Have you noticed how things change and develop over time? All things? Like a field that is bare in winter, begins to show new life in spring. Maybe it flowers in summer, before it falls back to nothing in autumn? So too goes the long game of Instagram. The ebb and flow over years is somewhat different to the short game, the rush of beginnings when learning it is new and exciting. Yet frustrating in equal measure. When success can be measured in simple terms.
Over time our perspective shifts to that which seems to be whispered only by those who have experienced the long game, the undertone that can be more uncomfortable to speak of. It's a conclusion I have seen people reach time and time again, when the lust runs out.
That the game is not always fair. It is not anyones for the taking, it favours few (especially the new) and overlooks many and there are aspects of it that will always be out of our control. Of course we can try to maximise the potential of each of our posts but, ultimately, the Instagram gods will decide our fate...
Like one week recently when my hashtags stopped working altogether, nothing much I could do about that.
The long game is quite different to the thrill of the beginning, when the newness wears off and self doubt/creative block rear their unwelcome heads. Or when we start feeling quite like it is all entirely out of our hands. Don't worry, it isn't, but sometimes a little rethink is needed before we can move forward.
If this is you, if you've felt the blues, I want you to ask yourself a question. Why are you using Instagram? Do you seek community? Customers? The fame...? Are you journalling your days in a visual way? Are you looking to learn something? Photography perhaps? You may know the answer immediately or you may like to think on it. Often that reason can change over time too, you might be asking yourself why am I still here?
There are literally countless reasons why we Instagram but only you know best why you are there. This though is your starting point and your focus, the rest is to be adapted to. It's time to play the hand you have been dealt.
how to play the long game
It's not all bad you know, this element that sits beyond our control, and if anything it helps us look at how we approach social media more strategically. To think realistically about our reasons and goals. Because if you have been Instagramming for a long time, you must be there for a reason other than Instagram itself. And if the downturns are beyond our control then it's not worth losing too much time thinking them over, perhaps that time could be better spent working out ways to face them.
Me? Fundamentally I like a bit of a chat, the sense of people out there brought closer without actually having to venture out too far into the world. I feel like I belong there, on Instagram, where Instagrammers 'get' my creativity. And when I have something to say from time to time, I love to hear other points of view from a community I feel I fit into. It helps me to gain a wider perspective. So I miss the chat when I post at times that people aren't around to reply. I really do like the community and if all else fails, Instagram is the place I go for a good old chinwag.
the importance of time
With this in mind, after a little trial and a bit of asking around, I think that optimising times to post your photos will still give them their 'best chance' to be visible to your community. It seems to work even after the non chronological feed has been in place for a year. Followers learn our posting patterns, we catch a particular audience at certain times of day.
I'm testing the theory though, throwing in some posts at the other end of the day to my usual, because I like to believe we can re-train the algorithm over time. But - it seems for now - if your followers expect you to post between 7 and 10am, a post at 8pm is not likely to be seen by as many people. That's logical I guess!
Use this optimisation to your advantage if the people are what you seek. Actually whatever the reasons you use Instagram, my guess is that the people are fundamental to it. (There are some excellent points about posting times in the comments hereand here.)
But don't forget that engagement fluctuates with seasons too. For example during summer holidays in the northern hemisphere - July & August - it can be really variable depending on your follower demographic. People switch off and travel more and spend less time online scrolling. It has an effect.
I've always said that the numbers aren't everything. And I stand by that, but I need to put what I mean into context. Because actually, the numbers are at least relevant if you are looking to work with brands on Instagram. Of course not everyone is, and if not feel free to skip forward, but if you are interested I invite you to think on this.
The number of followers you have overall is less important than your engagement. In case you are wondering what is this engagement we talk of? Essentially it is the percentage of your followers who interact with you, through likes, comments and saves.
Brands look at the number of followers you have compared to your followers interaction and base their decisions partly on the result of this calculation. Happily, over the past 18 months or so, brands have also cottoned on to authentic collaborations and choosing instagrammers whose aesthetic or lifestyle go well with their brand. But they do look at the numbers too.
My point is this, you don't need a large following. You want one that interacts with you.
If I'm honest, I think there is still room to improve here from an Instagrammers point of view but that's a whole other post.
I'll let you in on a not-so-secret secret. Chasing a big following is not going to lead to long term fuzzy warm feelings, if anything it lends it's hand to anxiety and a little stress when things aren't going so well. Hence, and I say it again, it's not all about the (big) numbers.
A smaller following of highly engaged followers is actually the most brilliant thing.
Rather than chasing growth, perhaps your time would be better spent interacting with your current followers because they are the ones who have already invested in you. Yes more may come, and that would be lovely, but don't underestimate the importance of the people who follow you already.
There are many ways to measure your successes. I personally have always held the belief that being a nice human, being genuine and negotiating your way through social media with grace rather than assumption will pay dividends in the end. Maybe not in followers but ultimately I want to be able to look back and say I gave it my best shot.
Because success is not necessarily about these numbers and there are other ways to measure it. Really, what you need to decide is what is important to you. No-one else.
Are you producing content that you are happy with? That represents your best? Are you enjoying yourself? Are you challenging yourself? Have you learned something from the experience...?
How do you measure success? YOU decide. And I really would suggest then concentrating your efforts in a way that is productive to you.
There are a few things that, above all others, we need to keep in mind when instagramming the long game.
Firstly that it IS a game, certainly not a way to measure our self worth or capability. It works as a kind of popularity contest, nothing more complicated. It is possible to be in favour one week and then out the next. That is absolutely no reflection on you, your personality, your creativity or your photography skills. You do not need Instagram to validate anything about you.
Too often I hear peoples insecurities about their Instagram account and it saddens me, believe in yourselves. Please. Don't compare yourself to others, just be the best version of you.
Secondly, it really is all about perspective. Only you can choose the way you look at it and if it isn't making you happy, YOU are the one who can change your way of thinking. Adapt. Retune. Try something new?
Like the field I mention in the beginning, think of Instagram as seasonal. Some seasons may come and stay for a while, some are fleeting, but we ALL experience the four seasons during the long game. And it does always move along eventually. It is inevitable.
All the advice in the world will not change that. Ride the highs if you have them and remember it is not personal when it feels like Instagram is making it difficult.
(Actually my account is quite literally seasonal and over the last 4 years, never have my photos been awfully successful in winter. I am spring and summer, consistently.)
The best advice?
Be yourself, always, post what makes you happy. And take the rest with a large pinch of salt.