At the end of 2018 I had a watershed moment. Fatigued from scrolling through my phone and from the pressure of putting my best foot forward ever day, I realised that I no longer cared about Instagram. Suddenly time spent online growing my brand felt futile and pointless.
I have always been fairly level headed and realistic about social media, I know that every post doesn’t tell the full story. It’s not the real world and we shouldn’t compare ourselves to the perfect images on our screens but it’s so easy to get swept away in it all. Especially when it’s a huge part of your job. So for those of you struggling a little bit I’m sharing a very honest account of my experiences and a some thoughts on how to use Instagram and stay sane.
Finding the right words
This is probably the 100th version of this post but so far none of them felt quite right. Sometimes I sounded sad and bitter, in other versions I simply couldn’t find the right words. Everything I wrote felt unbalanced and out of kilter. Burn out does that to you.
The heady days of nothing but love for the platform are long gone but there is still an awful lot I enjoy about it and it’s a great business tool. So settle in, it’s a long one and I’m going to start from the beginning.
Falling in love
I fell in love with Instagram at the end of 2011, the filters and editing tools blew my mind. By that point, I was so sick of Facebook that I was happy to jump ship. In the early days it felt like a little club, I followed my closest friends and only allowed a select few to follow me back, it was a refreshing change from Facebook which had become so overcrowded.
Shortly after, I started to follow bloggers and marvelled at the beautiful imagery. I began to experiment, styling little vignettes and taking photos with my phone, to this day I’m a sucker for an aspirational feed. I could see that digital marketing was really finding its stride on social media platforms and I happily consumed it all!
I was really interested in how bloggers and businesses were tapping into audiences all over the world. Some bloggers even looked completely ‘normal’ just like me and I loved the accessibility of it.
In the background I was growing increasingly disillusioned with my job. We had just moved to a new house that needed expensive renovation and full time work wasn’t working out for me and my young family. I needed a change and so, one January morning I handed in my notice and set about opening a shop.
Starting out in business
I didn’t know a single thing about starting a business, all I knew was that I would need a kick ass marketing strategy to get myself noticed by potential customers. From my interest in blogs and social media I could see that building an online presence would be crucial to the future of my business. Convinced this was the way forward, I set up this blog and an Instagram page.
I went on courses, read books, joined online seminars… you name it, I did it. The common thread running throughout every course was social media, specifically Instagram – the holy grail digital marketing. I embraced it with my arms wide open, I was hooked.
It helped me to discover a creative side of me I didn’t know existed. I could style and create beautiful images that people liked! Brands began to notice me and from time to time I was able to secure collaborations and some paid work. I was invited to cool events and I made lots of new friends, it was thrilling!
During this time, progress on my shop was incredibly slow so I increasingly found myself drawn into the Instagram world. I had friends in there (real and virtual) and the only job opportunities coming my way depended on my digital presence. I sometimes I spent entire days scrolling feeling increasingly anxious and lost.
I began to panic about posting at the same time every day to ensure my posts would get the optimum amount of likes and engagement. I worried that I would miss something if I wasn’t connected. I missed conversations with my kids as I spent countless hours lost inside my phone. It sounds pathetic when you write it down but social media is designed to be addictive and so many of us fall into the trap.
My darkest time came when I briefly found myself in an Instagram pod* (see footnote) which was one of the worst experiences of my life. Keeping up with the demands of the pod was exhausting and I witnessed some appalling behaviour. Women were tearing each other down inside my phone and the pressure began to spill over into my ‘real’ life.
My salvation came in the form of my shop, my real job. Once I opened the doors, I just didn’t have the time to scroll for hours on end. I became quite far removed from Instagram as the reality of running a retail business took hold of me. It was a welcome relief!
The race to 10K
I’d love to say this is the end of the story but online sales are also important to my business so I couldn’t just stop using all social media. Around the time that I launched Tinker Tailor, Instagram also launched it’s swipe up feature. This enables you to link your stories directly to a product or website. They convert really well, it’s a great tool for small businesses. The sting in the tail is that only accounts with more than 10k followers have access to the feature. So I began to chase the magic number.
Instagram is a hungry beast, you really have to spend an awful lot of time ‘feeding it’ in order to grow. It’s also much harder to grow now than it was a few years ago. There’s a hell of a lot more users for a start and tastes have changed. There are exceptions of course but for the average person/ business growth is generally slow and steady.
These days there is a taste for Instagram challenges, hosting hashtags, tutorials and how-tos, cleaning videos, oversharing, talking about your vagina, posing in your underwear and #instareality. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of them, they’re just not for me and I’m ok with it. That said, I am frustrated with my lack of progress, it’s almost two years down the line and I still haven’t achieved my 10k goal.
Embarrassingly I have battled with resentment, feelings of inadequacy and once concluded that I am ‘too bland for Instagram’. I promised you honesty so there it is.
Making peace and setting boundaries
Instagram had become a chore, I had nothing to say, I didn’t care what anyone else was up to – it bored me and made me feel bad until I realised that I didn’t have to play anymore. That was my watershed moment – so obvious I want to slap myself round the face with a wet fish!
I never meant to let Instagram set the rules but I got caught up in the hype and in the desire to grow my business. I have since reclaimed the control I stupidly and subconsciously handed over to the app.
These days, I post when when I want to. I’m not perfect, I still try to show up most days at 7am (my optimum time). I dip in and out a couple of times throughout the day but I don’t feel pressure to. I have days off and I can manage an entire evening without scrolling through Instagram.
The new boundaries are simple and still very much work in progress but they have made a difference to me.
Tips for staying sane
1. Turn off notifications
If you haven’t done this already, what are you waiting for? You do not need the constant intrusion from social media in your life. Likes and comments can wait.
2. Set a timer
I set myself a 15 minute timer after posting to Instagram and interact meaningfully with whoever comes up in my feed for that period of time. Mindless liking and scrolling made me feel disconnected which made everything seem like a pointless waste if time. Using social media mindfully makes it a much better experience all round.
I usually go over my allotted time but it helps me to stay on track. I can honestly say that I enjoy it so much more because I am having actual conversations. Once my time is up, I put my phone down and get on with my day.
3. Mute/ unfollow
I can’t recommend this enough, if looking at someone’s feed is making you feel bad please just unfollow them. You have a choice. Forgive the armchair psychology but ask yourself what it is about that post or that person that is triggering bad feelings in you. Is it you or is it them? Most of the time the problem lies within ourselves.
For situations where diplomacy is required and unfollowing would cause a problem, use the mute option. That way you’ll still be following but you won’t see their posts. Problem solved.
4. Relax it’s just an app
Remember that social media platforms are designed to be addictive so it’s not all our fault (ha ha!). The dopamine hit we get when someone engages with our post is real! However, follower numbers and likes are not equal to our value as a human being or the quality of our work.
What are your thoughts on social media and Instagram? Does it ever make you feel bad or is it simply a form of entertainment and escapism for you?
*a pod is a group of people who message each other (usually via Instagram messenger) each time someone posts with the aim of increasing engagement and visibility. I think they’ve mostly fallen out of fashion now. It’s a bit s**t, it doesn’t work and people/ brands are wise to it. Don’t bother.