The bad times started with the announcement of a non-chronological timeline, and oh boy, they just did not stop coming. Some of my friends had already started complaining that the foremost purpose of Instagram had been lost a long time ago: meaning that at the beginning of time, when Instagram was new and shiny and ready to topple over the social monopoly of Facebook, it served as a platform for people to share what they were doing at the moment. The early days of Instagram were fueled by grainy shots of lunches and sunsets, enhanced (or more often not) by a variety of artsy filters. Then the influencers took over. The Instaphere started filling up with beautiful photography. Curated feeds, high resolution images and surreally beautiful landscapes had come to stay.
By the time the chronological timeline was removed and replaced by some kind of a popularity algorithm that no one could quite grasp, the original meaning of Instagram as an instant media had already been lost.
The new Instagram
The move away from chronological timeline caused worry amongst smaller influencers. It was rumoured that the new algorithm would favour big businesses and million K accounts over smaller brands. However, the blow was dealt; in a swift move Instagram showed that it couldn’t care less what its user base thought. But we moved on from that. Somehow we made do with the non-chronological timelines and started to thrive again.
What is the opposite of ‘deliver’? Whatever it is, Instagram did just that.
Small changes started to shape the app into the most user-hostile experience any small business could imagine. There were the banned hashtags that, when used, could bring your post engagement down; these included bizarre ones like #dogsofinstagram. There was the rumour, confirmed by the app, that they were withholding likes to make you check back to the app more often. Then the tip of the iceberg: not showing entire posts on your feed at all, making Instagrammers resort to announcing their newest posts over their stories just to bring engagement back to where it used to be.
What is going on? Is Instagram trying to sabotage itself? Why? As little as I know – about life, love or technology – it seems as if every new move that the app makes is just counterproductive to its success.
Did Instagram just get too big for its own shoes? Doesn’t the app care about its user base at all? Do they think they can do anything and still thrive just because they have billions of registered users?
Some influencers are already starting to escape Instagram, seeking alternative channels through Pinterest, Twitter or Vero, the newest alleged game-changer. No wonder. It makes me feel uncomfortable thinking that some ill-defined algorithm is deciding what kind of content I can see, even though I have chosen to follow the people I follow for a reason. But moving onto another platform isn’t as simple as it sounds. Instagram still serves its purpose as the best visual social media, and with the stories feature it is no longer necessary to use the data-heavy Snapchat.
Instagram had me down for a while, too.
For a few weeks I was ecstatic at how well I was doing: growing not only my follower count but my engagement, and while my photography certainly wasn’t on par with most of the people I followed, I sometimes took nostalgic trips down my own feed to see how far I had already come. The success didn’t last for long.
The more I learnt about brand building in Instagram, the more critical I became of my own feed. I withheld from posting pictures from my Amsterdam/Belgium trip for the longest time just because none of my photos seemed good enough. Pretty girls in wide-brimmed hats seemed so much more glamorous than me, even though it was the same mysterious distance that we were gazing at. I promised to do better and only post true quality from then on. But then it would happen again – I would post a picture that I thought was really cool, and it would get pretty much no engagement at all. My follower count went down to where it had been before, and as gravity would have it, it didn’t stop there.
My favourite app had started to cause me anxiety.
I posted another picture some time ago. It was me, in front of a bright wall, with a well-thought out caption promoting my latest blog post. This time I knew it was a good photo – or at least one that I liked. When the engagement stayed low, I suddenly realised that I had fallen victim to the new Instagram algorithms.
And strangely, that changed everything. I suddenly realised that there was little I could do differently, so I should just stop worrying about numbers and focus on what really matters to me: improving my craft and sharing the beautiful world around me.
Instagram used to feel like so much fun, and I want that feeling back.
Instagram has for long been my favourite form of social media. I use it as an inspiration for future travels and as a channel to share my own, but deep down, my main goal is to connect with people through the app. I never realised I could utilize it this way until I decided to dedicate my account completely to my blog last year and create another one for my personal life. Previously, my following had been a mess of friends and tattoo inspiration and a few of my favourite travel bloggers. However, when elinandro changed to wayfarover and I started to actively search for other travel bloggers to follow, I stumbled upon this community that I never even knew existed within Instagram.
See, Instagram has long been plagued by these pretty, over-edited images of girls in flowy dresses twirling along some desolate patch of a highway or posing on top of a mountain, accompanied by a quote or a wish for a nice Sunday in the caption. In fact, these seem to be the kind of photos that Instagram likes: pretty girls staring mysteriously into the distance clock in tens of thousands of likes. I should say that I have absolutely nothing against this trend. I think those pictures are beautiful. But I also think they are pieces of art, each image requiring hours of work setting up, posing, shooting and editing to look the way they do. There can never be too much beauty in the world, and as such, these images are needed.
But I wanted something more real. I wanted stories.
I made a conscious effort to seek out people whose voice I could listen to. Beautiful images followed by thoughtprovoking, engaging captions made me realise that we could, indeed, have both: the beauty and the brain. Little by little, I started finding all these funny, smart, skilled storytellers, people who were there to challenge the usual narrative of a superficial medium. It only felt natural to leave a comment. And then they’d answer. And suddenly, it was a conversation.
Maybe there is no fighting Instagram’s blotched strategy.
They have demonstrated time and again that user complaints do little to sway them. At this point we seem to have two options: leave the sinking ship or patch the hole in the bottom and make the best of it.
I don’t think Instagram is going to help me attract more traffic to the blog. It might not even help me improve my photography that much. That’s ok. Because what I have found over the past few months is much more valuable: a community that I feel welcome in, a group of like-minded people who are here to make the world a little better, travellers that do not question why I can’t stop moving but will instead encourage me to do so. Being on social media has sometimes felt like yelling into the void. Not anymore. Ironically enough, Instagram’s errors seem to have brought us closer together. It has started conversations, united influencers in their quiet, seething resistance, and created a whole new counter-movement to the edited-as-hell photos and embellished reality that instead focus on truly connecting with other people on the app and giving them something to think about.
With all its flaws, Instagram might be the last true social form of social media.
Edit: I actually wrote this more than a week before I scheduled to publish it, and in that time some things have changed. First of all, it seems like chronological timelines might be making a comeback, meaning that you should be able to see all the posts by the people you follow on your feed again. Yay! Secondly, karma must’ve read this post before anyone else did because as soon as I had written it, two of my recent posts were shared by other accounts, some of my favourite people to follow followed me back, and both my follower count and engagement went waaaay up again. Although numbers don’t really matter, I’m glad to be noticed – it means I’m doing somethign right. If any of my Insta friends are creeping here, just know that ya’ll are rad as hell.
Bloggers of Instagram – what are your thoughts? Have you given up yet?
Insta nation – have you noticed changes in the way the app behaves? What kind of content do you like to follow in Instagram?