This article is not a how-to guide on how to grow on Instagram.
Here I won’t discuss strategies to get you from 0 to 10,000 followers. This piece is not about getting Insta-famous.
Instead I want to help you get free from the unrealistic expectations Instagram has placed on our subconscious minds. I want to share my own struggles with this social network and tell you how I regained my balance after letting myself be consumed by the illusion of Insta-fame.
The snapshot I share below was taken on June 2019. It shows you how far I am from being an influencer.
With more than 8 months of existence and plenty of hard work, I’ve amassed only 1,600 followers. But I gained a boatload of friends.
In the beginning, I was blinded by the false promises of fame, I pursued all the growing hacks I could find online. But I underestimated how much my own personality would impact my growth and presence on this network.
In the beginning I wanted to understand how influencers had climbed to the top and how they learned to stay there.
I consumed so much information, I started believing that I needed to grow fast. In my head, Instagram became a competition… and that was when things started to go wrong.
Insecurity and anxiety in the era of Instagram
As millennials, so much of our success and future opportunities is dependent upon our Instagram, so we become consumed. However, where do we draw the line? Being swallowed by social media is so, so dangerous for our mental health. When you begin to treat your Instagram posts like a performance everyone’s watching, you start staging your life in unhealthy ways. If you continuously use Instagram in this way, it becomes a place of judgment, comparison, and self-doubt. This practice plants the seed known as Instagram anxiety, which is deeply rooted in the minds of many who are consumed by the app.Maya Allen, The Thirty
In most cases, anxiety steams from our insecurities and from our unhealthy beliefs.
For this reason, when we chose to believe that our results define our value and talent, an engagement drop can cause visceral reactions and sometimes even pain.
The careers of these two women can be defined by a quest to answer a single question: what makes some people so resilient?
And the answer they found was: grit.
Not talent, resources or time. But grit, the ability to believe in ourselves even if the world seems to be against us. The ability to face every failure as an opportunity to grow.
Before I understood what grit really was, I was obsessed with my metrics.
I wanted to grow. And fast. So I entered engagement groups, I used boots, automation apps and joined every #follow4follow posts I could find…
These hacks promise you fast grow. And I have to say that they did deliver. I saw my follower count steadily increasing.
This gave me a nice, quickly and virtually effortless ego boost. But this boost became addictive. So I started replacing my love for photography and books by my addiction to likes. This happened so gradually I didn’t even noticed.
I only started noticing when my husband started complaining about the amount of time I spent online.
Sometimes you would find me scrolling endlessly and giving likes and comments and pretending to be a writer without actually writing. Sometimes, days would pass by without me writing a single word not aimed at getting likes, comments and shares.
Social proof can be addictive. It can also kill your creativity and make you miserable. Because the lime line never lasts.
Then the worst happened, my engagement started dropping, people started unfollowing me, my account seemed now like a shadow of what it used to be. That’s because beginnings are easy. And because I tried cheating my way to the top.
When you have the courage to go out there and try something different, some people will praise you and compliment you. But after that initial boost, compliments become scarce. And that’s okay and good. Because if you want success you need to learn to survive without that superficial validation.
You need to learn how to play and stay in the long game. And, for that reason, you need to learn to manage your anxiety in this era of Instagram.
Here’s what I’m doing to reduce the negative impact of this network on my life and regain my sanity and productivity.
1. I avoid login in to Instagram the first thing in the morning
I noticed I felt the most miserable when the first thing I did in the morning was opening Instagram and raveling in endless scroll. Waiting for something or someone that would motivate me to start my day.
When you’re between jobs this tiny habit can single-handed destroy your day.
Our minds are the most vulnerable and receptive when we wake up. We are more susceptible and more fertile. This is the perfect time to sow the things we want to harvest throughout the day. And this is also the worst possible time to expose our sleepy and fertile brains to the staged perfection of Instagram.
If we’re content creators, no matter how many times we tell ourselves we’re in search of inspiration, we’re actually addicted to the comparison trap. Instead of focusing on creating and giving, we become addicted to that validation and we forget the blessings and small victories we’ve already obtained.
2. I turned off Instagram’s automatic notifications and removed the app from my phone’s main screen
Allowing Instagram to disrupt your day and flow with endless notifications will dissipate your energy. Energy you could be using to write.
At the end of the day this will only make you feel miserable because, even if you do have a successful account, the number of likes will NEVER be enough to satisfy you. Never.
I used to wish my phone was constantly flooded with Instagram’s notifications. I would also suffer if I didn’t get any.
But now, I just feel these notifications only serve to distract me and keep me away from my goals and my real social life. I learned that first and foremost I need to learn to respect my time. And this starts by not allowing this app to interrupt my day with random and non-urgent notifications.
3. I focus on content creation and not metrics
Feedback is important. It will help you hone your skills and refine your message. When a post doesn’t have a good engagement it could well be that the topic or the question you asked was not interesting or compelling enough.
It could also mean that you don’t have high quality followers or that you’re barking at the wrong tree.
And that’s okay. You make a little mental note, you write about that on your journal and you move on to other content and other ideas. And maybe, one day, when you’re skilled enough and you’ve found your audience, you can get back to that idea, refine it and test it again.
When I have a bad post I always think that this one bad post will be irrelevant one year from now. This small thought never fails to calm my anxiety. I bury that post and I move on, that’s how I beat my failures. I leave the pain in the past and bring the knowledge to my future.
4. Being genuine
I could read popular books and make fluffy reviews and never write about my struggles.
Hide the ugly parts of me and focus on the staged photos with beautiful book covers. Also, I could pretend that I love all the popular contemporary authors. And I could take audacious selfies on my underwear holding a book.
Instagram makes me want to be that fake person at times. Because it’s so much easier than being your imperfect self.
Being an underdog is really hard. But you know what? Human beings like and relate to other human beings. That is why I believe that, in time, a counter-culture based on authenticity and vulnerability will emerge on social media.
Plus, being someone other than yourself will hurt your mental health in the long term.
I prefer to be healthy and balanced than to have that elusive Insta-fame. You don’t own your followers, Instagram does, and your success shouldn’t depend on an algorithm.
5. I learned to be grateful for my “unfollowers”
I hate the follow-unfollow method that became so popular on Instagram. I wonder if we would have the courage to act like that on real life. This behavior tells me the person is deeply self-centered and confused and it will never like or engage with my content.
I used to keep track on my unfollowers. I used to run the app every day to catch them and unfollow them back.
On a daily basis, I don’t do this anymore. I realized I was the only person suffering and wasting her time with this behavior. I was again focusing on the unimportant details and wasting my time.
So, now, every time I notice a drop in my number of followers I give myself 5 mins to be pissed at these faceless people and then I feel grateful for them. I have nothing valuable to add to their lives. And now we could all move on with our lives.
6. I gave up trying to hack Instagram algorithm
Does anybody really knows how the Instagram algorithm works? And even if they do, do you think they will honestly spill their secrets and help you get famous?
So why do we keep looking for that magical hack?
We already know how to grow an audience on this platform: create high-quality content, interact with others, leave comments on relevant posts, use the proper hashtags, publish during relevant hours, add the location to our posts, reply to all our comments, react to people’s stories, make videos…
The only thing missing from this extensive list is: patience!
7. I try to find a balance between what my followers want and what I have to offer
You create the content you want to create and others decide if it’s relevant or not.
You do this until you find that sweet spot that will make a post go viral. And then you continue doing that. You can’t write to the market and you can’t try to fit into other people’s expectations and likes.
You can only create something valuable if you see something valuable in your content first. Try to find that balance between what you like and other people like.
But don’t isolate yourself in an ivory tower either.
Don’t to pretend you’re an authority before you have the mileage to make that claim.
In the meanwhile, avoid being stumped and belittled by other people. This is your page, your content, your life. Try to find people that do feel touched and moved by what you have to say, don’t waste time on people that don’t want what you have to offer.
8. I always remember my goal
When things get hard I always return to my mantra and ask myself: why am I investing so much time on Instagram? Because I want to build an audience that loves fantasy and science fiction as much as I do.
I want to be a active part of the tribe of bookworms. I want to contribute to that community. Not be enslaved by it.
The question to ask ourselves is not: will I succeed? But: how long will it take for me to succeed? And will I be able to stay motivated during that long run?
9. Risking often is more important than having a perfect feed
Feed aesthetics has infected the Instagram community.
We not only need great content, great pictures, we also need a consistent message and a perfect feed.
But sticking to one aesthetics wasn’t working for me.
I missed the frustration that tends to accompany grow, so I gave up on a perfect aesthetics and focused on growing instead.
10. Investing on my blog and other platforms helped regain my balance
I love Instagram and I don’t plan on giving up on that platform soon. But I have to ask myself: where will Instagram be 5 or 10 years from now? Will it still be relevant?
The perfect definition of insanity is placing all our hopes into something controlled by others and then expecting them to keep giving us what we want.
I noticed that I could handle my anxiety better when I decided to apply my creativity to my blog, Medium, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Creative people know how to adapt. So, don’t give Instagram more importance than it deserves.
This is only one platform among many that I can use to build my audience. It’s not the only one. Plus, who really needs 10,000 followers when all you really need is a small audience that really enjoys what you have to give?
Tell me about your experience with Instagram. Do you also find yourself being consumed by anxiety and insecurity when you don’t have the results you want? How do you deal with it?