At the end of last year, I watched Ingrid Goes West.
Starring Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, Ingrid Goes West is about an emotionally dysfunctional woman named Ingrid who upends her whole life to befriend an influencer named Taylor, who she “met” through Instagram.
If you spend a lot of time in the world of social media and influencer marketing, many scenes will feel painfully familiar to you. Ingrid slouching on her couch barely watching a TV show while she double taps photos on her feed. Ingrid hesitating over liking a food pic as she stares in disgust at her messy meatball sub. Ingrid taking a big bite out of a meal she ordered on an influencer’s recommendation only to spit it out. Ingrid and Taylor posing under a gas station sign, asking the poor mechanic to “get closer to the ground” and frame the shot just so.
The film is, above all, a critique of the way social media compels all of us – stalkers and glamorous influencers alike – to pretend we’re something we’re not for the sake of digital fame, or at least being liked.
It dwells on the banality of obsession, and on the ways we sacrifice authentic relationship for an aspirational life. On the way Instagram in particular encourages us to scroll and refresh over and over again, even when we no longer derive pleasure from the platform.
I laughed one of those ugly, knowing laughs through much of Ingrid Goes West, to the utter confusion of my husband, who doesn’t use Instagram. I didn’t like the way that laugh sounded.
And sure, I’m not a stalker. I know better than to spend an inheritance on chasing down a carefree, glamorous life that doesn’t actually exist.
But I am constantly pulled back to scrolling and self comparison by a platform that I don’t really find that interesting.
And that’s why I wish I could quit Instagram.
I have continued to use Instagram half-heartedly since my nervous breakdown early last year because I’ve felt obligated to use it as an extension of my blog. But I don’t like that feeling of obligation, and I don’t like reinforcing an idea that we are required to use these tools that often do more harm than good.
For some reason, even in spite of the data that Instagram is horrible for sales and click-through, brands and influencers alike feel that it’s the end all be all of fashion marketing. I understand that for some of the early adopters of the platform, Instagram has been the key to their success. But for those of us who were unfortunate enough to get there after numerous algorithm changes and more than 600 million users had signed on, it feels like playing a game we’ll inevitably lose.
When I get on Instagram now, in fact, the whole thing feels like a game. Bloggers, brands, and influencers who have been told they must have an Instagram presence are following set “rules” to increase engagement, from liking relevant hashtags to commenting “meaningfully” on other accounts. And there seems to be an unspoken rule that we’re not allowed to complain publicly about how soul sucking it feels to create metrics around “meaningful engagement.” There’s fear built into the system.
I don’t think Instagram was built for this, which is why it’s failing us now. In order to function as an organic social network it would need to be isolated to real life community groups and family networks, or at least toward smaller affinity groups.
So we’re all desperately clinging to this platform that was never intended for monetization, finding awkward workarounds and praying for the day we hit 10K.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with employing social media as a tool for building a business or a movement. But Instagram is not really the answer. I can think of one social media tool that’s helped me more than anything else and that’s Pinterest. Twitter is fine for talking to people and sharing links, but any actual growth I’ve experienced on this platform – my actual blog where real conversations happen – has been through Pinterest.
And beyond that, the real key to my success has been writing things that matter (to me, at the very least, but hopefully to you, too). You can have the best graphics and lifestyle shots, but if they redirect to half-hearted content, how can it possibly make you feel good? A couple years ago, people told me I couldn’t grow my blog without having a considerable Instagram following. Well, my Instagram following is still relatively small but I’ve managed to grow to 25,000 page views over the last year, and I’m proud of that growth even if it’s slow by industry standards.
To be clear, I’m not saying that there aren’t social media geniuses out there who have harnessed the power of Instagram and other networks to profile their amazing blog content, I’m just saying that it isn’t really working for me, and I doubt it’s working for most of my fellow bloggers in the way they’d hoped it would.
So I’m sitting here for now, awaiting the day the Instagram bubble bursts – if it hasn’t already – so I can sign off and get back to what I actually want to do.