Don’t believe the ‘miracle’ tricks for Instagram: My story

If you have followed me for a while, you know how much I love Twitter. However, for the last year or so, I have been a lot more active on Instagram. I find it a better promotional platform for my photography. I have also met more “talkative” photographers there.

Unfortunately, I also feel like saying: “Houston, we have a problem.” There are so many spammers, bot accounts and trolls that it’s not even funny. Some days, it is even worse than YouTube.

At first, I decided to turn a blind eye to the issue. After all, the social media world has billions of users. Spamming and trolling are likely occurrences.

In February, while doing research on the latest “miracle tricks” in social media marketing, I came across a couple of Facebook Groups tooting the benefits of Instagram Pods.

A pod is a group of people who use Instagram’s Direct Message feature or Facebook groups to interact with one another. Every time a member publishes a new Instagram post, they will leave a note in the group, and everyone will have to like and comment on it. It’s mandatory, or you are out. The goal? Increase engagement, get genuine comments, and “fool” the Instagram algorithm into thinking that your content and account rock organically.

Honestly, it was fun at the beginning. People seemed really nice and eager to connect with me and my content. Then, a couple of weeks later, I started noticing that most comments from members looked alike.

During that time, a problem arose in a pod. Members posted content that, in my opinion, was repetitive and a little bland. But since they might have thought the same about my stuff, I would always try writing something constructive or asking questions to trigger conversation. This irked a couple of members, who expected everyone to leave them laudatory comments. As a result, they decided to discuss my “trolling” behaviour in the pod, as though I wasn’t there. Needless to say that I left that group right away.

I saw a consistent amount of amazing content from some people. But I also saw an upsurge in selfies, food shots, and self-aggrandizing posts. Don’t get me wrong, tooting your own horn or showing your face occasionally is definitely ok. But every day and even multiple times a day? As a photographer, people don’t just want to see you. They also want you to share your amazing shots. They want to see the places you visited through your eyes.

The other problem was that liking and commenting on all the posts in the pods was a time suck. So, when people posted more than once a day, the groups quickly became overcrowded.

In April, I left all the Facebook Groups recommending Instagram pods. I was tired of seeing the word “influencer” misused and abused constantly. Further, 70 or 80 percent of the posts were boasting moments for members who had garnered 10,000, 20,000, or even 30,000 followers in six months or a year. The rest of the interactions were questions about how they had achieved such “amazing” results. It was truly a smorgasbord of social media fakery 101. And I made sure to let people know in my comments.

(That may explain why several members called me a troll and blocked me.)

I also left those groups because of what their creators recommended — the follow / unfollow method. This method consists in following as many Instagram accounts as possible and then unfollow them within hours or a day. The goal is just to get people’s attention, and no matter what you do, you will be unfollowed anyway.

The proponents of the method are easy to spot. The number of followers doesn’t add up. For example:

Easy example here: Not only is this account fake, but you can also tell there is automation in play. Why? Because the people / businesses who leverage the follow / unfollow method don’t do it themselves. It takes too much time. So, they rely on apps that will do the work for them. Worse still, those apps will post comments on their behalf.

(Thankfully, Instagram keeps an eye on what is going on and recently forced one such app to close down shop.)

Still in April, I started losing a larger-than-usual number of daily followers. A month later, within two days, my follower count dropped by 30!

My content hadn’t changed and I was getting the same amount of engagement on my posts. So, something was up.

I easily found out that most of my loss came from followers / unfollowers. So, it wasn’t the end of the world. However, at the same time, the most engaging and genuine members in the pods left one after the other, claiming that the groups were not working for them.

So, I left as well. And guess what? Even though I don’t get as many comments as before, the number of likes per post hasn’t dropped much. And, surprise! My follower count has increased and the pace at which I lose followers has slowed down.

(There is nothing I can do about the follow / unfollow method, though. It will take years before many of its practitioners finally understand how inane it is.)

Better still, people have started emailing me again regarding my prints. It hadn’t happened since my joining pods!

My Instagram audience is not very large, but it is not something I care about. However, after months of experiments and discussions with fellow photographers and marketers, it has become clear that “miracle tricks” still have a long way to go before they can replace the results that hard and smart work always yields.

I have said it many times. But I’ll repeat it once again: Numbers are not a guarantee of success. Only organic growth matters. ⠀ ⠀

I know what some of you will say: “It’s all fine and dandy, but I want to be an influencer and make money with my posts. And the only way is to have hundreds of thousands of followers.”

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Originally published at socialmediaslant.com on June 9, 2017.