I started doing this thing on Instagram recently, which is this: I stopped trying to gain new followers.
I had been dutifully posting my list of 20+ hashtags on every photo for years, rolling my eyes at the fake comments from bots, watching people follow me just to see if I would follow them back so that they could unfollow me right away. I never felt like I knew which hashtags to use, it was tedious to find new ones, and I didn’t like how they looked under my photos. They always made me feel like I was trying too hard. Not to mention that – especially when the post was a personal one – using hashtags like #toronto_igers felt like inviting a bunch of strangers into my living room and having to watch them make inauthentic, superficial remarks about the stuff I loved.
Obviously social media is exactly that – social – and I completely understand the impulse to find new friends and fans. I should be clear that I don’t judge anyone trying to grow their following or their business by (almost) any means possible. But given that I don’t even use my Instagram account as a business tool (it’s a collection of pretty moments I love), it started to seem silly to be hustling for likes and follows. As this blog makes obvious, I’m not really interested in creating viral content or creating a “lifestyle brand”, even if that idea does seem appealing sometimes.
So I just stopped posting hashtags on my photos, beyond my own personal ones. And my engagement went way, way up. I now have fewer total likes per photo, but significantly more comments, especially from people who I actually know, love, or respect.
I sent the message to the people who matter to me:this is for you.
Removing tags and talking in my real voice rather than my Marketing Voice sends an extremely loud message, even subconsciously. Posting without an official call to action is refreshing to read – and to write. And this has actually had an effect. Now, when I ask a question, my people know I’m talking to them, rather than some unidentified Future Fan. Now, the comments I get are real, authentic, and supportive. The robots have (mostly) gone away and left me in peace. I feel more grounded, and more free to share what’s really on my heart. I’ve made my Instagram life just a little bit quieter and a little bit more fun.
When I started reflecting on this, I heard Brené Brown saying:
I thought about how crazy it is that most of us can steamroll over [real] friends while we work to win the approval and acceptance of people who really don’t matter in our lives — people whom we’d never call when we were in a real struggle.
Again, I don’t really think the answer is to never use hashtags again, or to abandon Instagram as a marketing platform for your business. It’s a tool, and like any tool, it can be helpful in creating community and driving sales. But it’s something to think about, as our lives continue to get noisier and our attention spans become shorter: