This is a post that has been lurking at the back of my mind for quite some time now. I've been thinking and re-thinking and thinking again about the community aspects of social media, but mostly Instagram, particularly as I use it in relation to my photography work (my account is a combination of the personal and the professional.) I've been back and forth as to whether or not I'd write anything here about it at all. I did write about it earlier this year when I discovered I had been placed on the suggested users list and all of a sudden my followers skyrocketed from around 1,700 before being on the list, to around 34,000 afterwards. At the time I had mixed feelings about the experience but wanted to wait it out and see what was going to happen. It peaked at one point and then dropped - which is what Instagram said would happen - and tended to settle around that 34k mark.
Generally, it hasn't been a negative experience, however, it hasn't been a totally positive experience either. I'm not going to lie, I did see some stuff that no-one really ought to (and I'm no prude by any means.) Last time I wrote about it, I also wrote about the ghost and spam accounts - those still are an issue and always will be, I think it's just the nature of the beast. Every now and again Instagram does a cull and a few disappear and are then promptly replaced by new ghost and spam accounts. All of which is all fine, nothing to keep you awake at night.
What I found particularly contradictory about the experience had a lot to do with the reasons Instagram give for putting people on the suggested users list in the first place. It's not about how many followers you have or even fancy-schmancy photos, they say. It's about how you participate in the community and encourage others to do so, too. Which is the whole reason I use Instagram in the first place. I like the idea of putting something I see out there and having others say something about that to me. And then I say something back and then you have a conversation about life and art and ... stuff, which is the best. I love being inspired by the amazing photography on there and I have learnt so (so) much about photography as a medium because of it. BUT! While being on Instagram's suggested users list increases your followers, it doesn't increase your community - those followers often aren't interacting with you and often aren't looking at your photos at all - directly contradicting what Instagram say is their aim. Which brings me to my final rumination on this whole shebang. Do I really need or want my interactions with my IG community to be as large as that list of followers anyway? The answer is, quite frankly, no. No I don't. You can't have meaningful (or meaningfully non-meaningful) interactions with 34k people - you just can't.
So, I decided to do a bit of research and I found a way of dealing with such large numbers of non-interactive followers - and I used it (it's called IGExorcist if you're in the same boat as me and want to do something about it.) At this point, the only way you can decrease those numbers and cull non-interactive followers using Instagram itself is to block them. And to block them one-by-one. One at a freaking time. When you're faced with this as the only solution to the problem, you tend to leave it - after all, what harm is being done really? Certainly not enough to warrant the time it would take to manually remove those ghost/spam accounts. What IGExorcist does is search your followers to find those inactive accounts and give you the option to "exorcise" them (which in reality means blocking and then unblocking them.) You can choose the parameters, for example, by selecting accounts that haven't interacted with you for 60 or 120 or whatever days. You also get a list and can click to "save" a follower, which means they won't be culled in the process. Anyone who has been interacting with you within those parameters will still be following you, otherwise, no deal (so make sure you really want to go down that road before you do it - it's not a reversible process!) Also be aware that it can take some time, several days in fact, if the number of followers to block and unblock is large.
Before I did it, I had a serious think about that 34k. In some ways, having that big fat old number up on your profile can be a nice feeling, in a superficial way it can even be validating. It's nice to think that people might have liked your work enough to follow you in the first place, even if they didn't stick around for the long haul. And, would I be saying goodbye to photography opportunities if I culled that huge chunk of followers? At this stage, I'm thinking probably not. Most of these accounts aren't interacting in any way shape or form with my photography - they've clicked to follow, but not spent any time looking at what I've created and shared. I'd much rather have a smaller following and genuine interactions within my IG community. Call me crazy, but to me it's not about the numbers and never has been.
Phew. So there it is. That's my current thinking about community, Instagram and whatnot. Overall, the experience has been an interesting one and while there were some positives, I found them to be of the very superficial kind and not really linked with the idea of community and heck, even art that I want my time on Instagram to be. I hope I don't sound ungrateful because there are many who would love to be in the position of gaining a lot of followers (without having to buy them.) If you've had a similar experience let me know, I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts (and ... uh, do excuse the essay - it turns out I had many many thoughts myself!)
PHOTOGRAPHER . TASMANIA . AUSTRALIA
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