I think it’s time we settled down with a cup of tea and talked about Instagram. As one of the blogging elders, I’ve been on Instagram for more than half a decade and I’ve seen it evolve from a sea of Valencia-filtered snaps documenting the ordinary to its current airbrushed and editorial. Change is good, particularly when it means no more blurry Starbucks pics in your feed but Instagram has changed so much over the last few years, I can’t help thinking its current landscape is problematic for a few reasons.
As a blogger/influencer/content creator (what are we calling ourselves these days?!), Instagram is arguably the most important channel to promote your work. Despite not being able to include links in posts, it offers influencers the opportunity to visually communicate who they are – after all, a picture is worth a thousand words. A quick scroll of someone’s feed gives you a snapshot into their style, lifestyle choices last holiday and even what they had for breakfast. This is why its’ such a key form of social media for content creators, it’s invaluable to promote who you are and who you stand for.
This is particularly important for fashion bloggers. Fashion is a visual form of self-expression, so of course, Instagram is vital for the entire industry, not just fashion bloggers. I work for a brand that uses Instagram to establish a visual identity, using obscure art references or archive imagery alongside current product images. This helps to build substance behind the brand, establishing a personality and point of difference – which is exactly what influencers seek to do on the ‘gram.
Learning about Instagram and how to harness it to build an audience is all well and good until Instagram decides to rewrite the rules. This happened last year; the infamous algorithm change which saw the feed change from simply displaying images in chronological order to a feed which uses an ever-changing algorithm to determine which content is displayed and to how many people. The upshot is brands and influencers alike have struggled with plummeting visibility and engagement ever since. For people who make a living from Instagram, it’s been disastrous.
Influencers have had to start taking Instagram “seriously”. By that I mean the fun has gone and it’s now become increasingly strategic, laborious and stressful to maintain a decent presence on IG, both in terms of engagement on individual posts and to grow your audience. For brands and agencies, it’s all about the numbers. First and foremost, they judge influencers on how many followers they have. Engagement on posts in a secondary consideration, mainly to ensure there’s no discrepancy to indicate that an influencer has bought their followers.
From hashtagging to comment pods, influencers have tried various different tactics to increase engagement and attract new followers. Perhaps the most extreme act is to engage bots to comment, like and follow/unfollow people in a bid to grow your audience. This is problematic, as brands will engage and pay for bloggers’ services based on false inflated figures it essentially boils down to fraud. But I think it’s important to ask why people resort to such lengths for social media.
The pressure on influencers is insane. When I started blogging there were a few dozen fashion bloggers, we all knew each other pretty well. Nowadays, there are literally thousands. Everyone is vying to be the best and partner with brands or agencies, who only see the numbers. Instead of valuing micro-influencers, who have smaller but much more engaged audiences, it’s only ever the huge bloggers who are selected by brands – which is exactly why there’s so much pressure on numbers Bloggers also perpetuate this issue by judging other bloggers on the number of followers. We’ve all become obsessed with chasing a number which ultimately means nothing in the grand scheme of things. And Instagram keeps changing the goalposts make it harder and harder to reach that number. Isn’t that crazy?!
For a while, I was obsessive about the number of followers and likes each picture got. I was invited to a couple of comment pods, I focused on making my Instagram look prettier. And honestly, I was adding a bunch of needless stress and worry to my life. Instagram began to rule my life, it was ridiculous. I’ve now given up chasing numbers, trying to keep up with comment pods, being a slave to a theme and all the other needless stress. I’m so much happier for it. It’s liberating to take a step back and not put unnecessary pressure on yourself to live up to someone’s expectations.