I’ve always loved social media. I was one of the first in my friendship circle to get on Facebook back in 2006, when I also launched my very first blog. I was on Twitter in 2009, before most people I knew were aware of what it was. I pretty much got my first iPhone just so I could join Instagram and I am STILL obsessed with Pinterest, years after everyone else has moved on to Snapchat (perhaps the only social medium I never quite warmed to). For me, the magic of social media has always been in the act of immortalising moments. By snapping a photo and uploading it somewhere where it will live forever, I keep that moment with me. I love scrolling down my Instagram feed until the depths of 2011, when my entire life appeared to be awash with the Amaro filter. I always smile at Facebook’s reminders of stuff I posted years ago. Social media is like a photo album that you don’t have to print (how eco-friendly!) and that you can always carry with you. It’s a way of cherry-picking the best bits of your life and giving them eternal life. Even if no one else will ever look at them.
Or at least, that’s the way social media works for me.
Very recently, I had a cup of tea with a friend who has a killer Instagram account. It’s beautiful, popular and unique. She was about to upload a photo that she had just taken, when doubt took over: “is it a good idea to post now?” she asked me, concerned. “I don’t think that many people are online at this hour?”.
And there you have it: the act of sharing a moment of your life while taking into consideration the number of people that will see it, like it, approve of it. The act of choosing the correct timeframe to post something, the right words to accompany it with, the right filter and cut, to accumulate as much approval as you can. My friend believes that she has a bigger chance of making a career out of her passion by doing this. And she’s probably right. But I wonder how often, on social media, we manufacture something just to fall in line with the ideals of what “makes a good feed”, distancing ourselves from our true style, perception and expression.
I am a huge fan of minimalistic Instagram feeds, the ones full of casual-looking but really meticulously staged snaps of Kinfolk magazine covers next to immaculate cups of coffee. I once attempted to have a feed like this. Firstly I got swayed by the idea of all the likes that would come raining through the roof if only I uploaded more photos of fresh flowers next to my morning cappuccino, arranged on my husband’s drawing sheets (the only pure white background I could find). After a while, I agonised over not having the right tools to take those photos (have you seen what a lightbox costs? Scared-face emoji) and I remember the onset of disappointment when my snapshots failed to look as pristine and perfect as the ones that I spent hours poring over on other people’s feeds – and failed to attract even a smidgen of the followings they had.
Then I realised that my life was nothing like those feeds.
My life is not a minimal world of pure white backgrounds, hipster magazines (never bought a copy of Kinfolk in my life), fresh flowers and expensive shoes. My life is a colourful explosion of sunsets, fairy lights on balconies, red wine in pubs, pizza on the beach and the same much-loved outfits over and over again. Each picture I post tells a story of a happy moment – one that I want to remember, and even if Instagram removed the “like” function tomorrow, I’d still be posting away, for my own scrolling pleasure in years to come.
The thing about numbers is that they’re easy to manipulate. When losing ourselves in the feed of yet another blonde beauty showing off her tanned legs in a Triangl bikini holding a Champagne glass, we forget that there is an entire industry of like- and follower-buying, meaning that your own sweaty gym selfies could have a following to rival hers tomorrow, if you’re willing to cough up the cash. And in the end, the numbers don’t always count. How many accounts do you see that have 530k followers, with thousands of comments saying “nice! check out my profile!”? The numbers game is an anxious, desperate world, full of like-chasers who envision their life changing once they obtain that magical letter “k” behind their follower number. In this day and age, online numbers have brought back that high-school mentality of the cool kids and popular cliques, and maybe that’s why Instagram is officially the worst app for our mental health. Even many of those who reject the glossy, staged modus operandi of the Insta-elite in favour of “ironic” imagery often fall into the trap of producing content for the audience rather than for themselves – as soon as their follower count rises.
A few weeks ago I had a chat with an up-and-coming vegan fashion blogger who told me that what she constantly sees online is “people who have read about what to do to get more followers, and you can tell that they are doing that”. This made me wonder, what will happen the day when everyone will have figured out that secret? Will 530k followers be even worth anything when every single account has them? That’s where I believe this constant anxiety is taking us.
I think that the key to being happy online is rejecting the numbers game altogether. Even if it’s your job. Especially if it’s your job. Focusing on creating something beautiful, on aiming for quality and diversity rather than “a uniform feed with a cohesive theme” (feeling a bit nauseated just from typing that) and on being truthful, open-minded and joyful will make all the difference – it will create something more powerful than numbers and likes, and that is engagement. Here at Vilda, we keep nailing cool collaborations despite being a niched magazine, because of our loyal and dedicated following who loves to communicate with us. They might not be in their millions, but they are vocal, curious and in tune with our tone of voice. And that’s what makes a great brand.
How not to do Instagram:
Setting up an account for your newborn kid. These people should not be allowed near the internet at any time. And I question how fit they are to be parents.
“Nice! Check out my profile!” Often tied to a completely unremarkable profile focused on something that has no connection to me or my interests. More often than not, the contents of the feed are duckface selfies.
Following you just to be followed back, then unfollowing if you don’t follow back. The numbers game at its most nauseating. But fortunately quite easy to see through! How? Easy: only follow accounts you truly like and are interested in.
“Hi! We make vegetable-tanned leather bags that we think you will like!” Posted as a comment on a vegan account.
Using the hashtags #like4like, #follow4follow and #followback. No. Just no.
How to win at Instagram:
Post photos of your dogs and cats. Or anyone’s dogs and cats. Random dogs and cats will do. Thanks.
This month I am listening to…my Italian Spotify playlist as I jet off to Naples (vegan guide coming soon!)
This month I am watching…What the Health on Netflix
This month I am reading…Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. What a wonderful read.
This month I am planning…to attend Brighton Pride! What a party.
Photos by Josh Rose and Eaters Collective via Unsplash