What Happened When I Misused Instagram and Lost My Authenticity
The sad story of vanity metrics, fake humans, and blue-light burnout
When I was five years old, I tried to saw through a wooden plank with a crossing file for metalworking. Being a stubborn child, I did get through it, and I didn’t want to accept my dad’s help while he smilingly tried to tell me about the crosscut saw in the corner. So I “made it,” but it’s not exactly one of the proud moments in the history of craftsmanship.
Just as I did back then with actual tools, I misused the tool social media. I used it with the wrong intention, mistreated it, and got burned. Perhaps you do, as well, and you should quit social for good. Not because of an addiction, though…
What’s to Love About Social Media?
First off, let me say that I don’t want to turn this into one of those social-media-is-evil-posts.
If you use Instagram, Twitter, & co. for customer acquisition or for discussions with your peers, all power to you. I don’t intend to steer you away from something you enjoy.
I only hope that it could help you in case you felt misplaced on a platform you’re using because someone told you that you had to be there.
That being said… what about those social networks, huh?
I genuinely believe that social media can bring good things into your life. I’ve met some amazing people through Twitter and Medium who I simply couldn’t have met had I lived only twenty or thirty years earlier. Yes, I’m thinking of you, Rose Mary Griffith and Agnes Louis 😃
I enjoy the exchange, and I certainly profit from the advantage of observing a market that is always a few years ahead. Watching the English-speaking world blogging or publishing on Amazon is like gazing into a crystal ball. Most countries here in Europe usually follow your tactics five years later.
Especially when you’re in a non-English market, using social media is an excellent research tool.
Obviously, you don’t want to just copy the headlines into your mother tongue, but you can certainly get ahead by working on subjects that the competition in your own country hasn’t even thought of yet.
But that advantage comes with a price tag. You cannot open your door to all the creators and ideas in the world without letting in… well, the creators. And sometimes, marketing amateurs who try to play the system once again.
Social Media as an Introvert’s Escape Route
If you’re an introvert like me, social media can feel like a quick fix for the kind of interaction that you mostly try to avoid.
The problem with social media, for me, started last December. That’s also part of the reason why you won’t see any stories on my profile from that time. Sorry Medium, I love you dearly. But I had good intentions, I promise!
’Twas the season of pretending to care. Many of my relatives use it as an excuse to invite themselves, even though I haven’t heard or seen from them for the entire year.
As a result, I got back into contact with some of my friends. I just needed some balance to all the superficial interaction. And I even managed to call a few of them — a big step for introverted me who’s usually not so fond of picking up the phone.
But after a few calls, I fell back into an old habit — the secure shell that is messaging and commenting. I just didn’t want anyone to think that I didn’t care at all, so writing something felt like a more significant accomplishment than ignoring everything.
From then on, my personal use of social media, as probably everyone’s, bled into the professional one.
I saw and liked all the fancy Christmas posts my “friends” had arranged. And next to that, I watched how-to videos on the use of this or that platform for business.
In a way, I tricked myself into the belief of productivity and preparation for the jobs and customers to come. Sound familiar to you?
January came around, I even felt refreshed, and I wanted to give some platforms another shot. “Maybe Instagram wasn’t all that bad.”
But I missed an all-too-important fact about social media.
Social Media Schizophrenia and Non-Challenges
My fresh start with social networks wasn’t bad. I was tapping into a completely new demographic. So far, I had mostly been using Twitter and Pinterest. And not only were the conversations different, but I also met a bunch of people I had never heard of before.
Instagram also didn’t seem to have those nerve-wracking pseudo-writers who do nothing all day but report their word count (that, by the way, appears to be a mainly German phenomenon on Twitter, so don’t feel offended).
I posted a simple quote on writing, and some “marketing guru” answered within a minute: “Totally agree with all the other comments!”
The next day, I found a fascinating post by another writer who had given herself a 30-day-challenge to “test her manuscript” by posting questions on her protagonist, her writing style, etc. I still think that’s not a bad idea.
In one post, she asked herself what her protagonist’s weakness was. Her answer? His mediocrity.
Since I work as a proofreader, I politely pointed out that I’d consider it more convincing if it was his attitude towards his mediocrity, not the mediocrity itself. That way, her character would have a motivation to act.
Enter Pandora’s boom box.
All the how-dare-you’s and what-do-you-know’s flew my way, just proving that she wasn’t actually giving herself a challenge but looking for simple approval, even if that meant someone didn’t read her description and just wrote, “You look so cute, sweetie!”.
I don’t want to turn this into another rant about how “fake” or “plasticky” social media is. As an adult, I can tell marketing and real human interaction apart.
However, all the “gurus” and “social media experts” seem to proclaim a new strategy these days: “Comment on as many posts as possible.”
And I sincerely believe that changes like Instagram’s recent decision to abandon likes aims at honest human interaction. Once you can’t emptily like something anymore, you have to interact like a human being (you would think).
Well, yes and no. Obviously, many honest people will appreciate the recent changes. But they’ll act the way they did before, anyway. Only now, they’re being rewarded.
The pseudo-marketers, on the other hand, will always try to play the system, no matter what rules you set up.
You can observe that pattern in my first example, with the guy who shouts out his agreement with everyone under 100 posts a day.
Most users probably have a radar for that kind of behavior, but in some cases, it may still work. And no matter whether it works or not, it makes everyone skeptical of users who honestly care and contribute to a platform. We’re all under general suspicion.
Instagram Was Changing My Behavior — And Not in a Good Way
I observed countless accounts of so-called writers, complaining…
- …that they didn’t have enough time to write
- …that their protagonist was “doing what he wants again,” and they didn’t know how to fix it
- …that it was all too much and they’d probably never finish that book.
Nevertheless, these people seemed to have enough energy to publish 4–5 posts and many more stories a day.
And to play the grumpy old man for a minute: have you seen some of those stories?
Just kidding. I’m not here to complain about the changes in the media landscape. I appreciate them and observe them with the watery eyes of a child in a candy store.
However, Instagram Stories have taught me a critical lesson about the way those platforms influence us as writers.
We don’t just swap out a hashtag to adapt to every single platform. When you write copy or even a poem for an Instagram Story (which you can), you’re working within a different set of rules than, say, on your blog or LinkedIn.
Even videos have a different pace, varying opportunities for comments and interaction, and several versions of captions or hashtags.
I can absolutely agree that social media can help you as a writer, but it will inevitably change your writing style along the way.
Every Platform Has a Different Culture
If you do decide to use Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, or whatever your platform of choice might be, you’ll have to adapt to the individual technical and cultural frame.
You need to factor in…
- …the attention span,
- …the content your viewers expect, and
- …the format that’s most common on each platform.
And even though I met some amazing people on Instagram and LinkedIn, some of the circumstances of those interactions just rubbed me the wrong way.
Writing, to me, is a contemplative or even meditative act.
I don’t want the stress of flickering through a five-second video next to a canvas with a hashtag next to a podcast excerpt. It’s just not who I am and what I want for my writing and my life. I’m not exactly what you’d call “graphically inclined,” either.
For those reasons, I shut down my Instagram account.
And if you’ve been stressed out for the same reasons, if you feel a disconnect between your personal nature and the tasks your market seems to demand, perhaps you should consider leaving some social networks, as well — at least, those that don’t match your style.
I can appreciate the fact that Instagram offers a fantastic opportunity and that a lot of great discussions are going on over there.
But to me, it started to feel like I was working for Instagram, not for myself. Early in the morning, I wasn’t reading or writing, but instead commenting on quotes or how-to posts, researching hashtags, or sending out DMs.
LinkedIn, on the other hand, just isn’t as far ahead in Germany as it is in the United States or Canada. So I can see that I might use it in the future, but then again, it’s too businessy for my taste.
That mostly results in a lot of rewriting because the German language makes different demands for formal writing than English. Even changing the informal address “Du” to a “Sie” can take you forever. So, LinkedIn had to go as well, I’m afraid.
Perhaps you don’t need to quit every platform cold turkey, but you have to consider which networks put the biggest amount of work on your plate and put that against their return on investment for your individual scenario.
Even if you do follow one of the hundreds of recipes to repurpose content, that still doesn’t change the fact that some contents are more suited for any given context than others.
A 500-page conspiracy novel doesn’t make for a decent tweet. Sure, you can create content around the book, but then again, that’s not really repurposing, is it?
Every social network has a life span. When Instagram is gone, what will you take away from it? Will you have met new people? Great!
But if you’ll just “hustle” through thousands of posts to be present on yet another platform while neglecting your writing, then you won’t have much to show for it in ten years from now.
I told you how social media can creep up on you, how you can talk your way into the illusion of productivity. Don’t repeat my mistakes! Your work, your art, your writing should always come first. And if you still have time and energy for whatever network you choose, even better. But don’t jump on the bandwagon because some experts told you.
Be social, not on social. Be smart. And most of all, be magnificent.