Chasing followers: a path to feeling hollow

“10 hacks to grow your instagram account”
“How to hit 10k in 1 month”
and so on.

I have spent a lot of time this year thinking about my social presence, about finding a place for my freelance self online, about growing my instagram account and gaining, growing, gaining – in status and following.

And, in many ways, this was bound to happen as much of my freelance work is social media growth. So I do the research for my clients and think “hey, this will work for me, too, I guess.”

But even though, yes, I am a business – photography and videography, writing and social media – I’m not aiming to specialise in the really commercial. My instagram talks openly about mental health and my day to day life, my Twitter engages in politics, my differing interests, and offers an insight into the kind of person I am, rather than the kind of ‘business’ I am. And that’s how I’ve realised I like it. Pursuing a career that allows me to be creative is the entire reason why I’m doing this, so why would I want to start falling into that wholly fake manufactured trap of ‘content creation’ for myself?

Well, I started to.

The reality of ‘engagement pods’

I was invited into an adventure engagement pod a couple of months ago and it has, on the whole, felt almost as bad as receiving spam comments and the concept of buying likes.

And this was only a small group of us – ten in total. Ten of us talking about photography and sharing our posts, which made it feel less of a ‘pod’ and more of a group of people with similar interests. I can only imagine how I would have felt participating in the other online ‘pods’ that exist, with hundreds of people posting their own links and then just mindlessly commenting, liking, and following.

A few months ago I even thought about creating my own engagement pod, but I didn’t, in the end – as soon as I began sending messages out to people on instagram, I had this immense feeling of sadness wash over me as I realised this wasn’t the way I wanted to engage with the world.

The only plus has been that it introduced me to some more creatives who take photography seriously and want to create something beautiful. I genuinely like the ten people I’ve met in this group.

But I don’t think the idea of a pod works for me. There should always be a real and genuine reason as to why you engage with people online, and growing yourself shouldn’t really be one of them, in my opinion.

Creative alienation

And then there’s this disconnect between creating creatively and creating for creating’s sake. My instagram posts are often plagued with spam comments. 5 fire emojis, ‘cool shot !’, things that literally don’t make sense, and the like.

I’ve spent some of my own time commenting on people’s posts and spending ages thinking of something real to say because I don’t want to come across as ingenuine. Which kind of compounds the feeling of being ingenuine: if I was just responding to a post naturally, it was wouldn’t really have to think about it much at all.

I’ve also felt alienated from other creatives that I want to be friends with, because of this element of competitiveness that I don’t want to have between us. I’ve felt it from others. I don’t want to feel pitted against another woman (which has its own issues when it comes to internalised misogyny) in my ‘niche’, I want to spend time with them and collaborative with them without thinking about the value we can give to each other solely on an online platform.

I’m tired of it. I want to interact with people – but not like this. I write captions about my mental health, my adventures, my experiences, because I want to talk to people about them, have a two way dialogue. I want us to inspire each other and help each other but it’s impossible sometimes when you have creatives pitting themselves against one another for more likes and followers. How do we think this is going to affect our art? Badly. I think.

I’ve also felt an alienation from my own creativity. I’m certainly guilty of not posting certain things that I, myself, love because I knew they wouldn’t see as many likes as other ‘content’.

Not to say I don’t have a line, my own rules. I definitely do. I know for a fact that there are multiple things I could do and post that would give me larger engagement, tweaks to my ‘content’. But I don’t do them: because I see them compromising the way I want to share.

Lost time for creative practice

In the end I’ve realised that the time and effort spent watching videos, reading articles, and trying out ‘hacks’ is time not spent on honing my craft, on growing as a photographer and a creative.

It’s time I’ve not spent out in the woods with my camera (or climbing trees), not editing a new video.

Social growth ‘hacks’: they do not work.

But we are obsessed with switching out time, talent, and hard work for shortcuts to ‘fame’ and, inevitably, a vapid presence. A lack of creative spark.

A lack of originality.

Do I want to be a creative

or do I just want to be famous?

This question isn’t asking you to  choose between the two, but – if you’re only chasing fame and validation then your creativity will be stunted, warped. Who knows what you could have created, built, if you hadn’t been so focused on getting a certain number of likes or a community of followers.

Advice for growing as an online creative

(Without compromising your creative energy)

Concentrate on your craft

Create something you think is beautiful, interesting, controversial – something worth creating.

Give value

If you’re wanting to share, you may want to think about how people are going to receive your art, your writing, photography. What value are you giving to them?

But, saying that, you shouldn’t base all your creative decisions on the reactions of others because this is a sure way to add in doubt when it comes to posting something risky, edgy, or different.

Dream up projects that inspire you

It’s endless, what you can do as a creative. Why not create a month a year, a ten year long project. See your growth. How fascinating is it when we see other people’s long-term projects emerge. Think of those 2 minute long videos that have been years in the making. It’s worth it.

Collaborate for the joy of collaborating

Not for follower gain. Two creative heads are better than one, most of the time. Think what you could film with several cameras rather than just your own, the ideas that could blossom through conversation rather than silence (though, introspection does work, too)

Share smart

This isn’t a hack. It’s just common sense. If you want to share and you want people to see it, don’t post as 3am when everybody is asleep. Or – do? Maybe your creative process doesn’t want to be hindered by scheduling, you want to create and share when inspiration hits. If you’re not driven by likes and you want to create and share, just like that. Then do it.

Know Instagram: but don’t obsess

As of December, 2018 (and this will be subject to change as this article dates):

  • Instagram will only show your content to around 10% of your followers. If it does ‘well’ in the first hour it will share your post further. This is why sharing your posts in your stories and replying to comments quickly is good (and polite, anyway).
  • Comments under 4 words will not be counted as engagement. Which I think is great as it should stop us being lazy and make us actually engage with people’s posts. Leave real comments, interact in a real way.
  • Instagram knows when you have a spammy commenting bot and is blocking people for temporary amounts of time. Turn the bot off.
  • Instagram is a for-profit model. Their algorithm wants us to resort to placing ads to gain a wider reach. If you want to do that it’s up to you, but don’t get down if you’re not getting the likes, because it’s all managed to make you feel that way.

At the end of the day, the way you want to present yourself online is wholly up to you. There’s no right or wrong way, just how I feel about my own creative practice and the online world. If it’s followers we’re chasing with a disregard for content, then this article probably hasn’t been much use.

But if you’re seeking to find value in your own work, then it’s time to spend more time creating than trying to ‘hack’ more people into seeing your creations.

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