponsored posts lately where "Influencers Wanted" is the primary call to action?
Spoiler alert: we all have influence. In some way, shape, or form, we are all influencing others on the daily, so to glamorize the title, reserve it for the select few, and dangle it like a carrot in an attempt to get people to join your opportunity, buy your products, or gain more popularity just doesn't sit too well with me, but I could be crazy...I don't know.
The last couple years as I engage on the platform, it seems like everyone is sponsoring a (or any and all) product(s), trying to sell something, or competing against everyone else on the platform with the goal of more likes and popularity. Like I said at the very beginning, don't get me wrong. My intent is not to bash every account doing these things, but to simply get curious, ask questions, improve my own behaviors, and figure things out. These things, I believe, can be (and are by some/many) done well with authenticity, care, creativity, and even to earn money, be profitable, or promote a business, but from my little corner of the IG space, I feel like I'm seeing far too little authenticity in many ways and far too many follows just to get a follow back so they can unfollow in return.
I try to look at every single follow to my account. One account interaction in particular stands out to me. This girl followed me and liked a bunch of my photos, so I went to check out her account and liked what I saw, so I followed her back. We had quite a bit in common, we commented on each other's photos for a couple days, and we even ended up sending a couple private messages back and forth where we found out we had even more in common. I thought, "This chick is pretty cool." It felt like honest engagement to me. A day later, she unfollowed me. I felt tricked...duped.
Now, there's nothing wrong with unfollowing people in general if you start disconnecting from what they're posting, begin to have different interests in your own life, etc., but people getting so offended that someone doesn't follow them back that they unfollow or people who are playing the follow/unfollow game to somehow boost their account popularity has got. to. stop. I'd say the vast majority of accounts that follow me end up playing this game or are still (despite the efforts of IG) using bots to engage on the platform. The bots and follow/unfollow "strategy" tells me loads about the character and personal goals of the people behind these accounts, and there is nothing that will get me to unfollow faster and lose my respect and trust for these people quicker.
Wanna know what the scary thing is? These tactics and this mindset have become so mainstream that even some people are unknowingly trading their integrity and moral code for followers and popularity, etc. They don't even realize that what they're doing is tricking others and actually hurting their reputation (due to those of us who see through it all).
And you wanna know what the crappy thing is? When you're a recipient of these tactics, you can't tell the difference between someone intentionally doing it and someone unknowingly doing it, so everyone gets thrown into the same pile of accounts I don't care to trust or engage with. However, I'd like to think there are a lot more people simply oblivious to their actions than aware of them. Either way, though, it needs to stop.
I personally adhere to the rule that I only follow accounts that I genuinely want to follow because I resonate with something they are doing/saying or because they are people I genuinely like or find interesting. Whether they follow me back or not isn't life or death - I still follow them. And when a season of my life changes, my interests change, or I lose touch with an account for whatever reason, I may unfollow. Either way, I have zero hard feelings or guilt associated with these actions.
After being swallowed up by the trends of Instagram myself, the last several months I've been in an attempt of getting back to the simplicity and authenticity of 2011. It has been a heck of a personal challenge for me, friends, and I am far from my goal. It's seriously not easy to revert back to before you allowed yourself to get sucked in and "brainwashed" by what's going on around you (virtually or physically).
My personal goals with the platform are (no matter how many followers I have) to:
share honestly and openly as I feel comfortable
post authentically whatever I feel compelled to post
stay creative and capture what I find beautiful or interesting
post without fear of lack of engagement, likes, or follows/unfollows
and continue working from home and building my business(es) and communities
But, to do none of these things at the expense of, while taking advantage of, or by tricking others, or being driven by a competitive need for popularity. I desire quality over quantity, honesty, integrity, authenticity, and creativity. Period. My hope is that there is a greater desire for a shift in this direction for others, as well, and that we start voting for this shift via the way we engage on and use our little squares on the app.
In the meantime, I'm gonna keep working on my own Instagram journey and take a lesson from my past self and version 2011 of Instagram. I'm by no means perfect and have a long way to go, but if you want to share in the journey together, you can find me here and here.
Does this resonate with anyone else? What are your thoughts and observations on the growth of IG? Do you feel it's lost its authenticity? Tell me via the comments below or on my personal Instagram page.