I’ve been on Instagram for three years, a long time in the social media world. But I will be the first to admit that while I posted somewhat often, I chose to ignore the platform. I felt overwhelmed by other social outlets where I felt I had to have a presence and decided not to take the time required to learn about Instagram and to understand what makes it tick. Well, I recently realized the error of my ways and have made a determined effort to understand and get to know the massive community there, especially those in the Instagram travel groups. It’s been a few weeks and I’ve learned a lot about the platform and the community of people who love it so much. So, while some of these observations may sound a bit naïve, I thought I’d share with you all what I’ve learned in the hopes that you can improve your own experience on this fun and engaging platform just like I did.
1. Not necessarily about great photography
I don’t mean this in a bad way, but as I scour hundreds of travel related accounts every day I realize there are many, many individuals with great photos but only a handful of followers. Then I look at some of the big guys, folks with 20,000 or more followers and while a few of them have nice shots, far too many just aren’t that great. At first I was depressed and I think that was ultimately one reason why I avoided Instagram for so long. Then I started thinking about it as I do other social platforms. That’s the key and something that not as many people do when it comes to Instagram. Twitter and Facebook are easy to navigate and the conversations are easy to follow. Instagram though is all about visual storytelling, with some comments along the way. It’s about creating a collection that represents a message, a story, a theme and those are the accounts that really succeed over there. Sure, great photography is rewarded on Instagram, but I think only when coupled with great storytelling. Also, if you can share engaging thoughts through sub-par photos, then that is usually rewarded as well.
2. Engagement is key
I forgot all of the social media rules when I joined Instagram and I paid the price. Any social media platform, no matter what it looks like is about being social. Seems obvious, but so many people, myself included, sometimes forget that. I uploaded photos but oftentimes didn’t have time to respond to comments and while I hit the like button on many photos, I didn’t take the time to comment, to let the photographer know what I liked or appreciated about the photo. That is a key aspect to Instagram, in my opinion, and if you don’t engage then 1) why are you on social media in the first place and 2) you become a digital specter, roaming the back halls of Instagram.
3. It’s a special community with special mores
Every social media platform has special rules of the road; actions that over time the members have decided just aren’t cool. On Twitter, sending direct messages with links to your web site is extremely obnoxious. On Facebook, posting your wonderful photos on my page without permission is a bridge too far. What I missed on Instagram for so very long was an understanding of these rules, so needless to say I couldn’t follow them. I’m still learning them so I can’t provide an ultimate primer, but there is an etiquette to behavior on Instagram that doesn’t exist on other platforms. If I like a new account and then proceed to like a dozen of their photos, it leaves the photographer wondering if I really like them or if I’m trolling for more followers. Yeah, I didn’t get that for a long time. Instead it’s best to start slowly, as if approaching a wild animal, liking a few photos and then starting a couple of conversations. Over time, they’ll see you’re friendly and will probably engage back. This sort of empathetic exploration is key in social media and must be sussed out by intuition and honestly by making a few mistakes.
4. Have fun but with a purpose
Ultimately, one of the big reasons any of us dabbles with social media is to have fun and to, hopefully, learn something new. Instagram is no different. Don’t be afraid to tell your own personal story through images; assert yourself and your personality and everything else will follow. When I’ve seen photos that look like movie stills or are obviously too produced, they don’t do well. Spontaneity is key, even if it’s a false perception of spontaneity. It may have taken you 20 minutes to set up that shot, but it looks completely natural and that’s where the real beauty comes from. If it takes twenty minutes to set up a photo AND it looks forced, that’s just a recipe for failure. Also, know what you want from Instagram. Know if you want recipe ideas or travel advice or if looking at hot guys without shirts on is all you want, fine. But go in with an agenda, seek it out but at the same time don’t be afraid to deviate from the path. Instagram reminds me a lot of Wikipedia. I go in for one thing and three hours later I leave the site after succumbing to its black hole. That can also be the charm of Instagram, if you let it.
It’s a special privilege in 2014 to be able to travel the world in just seconds through powerful imagery. All the travel experts talk about going local, but Instagram represents the best way to see what life is really like, almost anywhere in the world, from the very eyes of the people who live there. If that’s not powerful, then I don’t know what is.
Are you on Instagram? List your account name below and let’s connect! (I’m Instagram.com/LandLopers)