Thoughts on Instagram and Its Communities

I have been on Instagram for quite a long time now. I think I started using it immediately when I was old enough to do so. I always loved using the app to express myself and there was even a period of time where I had 5 different Instagram accounts at the same time. All for different purposes. The different communities that I encountered were all lovely, but each of them had their downside. Since I’ve been using Instagram quite a lot lately for my blog, I’ve been thinking more about how it used to be. I had a couple ‘revelations’, as one might say, and I thought it would be fun to chat a bit about this concept and my opinions on it. We all know I love sharing my opinions.

About 5 years ago I had an Intagram account centered around aesthetically pleasing photography. I guess you can even call it the ‘Tumblr side’ of Instagram. I loved it. I posted pictures twice a day if I could, and I was constantly trying to get new pictures and edit them. In retrospect, it was quite an easy account to sustain. I went out and got about 20 pictures, and I liked them all enough to post them on there. I wasn’t picky at all. I just used my phone and then I threw some VSCOcam filters on top of the photos. I guess people liked it, because I had over 1100 followers at one point. It was all fun and games, but these kind of accounts were so centered around gaining followers, that the fun started to wear off. I slowly transformed into a more ‘professional photography’ account, if you can even call it that. I abandoned it about 4 years ago, when I switched to a photography account which I managed together with a friend. That didn’t last long, though.

The thing that got me thinking of this account again, is the accounts I started following about two weeks ago. I discovered some very nice fashion accounts, and through those also some more aesthetic fashion accounts. The accounts themselves aren’t the problem here, but the things that they do to grow. These accounts are very number-centered and it shows. I suddenly found myself back in the toxic culture I escaped 4 years ago.

These accounts are all about gaining followers. It’s a common thing in this culture to give eachother shoutouts on Instagram stories. I’m completely fine with that. I love it when people support eachother and want to show other people their love. I, for one, have given a couple shoutouts. The thing is, I shout people out if I love their account a lot myself and I feel like other people should see it too. That’s the big difference. I follow a lot of people who suddenly have 20 entries in their story, all containing shoutouts. Sometimes you can even see in the picture that they themselves aren’t even following the accounts. That is because ‘sfs’, a.k.a. shoutout for shoutout, is a frequently used comment in this culture. People give eachother shoutouts to help the other grow, but the main reason they do it is to expand their own reach. Their first thought isn’t to do it because the other has a nice account and they want to show it to other people. No, it is the thought of gaining more followers themselves that drives them to do this. And because a lot of people in this ‘aesthetic community’ think that way, shoutouts are a very, very, very common thing. I think I encounter about 50 or more shoutouts a day, if I just go through the stories. It wasn’t a suprise to me that, after I posted one sincere shoutout in my story, I got 5 DM’s of people I don’t know, asking for a ‘sfs’. It just reminded me so much of the toxic culture of 4 years ago, because this is exactly what I used to do before switching to a more ‘healthy’ kind of community.

I kind of lived with the idea that that kind of culture died around the same time my account died. I noticed a lot less of this ‘selfish’ behaviour before I logged off for the last time. So I was quite surprised to see so much of this in today’s Instagram. I think it has to do a lot with the current upcoming of the ‘social media influencer’. There are a lot of accounts on Instagram with a big following that receive collaborations and sponsorships from brands. A couple years ago a job as an influencer wouldn’t have been taken seriously, but people are starting to realize that it is the marketing of the future. But since there are a lot of big accounts gaining money with this ‘influencing’ thing, younger people would like to join in as well. The sad thing is in this case: the numbers are a big deal. If you don’t have at least a certain number of followers, you will be immediately disregarded by brands. That’s why suddenly everyone wants to grow in numbers, and that’s why everyone takes as many opportunities to gain followers as they can.

I struggle with this myself a bit as well, because numbers are a big deal in the blogging world. Of course I want to grow my following, on my blog as well as on my Instagram. I would love it if I could work together with some brands and people and to show the things I love to as many people as I can. I just don’t think this is the way of going about it. It makes the followers you gain not follow you because they like you, but because they know you can help them grow as well. Getting noticed by people is just a tough thing, especially if you want people to follow you for you.  The only thing I can say is: be yourself, post quality content and interact with people. I try to post as much as possible to keep in touch with people, but if I don’t have anything of quality to post, I won’t post anything. I’d rather skip a day or two than just have my account filled with bullsh*t. I’m not saying that I know exactly how to do this account-growth-thing right. Absolutely not. I can just say that I’m happy with my account, and that the people who keep following me are following me because they like what I post. And even with my blog not gaining that much traction, I have had a couple of collaborations in the past. This just shows that if a brand likes what your blog represents as well (or your instagram), it won’t always be numbers that get you somewhere.

I still love using Instagram a lot. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all of these aesthetic accounts are bad. I’m just saying that some of these accounts have a ‘selfish’ way of going about things, and that’s fine. And it’s not just this aesthetic community, probably. There are a lot more accounts that go by this method, I just noticed it a lot recently in this culture. But hey, if it’s helping them and they’re happy with what they’re doing, than it’s all fine. I personally think this type of culture can be toxic. It can drive you to a point where numbers are all you think about, and that’s just what I’d like to avoid. I’m on Instagram to have a good time and reach people with my content. I met a lot of amazing people on there during the years, and with some of them I still have contact. I love interacting with people and finding common interests. Maybe there’ll even be some friendships to find. It’s a lovely community, just try not to get dragged into the numbers game.

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