Building My Tribe: An Instagram Love Letter

I joined Instagram about six months ago, hanging out my IG book blogging shingle along with a little bit of my daily life thrown in for good measure. I already had a longer standing account which was originally intended to showcase my husband’s carpentry work but I never did get past posting three or four photos. Nevertheless, I was definitely what you would call a late adopter. In fact, I never even heard the term “late adopter” until I heard Gary Vaynerchuk mention it. He actually mentioned the term “early adopter” as in he is the grandfather of early social media adoption and as a result was able to “crush it.” By the time I came along, the party had long since been underway and no one can answer my basic questions because they’re all three sheets to the wind.

I definitely wasn’t crushing it.

I didn’t get IG at all other than knowing it was a place where people posted all their prettiest pictures and coolest video clips. I had no idea how it worked, how to maximize it for the greatest number of followers and likes, or even how best to go about getting followers in the first place. Did I need followers? I started with a grand total of four and stayed at that number for more than a month. I did ask my fourteen year old for some tips on how to get some more followers so I could start building my awesome little caring community. I was told to set my account to private and follow as many people as possible. I think I went from four to six followers with this strategy. She also showed me how many followers a Kardashian gets. I almost quit right then and there.

I clearly needed to look elsewhere for advice.

Followers are the lifeblood of IG, the more you have, the better the light in which you stand, and the more visibility you get. You might think that the photos are the life blood but I have seen some of the crappiest photos attached to accounts with thousands of followers. I have also seen accounts with hundreds of followers and zero posts. I do not get this at all. Maybe these people simply imported their followers from another social media account and left it at that but when I look at all I have posted and the amount of time and effort I put into it, it always makes me sad to have so few followers in comparison. The correct answer to this dilemma is to stop comparing. When I feel this way, I remind myself of my mission which is to build relationships and community and actually interact with people. I can then get over myself and move on.

I learned about the importance of utilizing the right hashtags however much of the information past this point was contradictory. Use as many hashtags as possible opposed to only a few well-chosen ones. Separate your hashtags from the body of your post by posting them in a separate comment versus putting everything together in one place but chunking text. I’ll admit most of the bigger IG accounts that I come across don’t separate out their hashtags so I stopped doing it myself. Also, who needs yet another hurdle to posting?

I also received the obvious advice that my photos need to be impeccable. After all, IG is all about the photos yet I am still amazed at how many accounts, even ones I follow (remember I am in it for community, not photographic perfection) posted average, unexciting to downright crappy photos and still maintain way more followers than I do. I sometimes see photos of food that make me want to gag, yet these photos are able to garner a hefty amount of likes. It boggles my mind but I have since learned that people are prone to just click anything that comes through their feed without necessarily looking.

Who really has time to look at all those photos?

The flip side is that I also see accounts where the photos are so unbelievably perfect that I am almost ashamed to post anything at all. Honestly, if I let myself hang out on Comparison Road too long, I would have already deleted my account and never looked back. I instead told myself that I brought something unique and solely my own to the party and I didn’t need to be like anyone else. Even so, some of the bookish accounts I come across blow me away. But after a while, I cannot look at one more Hogwarts rule or here are my legs clad in sexy schoolgirl knee socks reading my book photos because they all start to look exactly the same. It seems like one big homogenized spread of the same photo, over and over again. It‘s as if these photos are technically perfect but lacking a soul. Life is not perfect, so why should every photo be?

There are a number of ways to “game the system” and get more followers. There are more than enough blog articles written on this topic so I won’t go into any detail here. I learned all about the follow then unfollow strategy which seems to be the most popular. These people are the worst. They follow you in the hopes that you will follow back and when you do, they unfollow you, hoping you won’t notice. Arseholes!

Early on I posted this on my IG account.

It failed to deter but at least these “degenerates of IG’ are easy to spot. Their follower to unfollower ratio will usually tip you off and if that doesn’t do it, check out if their type of account has anything to do with yours, even remotely. If it doesn’t, it’s probably a red flag that they followed you. My account is primarily all about books, book reviewing, and book blogging. I did not niche completely down however so I throw in some food, movement training, and occasionally my husband’s carpentry work. Occasionally after posting one of these non-book posts, I will get followed by a fitness, cooking, or woodworking account but they never stay with me for long.

I tried the strategy of following as many suggested accounts with equivalent number ratios in my category as possible in the hopes that they would follow back but oftentimes this did not work so well. Then I was tasked with having to go back and unfollow these people whom I really did not want to follow in the first place while keeping a “do not mistakenly re-follow” list so I wasn’t guilty of the follow-unfollow-follow again-unfollow again idiocy of those who cannot keep track of their own accounts. I also did not want a random bunch of accounts gunking up my feed, keeping me from engaging with my community. Plus there is something slimy about only following someone in the hope that they will follow back that doesn’t sit well with me. For the amount of effort it requires, the payoff has been slim. I prefer to follow who I want to follow and follow backs need to be made with a clear conscience. There are some accounts that I cannot relate to at all and I simply cannot bring myself to follow them just because they followed me. I rejected the follow for follow strategy right from the start. Like for like seems much more doable since there is usually at least one photo on someone’s account that I can acknowledge even if I choose not to follow them back.

There are also the accounts that I am so wowed by that I choose to follow them knowing that they will never follow back. I find their feeds so beautiful and inspirational that I do not mind if they never even know I exist. They are on another level altogether.

I tend to stick with those I have a reciprocal IG relationship with even if I don’t love all their posts or if they are serial posters, one after another after another, hogging my feed, a practice I find annoying. Sometimes, you make concessions for people and the way they do things. Nothing is worse than having someone enthusiastically engage with you and then literally turn around and unfollow you hours or days later. Similarly, having someone who has been following you for a long while and considered part of your community abruptly unfollow you stings too.

Instagram is a tough place to be. Some days feel like the super highway of unfollowing. It hurts a bit to be rejected on a regular basis. You need a thick skin to not take it so personally and not want to block the un-followers or message them back and tell them that they are for shit. Of all the social media platforms, it is the place where I experienced the most unfollows in the shortest time periods but it’s also the place where I feel most comfortable and most like myself. I am not a fan of Facebook and I despise Twitter. Pinterest is fun in an on and off hobby kind of way but not a place where I tend to hang out much. IG is my platform of choice and the place where I choose to engage.

Thank you to all those who stuck by me so far on this crazy journey. Thanks for the engagement. Thanks for the community.

Gratitude is the antidote to the unfollowings.