Bit of a polemic this post, and I’m not taking a pop at anybody in particular here, just in general. I also accept that there is no way this genie is going back in, because too many people now depend on rubbing this particular bottle.
Instagram used to be about sharing photos you’d taken which you thought other people might like to see, and that was fun; that was a social network. Then, from somewhere two new trends appeared. The first was that visual creatives found that Instagram was the way to get noticed (and photo editors decided that it was a great way to find photographers, models, etc without all that sitting down with people and taking about their portfolios). The second was the appearance of a strange new entity called the Social Media Influencer, which as far as anybody can make out means people who get paid or get given free stuff in exchange for plugging it on their social media channels. Eva Wiseman in The Guardian wrote a rather good piece taking apart the whole ‘influencer’ idea a while back. All of a sudden Instagram became business critical for some, and the entire business model for others. There were now channels on Youtube (which used to be for people to share bits of video) devoted to building your brand on social media. Blogs appeared exhorting us to do things like ‘post daily if not more often’ because that was what our brand audience supposedly wanted, and insisting that you remember to link you various bits of social media to ensure that as many people saw them as possible. Advice on getting five thousand new followers in a week appeared, and keyword tagging became a dark art akin to voodoo; there are probably social media tagging consultants out there, I haven’t looked as I worry I’d be too depressed by what I’d find. All of a sudden Instagram became a job, and you were told by various experts that if you weren’t treating it like a job you were doing it wrong. All of a sudden we were supposed to stop being people who took photos and wanted to share them with people: we were now supposed to be A Brand.
There is always an endless amount of railing about The Algorithm. I feel it needs capital letters because it’s always spoken of as though it’s some strange dark hearted mythical beast controlling everything from it’s lair: kind of like Cesare Borgia crossed with The Gruffalo. The complaint is that changes to The Algorithm decrease your engagement. Why by the way is that ‘a thing’, is it just that saying ‘the number of likes I get is smaller’ sort of sounds a bit narcissistic while discussing your engagement sounds like you’re a powerful professional presence doing serious things? A part of me thinks that actually the reason there is The Algorithm is that the tonnage of posts with which you’d be faced every day, if you followed the advice to follow everybody and every hashtag you can think of, would be almost unworkable. Of course, if you only follow a few folks you like, rather than follow the advice to follow everybody in the hope of increasing your engagement you’re not going to be affected. Generally I see most of my favourite user’s posts all the time. If you did everything you were supposed to do, posting daily, replying to all the comments (not because that’s polite but because The Algorithm is supposed to like it), checking your statistics and worrying about your engagement it would take all the fun out of it. I tried taking this attitude to blogging for a while and you know what? I hated it. I lost any enthusiasm for writing as I planned my posts and put things on twitter and linked like crazy. I didn’t write for months afterwards.
My strategy is to ignore all the advice and just use this, easy to follow, process: if I take a photo I like, and I think other people will like, I post it. Sometimes I post daily, sometimes I don’t post for weeks. I follow people who post photos I like, regardless of it they follow me back or not. I have a set of tags I use for my images which I know will put my photos in front of people who might enjoy them. I have, usually, somewhere between 100 and 120 followers on each of my channels at any one time and my engagement sucks. The people I interact with and I have a good time
Works for me.