3 – Disengagement

Intro

Social media is both an extremely useful tool and a monumental toll on our mental health. It allows us to connect like never before, share our experiences, and keep in contact with others. Many people use it for work, and some even rely on these media channels for their income. However, it can be quite addictive. We gain hits of dopamine from notifications, as are encouraged to keep scrolling through well-placed content determined by an algorithm/team of techies.

I could go on and on about the general pros and cons of social media, but it’s a topic so overdone that it’s ironically about as fatigue-inducing as using social media.

This leads me to talk about one platform, which stands out as the best – or maybe even worst – for creative practitioners such as myself. I’m of course talking about Instagram.

A Drop in Engagement

If you’ve been using Instagram, you’ve likely noticed a drop in engagement. Many creatives use Instagram as a means for their work to be seen. It was until recently a great tool for sharing your pictures, but due to the ever-growing popularity of Tiktok, the shift has been to “reels”, short videos which aim to grab your attention the same way.

This is a big issue. Instagram has always been a photo-sharing app above all. A harmless, fun way to post about your life and get some decent engagement on any public post. It was low-effort and allowed creatives to get on with their lives instead of having to invest time in their day filming and editing videos.

I remember in January of 2019, when I started my Instagram account, and pretty much any old thing I drew got 30 likes. That was when I had barely 100 followers. Now, after years of using the app, I average maybe 15.

It did steadily increase, or sometimes decrease, over time. When my likes were dipping, I figured that I hadn’t used the right hashtags. Over time I got more invested in the popularity of each post, even opting to delete ones that underperfomed. I cared about the curation of my page, and wanted to ensure that anyone who came across it saw only the best I had to offer.

It’s not just me, though. I’ve seen people much, much more successful than me complaining about a dip in engagement. Even people who rely on the platform for their income!

There have been the odd posts which far exceeded my expectations with their like count. A nice surprise for sure. These days, though, feel like nothing but disappointment. But why?

The dreaded algorithm

A key word in this discussion is the ‘Algorithm’, which ranks everything posted and decides where it will show up on feeds, explore, reels etc. I see people talk about it a lot nowadays, but it changes quite often so I’m never entirely sure what I should be doing for the optimal engagement.

For example, there was a time where the developers decided that liking a post wasn’t enough to show the algo that it was worth seeing. You needed to save or share it. There was also a time when you had to look at a post for at least a few seconds for it to even register as viewed. And now, posting reels is the #1 way to get recognized by the algorithm.

It’s important to understand how it works, though. Each section of the app has a different ranking system which has been developed from general user activity. For example, stories posted by friends and family are vastly more interesting than stories from strangers. On the contrary, explore is (theoretically) the perfect place to find new content.

For each user, there are nuances to the algorithm that make our feeds personal to us. One of your followers is your best friend, she has liked all your posts since the start of time and has even commented a few times. Evidently she will see all of your posts on her feed first. Someone who you met once at an event and rarely interacts with your posts won’t see them so much.

Basically, it’s a snowball effect. You need to build an audience of users who are genuinely interested in your content, and encourage them to engage with it, because the algorithm is watching. The top ranked posts in your feed are the ones that you have been determined most likely to interact with.

I will link a useful article at the bottom which goes into more detail, but the structure is there.

That being said, there’s still the glaring issue of an app trying to be something else. It already had its niche in photo content and kept tweaking with something clearly done better by another app (go and see how many reels are tiktok reposts), causing chaos within its own userbase.

A word from our corporate overlord

Recently, instagram CEO Adam Mosseri shared a video where he outlines his plans to focus primarly on video content. He says that “the app is going to continue to support photos, but I believe it will become more video-focused over time since it is what people are liking, sharing and consuming on the platform.”

Now hold on a second there. We’ve established that you’ve been pushing reels as the big shabang, essentially giving many creators no choice but to transfer to that market to combat their declining responses. And now you’re going to take it further, because it’s what people have been consuming?

As you might expect… this was controversial. People don’t like Tiktok 2. They don’t like seeing reccommended posts on their feed (in fairness, you can mute that for 30 days). They don’t like the dropped engagement as the app continues to experiment.

The disdain has expanded outside of creative circles, as the average joe finds themselves fighting an uphill battle just to see their friends’ photos. Look no further than this petition with nearly 300,000 signatures!

https://www.change.org/p/make-instagram-instagram-again-saveinstagram

Alternatives

So… is there anything better than Instagram to help you grow an audience?

It depends on who you are. TikTok is better for videos… if you can get past the whole being-ran-by-the-shady-chinese-government thing. But their system isn’t as flawed and I’ve seen people get millions of views fairly easily.

If you just want to share photos, then maybe it’s best to take some stake out of social media. Try to organically grow an audience by using your profile as a front-of-house, encouraging people to follow you outside the platform. Maybe you’ve got a website with all the latest stuff on it? Writing an amazing blog and want people to know what you’ve got to say? Or maybe you want to keep your crowd in the loop through a newsletter?

In this case, it might be an idea to use Twitter as well. It’s not as good at doing what Instagram does, but it keeps you in the loop with what’s going on in a more casual environment. My posts get about 3 likes on there, but hey, at least it doesn’t feel like a competition.

You could also just sell your soul and make reels. I guess we all hit our lows.

Conclusion

I’m tired of talking about Instagram. I was not looking forward to discussing it, hence why the blog is a bit late this week. However, it’s important to talk about it. I’m trying to disconnect from the app and stop mindlessly scrolling it, or comparing my work to the perfected final pieces I tend to see. Just going on to respond to a message, post, or like my friends’ posts. It’s not the ideal way to grow, but I’m not going to waste time trying to figure out that 2:47pm on a Tuesday is the best moment to drop a photo so I can get 5 extra likes.

As I mentioned at the start, excessive use of social media is bad for our mental health. The culture of short videos and quick content is bad for our attention spans. The curated, perfectionist nature of these platforms can trigger anxiety, and depression for some. When you’re trying to grow an audience, you kind of need a prescence. But make sure that you’re not overdoing it – it’s never worth it. Take care of yourself.

On that note, I better share this blog to Instagram so people can read about how I don’t like Instagram. Ironic, huh?

Recommended Reading

For those who want to work with Instagram…

How the Instagram Algorithm Works in 2022

A guide to using Instagram for your career in a healthy way

Or against it…

The Ultimate Guide to Being a Successful Artist Without Social Media

How to win more freelance clients when you’ve quit social media

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