Instagram is a funny platform. If it were a person, I like to think it would be hyper self-obsessed and totally unself-aware. The sort of person who spends the entire Zoom call studying their own face in the bottom corner. But somehow charming in spite of that – or maybe because of it. Like that dumb but handsome guy at a party who talks to you very seriously about whether he can pull off dungarees. (It’s all about how tight they are in the thighs, obviously.)
Don’t get me wrong, though. I actually like Instagram a lot – and I’m not the only one.
Hootsuite reports that Instagram has over 1 billion users every month, and those users spend an average of half an hour a day on the site.
I’ve enjoyed Instagram a lot more since I discovered you can plumb beyond the influencers and celebrities and find highly active, endlessly friendly communities centred around creative arts.
The one I stumbled into has two main focuses: resurrecting the lost art of swapping letters with penpals, and a kind of self-designed planner system called ‘bullet journalling’. I’ve kept a bullet journal for years, as it’s the only way I’ve found to both keep myself organised and give myself a consistent creative outlet – so this community intrigued me from the moment I stumbled across the #bulletjournals hashtag. I set up an account for it a couple of years ago.
For a long time, my account attracted a meagre influx of followers. I hovered around 100 for the most part. But then this year, like the rest of the world, I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. So I started making more of an effort with my Instagram and seeking out some penpals. And my follower count started to slowly but inexorably tick up.
Now at around 5,600 followers, there are a few things I’ve learned that really surprised me. I thought I’d share them in case anybody’s interested.
- If you find the right people, they genuinely want to connect. The absolute best part of the experience has been getting to know total strangers. Bonding over a shared hobby has been wonderful. Before I found this community, I’d never made a single friend through Instagram. I thought it was all mega brands and influencers. Now I’ve got loads of friendly people I can reach out to at any time, and I've come across a lot of small business who've built loyal followings by being human, humble and genuinely eager to connect.
- I’m pretty sure Instagram decides whether to push your posts based on how active you are. Recently, I haven't had the time to keep my account as active as I did in the early lockdown months. I’m posting perhaps twice a week at best. And my follower count first stalled, and now has actually started to drop. My posts are no different. But when I posted daily and spent a lot of time interacting with others, I had several posts featured on popular hashtags in the community and they appeared higher up followers’ feeds. If you're a brand seeking to grow on Instagram, I have to recommend putting plenty of time aside in the day to keep your account active and engaged.
- Brands are really desperate to sell stuff through influencers – and I'm not sure they're always getting value for money. In the grand scheme of things, 5,000 followers is nothing. There are accounts in the bullet journal community with tens of thousands. One particular girl even has over two million. And yet I’m still approached a couple of times a month by brands offering to send me free goods in exchange for a post and/or a story. They’re only small things – pens, stickers, a pair of Apple AirPod competitors on one memorable occasion. But it costs them money, and I’m constantly surprised they want to invest in such a small account. In my opinion, they'd often be better served using that money for UX design and user research, especially because my audience skews into the teens, with little disposable income.
- There are no quick tricks to getting more followers. You need to have content that people like, you need to post it consistently, and you need to engage with the people that do follow you. Building slowly and steadily is the best way.
This has definitely been a fascinating learning experience. And it’s reminded me that when you use social media to be sociable, rather than just yelling into the void, you can do what it was invented to do: make real, lasting connections with other human beings.
(Something, coincidentally, it’s much easier to do on LinkedIn than on Instagram. So you should definitely follow Six on LinkedIn if you’re not already. We promise to interact with you and not leave you yelling into the void.)