Note: Since writing this article, I’ve left Instagram for various reasons. I may go back one day, and I may not—only time will tell! I still believe there’s value in this post for those still on the ‘gram, so I’m leaving it up. Thanks!
Well. I think it’s safe to say that from time to time, Instagramers have universally wanted to flush their phones down the toilet and glue their eyelids shut. Especially as a small creator or entrepreneurial enthusiast, having absolutely no playbook to affirm their decisions can be overwhelming. It’s tough.
I’ve experienced this pattern of highs and lows with the ‘gram for years now. I’ve left Instagram, switched my approach, attended all the masterminds, started new accounts—I’ve tried it all and yet always felt at the mercy of that elusive algorithm.
Recently, however, something clicked. It’s nothing that I haven’t already heard a thousand times, and yet for some reason now, I’m finding it easier to accept.
So what’s the secret? Stop trying to grow your account.
Now hear me out—this tiny sentence holds the key to your happiness on the ‘gram, I promise. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes or demanding to know exactly what this means, so here’s the ideas that made things “click” for me and the steps I’m taking to fall back in love with Instagram.
Inflated Growth Versus Organic Growth
That tiny arrow in the bottom left corner of your screen, next to the audio name on reels? I’d ignore that if I were you. And I’d ignore any Instagram strategy that aimed to simply gain views or followers quickly.
I used to strategically hunt down those audio clips and use them in my daily reels, oftentimes with success. Instead of maybe 100 views, I’d get anywhere from 3,000-7,000. (Which is really good for my small account). Not only did viral audio bring me more views, I’d also pretty reliably gain followers. About half of those followers I’d remove, as they were spam or creepy old men. Nonetheless, I was seeing growth for the first time in two years.
That felt pretty damn good! After all, I’m building an Instagram account to direct traffic to my business and creative endeavors. Growing should be my top priority, right?
What I’ve come to realize is that the more views I get, the more random followers that follow me, the lower my engagement percentage is. I have followers (friends) who show up and like my content consistently, no matter how many views I get. Those 10 likes will fair better on a post with 30 views than on a viral post with 7,000 views. Because, really, even when I get those viral views, I’m not getting proportionate shares, saves, comments, or other valuable engagement actions. When my content goes viral from trending audio or hashtags, any “growth” I’m excited about is oftentimes superficial.
Ditching the Strategy is a Strategy
I didn’t think I was “allowed” to just have fun on social media, because my longterm goals are entrepreneurial. I thought I had to have some sort of spotless, professional strategy. Now, I realize that having fun while sharing my valuable content IS a strategy. There’s definitely a learning curve when it comes to balancing the line between doing whatever I want and making smart decisions for my business, but I’ve discovered that these two paths blend together more than I previously thought.
(Again, keep in mind I’m writing about what works for me and my small business as a blogger—take what applies to your situation, and leave the rest!)
For example, referring back to audio and reels, I’ve stopped using trending audio for my content. Instead, I use songs that I personally love, and ones that match the mood of the message I’m sharing. Rather than bending my content to match trending audio, I carefully select audio—that I love—that matches my content. Now, I have fewer views and followers gained—but I have a deeper emotional connection to my content. People can feel that shit.
Ask yourself as you create your content—am I cheapening my unique brand to hop on the trending bandwagon (which may or may not yield longterm growth), or am I intentionally creating content that aligns with my message?
It also helped to remember that I’m not some monstrously large, multi-operational business machine with hired employees. I’m just me. In this present moment, I’m running a one-women show alongside my responsibilities as a partner and mother. Being honest with myself about my situation showed me that it’s harder to put up an “ultra professional” front than it is to accept I’m a creative, multi passionate, business-enthusiastic, stay-at-home mother. The rest of the pieces will fall into place with more grace if I’m standing on a foundation of total honesty with my reality.
And if you’re into manifestation, I believe getting into this positive vibration about accepting where you are currently will allow you the opportunities to manifest your longterm goals. More on this topic in future posts.
And most importantly, I finally acknowledged that my audience is not the imaginary crowds I hope to attract—my audience is the people I’m connecting with right now. Those ten consistent likes are INVALUABLE. The people I already have a social media relationship with and love to follow back? They’re invaluable. They’re real people. And I devalue them by trying to solely inflate my views. My number one priority, beyond the growth of my brand, should be supporting and connecting with the people who are already listening.
When you make a true connection with a person, support comes naturally. You want to cheer on your friends and help spread the word about their endeavors. It’s just natural—and it’s also why word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most powerful, organic advertisement strategies in the big, real world. So, although it may initially be harder to gain momentum, focusing on making strong connections with your audience will build a strong foundation for longterm success.
Wouldn’t you rather create content for friends than random strangers who may or may not connect with your message?
Break the Rules if you Haven’t Yet
So here we go! No more fretting over numbers, no more designing the perfect reel or carousel or story with the sole motive of expanding your views. Your Instagram MUST become a safe space for you. It must be yours—not a blind servant of a unknown algorithm.
If that means only using unedited, candid cellphone photos, awesome! If you do enjoy editing and creating a more curated feed, sweet! As long as your ultimate goal is to simply be yourself, whatever that means to you, and not just chase after the numbers—you’re doing it right.
Build your Instagram and business strategy off a model that is supportive of your personality and real-life situation, rather than simply trying to do what everyone else tells you to do. Because, remember, everyone has their own rulebook—and some people will just tell you to do the things that another person told them to do.
Here’s some ideas to get you kickstarted:
- Pick songs, subjects, and images for your content that you love—stop doing what you think you “should” do when it goes against your gut.
- Unfollow accounts that you (negatively) compare yourself to.
- Follow accounts outside of your niche, unrelated to work, that really inspire you. Staying inspired is gold. Seeing the same content repeated 18 different ways from 18 different accounts (when you truly only partly pay attention to what they’re saying) is not. Be honest about what inspires you, and purge what doesn’t.
- Switch-up your style. Do the thing you always want to do but feel like you can’t. Make the real. Share your hobby. Design a quote-based feed. Share photos only. Stop showing your face if you don’t want to. Share your face more if you do. No matter what, create from the heart and you can never go wrong.
Get to It!
So, you do you! Have fun and dare to fall in love with Instagram again. Dare to explore what you can achieve if you allowed yourself to have fun again. Use the platform as a place to connect with like-minded people, express your creativity, and carve a business strategy that suits your needs. And remember that being true to yourself, honest with your situation, and enthusiastic about your own rulebook is the best strategy you could ever use.