Ten things I’ve learned about Instagram

Instagram. I love it, and yet sometimes I despair of it. I owe it so much (an audience, opportunities for work, connections, friendships, inspiration…) and yet over the years it’s taken a good deal from me: time (so much time!) spontaneity, and on bad days, confidence and creativity.

This week, prompted by some questions from my Little Stories of My Life E-course students, I’ve been reflecting a little on what it means to be a storyteller on Instagram, and on how we can stay positive and maintain creative balance whilst using the platform to connect with others and share our stories. Here are ten things that I’ve learned in eight years on the ‘gram…

Your story is worth telling. You are completely and gloriously unique, and so is your story. Your voice deserves to be heard and your tales are ready to be told, however simple they may be. (You can read more about why I believe in the power of small stories here.)

Only connect.* Be generous with your likes and comments, and not only will you brighten people’s days, but they’ll reciprocate and engage with you and your images in return. In her invaluable book about Instagram- Hashtag Authentic – my friend Sara Tasker advises you to ‘spend more time on other people’s pages than you do on your own.’ Reach out and connect.

YOU choose what to share. You don’t owe anyone your whole story. Personally, I live in a messy house with three lively boys. On my Instagram feed, I don’t showcase the chaos – I share moments of beauty and serenity. I’m not living a lie, and my vulnerability often surfaces in the captions to my images, but I choose to share moments that brings me peace and creative fulfilment. I can’t control the chaos, but I can control my feed!

Don’t fall into the comparison trap. With so much incredible photography showcased daily on Instagram we all occasionally fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others and finding our images wanting. If you find yourself doing this, try to compare your work now with your own previous work, not with other people’s- take a scroll back through your feed and see how far you’ve come.

Choose to step into different worlds. Use Instagram to connect with people whose backgrounds and experiences differ from your own, not just those whose lives mirror yours. Make a conscious effort to diversify your feed and discover fresh stories. As blogger and writer Huma Qureshi put it: ‘when we make the effort to speak to people with different voices and different backgrounds, something special happens…These are the stories that add to the richness of the world, that help us empathise, understand, connect with one another.’

Go analogue. If I find my creativity needs a boost, I put down my phone for a while. If you’re in need of inspiration, why not shoot a roll of 35mm film, read a book, visit an exhibition, head out into nature or take a course and learn something new.

It’s okay to walk away. It’s easy to get sucked into mindless scrolling and sometimes Instagram is a stressful place to be. If you find that you’re experiencing comparison, envy or dissatisfaction, it’s probably time to take a break from the app. You can mute or unfollow accounts that don’t make you happy – your feed should be a positive place for you.

Popular isn’t the same as perfect. Instagram is governed by an algorithm- a set of rules followed by a computer. The algorithm is NOT an arbiter of talent or taste. Don’t judge your (or anyone else’s) images purely by the engagement that they receive- you know more about what constitutes good work than the algorithm does. If an image that you love and feel proud of doesn’t receive as many likes as you hoped for, your taste or talent is not in question. You don’t have to let a computer tell you what to create.

Use recurring motifs. There’s no need to always produce content that’s fresh, new and different. If an idea has worked for you, consider repeating and developing it – using the same setting in different seasons, for example. Returning to themes and motifs can actually help you to grow your audience because they will come to know what to expect from you, and if they have liked it once, they will probably like it again. Our lives- and therefore our stories- are filled with endless small repetitions. Why shouldn’t our Instagram feeds reflect that?

Nobody’s life is flawless. What you see on screen is always only part of the story. We all share our highlights (and that’s okay!) but even people with the most amazing-looking lives, homes and families have struggles going on behind the scenes. Outside of the frame, life is messy and complicated – we are all vulnerable. Be kind.

I’d love to know your thoughts about Instagram- you’ll find me there as @circleofpines, so feel free to send me a message, or leave a comment below.

If you have enjoyed this post, and you’d like to receive my monthly letter, Small Stories, you can sign up here.

*’Only connect’ – E.M. Forster (from Howard’s End)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • So much great advice in this Laura. Instagram has given me so many reasons to be joyful and celebrate but in the past it’s made me feel a bit glum and unworthy too. We have to keep reminding ourself that the algorithm, isn’t as you say an arbiter of taste. It’s much easier if we ignore the numbers, but as human that can be hard. I’ve learnt to be more accepting…. and look at other figures which are a greater measure of success.

  • This was a brilliant read and it has inspired me. What I love most about Instagram is that it’s given me so many friends from all over the world and backgrounds so different from mine. But it’s easy to forget the good things and fall into a rut where you just watch your never growing follower count or measely set of likes.

    Thank you for reminding me what’s important! And I adore your account

  • Thank you Laura. I love Instagram, and I take it easy with it ! I totally agree with all you said, I try to show beauty and senenity . And I will never complain about likes or followers because I really don’t care about it ! Have a good day dear Laura.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your advice. I have used Instagram for years but only for play and pleasure and exploration and stimulation. Using it now as a small shop owner requires a different approach and remembering that “you don’t have to let a computer tell you what to create” is vital!

    x Jo

  • Very well put. I’ll never fathom IG out?! I know what I like & post what I like hoping others enjoy them too. So many of the large accounts are let’s say tight with their likes & follows which is a tad mean for us little accounts that don’t always want to enter competitions & follow them in the hope that they might recognise & appreciate some of our posts. It’s human nature to be liked isn’t it?

  • Very well put. I’ll never fathom IG out?! I know what I like & post what I like hoping others enjoy them too. So many of the large accounts are let’s say tight with their likes & follows which is a tad mean for us little accounts that don’t always want to enter competitions & follow them in the hope that they might recognise & appreciate some of our posts. It’s human nature to be liked isn’t it?