Instagram: it’s the ultimate “Weapon of Mass Distraction”. It’s one of those aspects of modern life that has become hard to avoid and hard to keep up with. If you’re an entertainer, public figure, a small business owner (indeed, a business owner of any kind) then you will understand that maintaining a presence on Instagram is essential.
However, it’s become equally true that Instagram is also the domain of vacuous self-promotion, fickle trends and spammy requests of all kinds – including those that offer followers in return for payment. It’s often about spending hours getting the “perfect selfie” or “hastagging” yourself into oblivion. And sometimes, Instagram is just so plainly stupid – does anyone really know what “thighbrow” is and what specifically constitutes a “bae”.
Web-based statistics show that Instagram has an engagement rate of 15 times that of Facebook and of the approximate 3 billion Internet users worldwide, that 17 per cent of these are on Instagram. It’s a massive audience at absolutely anyone’s disposal – from the professional social media marketer to the stay-at-home Avon mum.
But, how do you attract and retain followers? What does it take and what do you have to sacrifice – what lines do you need to cross to keep in the game?
There’s definitely a lot of junk out there on (what is colloquially referred to as) “Insta” At the moment you’ll come across a whole bunch of people hawking the same wares (like you would in any real world market place). These usually take the form of body wraps, protein powders, teeth whitening product etc. Over-saturation is a massive problem: keeping people interested is the name of the game. True success in the Insta universe is about avoiding being passé at all costs.
What is trending changes as quickly as the direction of the wind. Or, in Insta speak – everything so rapidly becomes #solastweek.
Becoming an Instagram king or queen is, of course, about posting the coolest, most envy-inducing images. Instagram is a predominantly visual medium. That old cliché proves true – a picture speaks a thousand words. It’s about projecting the dream.
A flood of mildly sexually arousing imagery usually does the trick, and although an uncensored female nipple will get you banned, you can still post all sorts of generic body parts as creatively as you can possibly imagine. Ideally, you need to be travelling to the most exotic of locations on a daily basis and generally be exposing a butt cheek or a bit of side boob on a mountaintop or beside a specular ocean vista in the process (extra points for performing some ridiculously contorting yoga pose all at the same time).
How is this sustainable or even achievable in the first place? Should you hire your own “side boob stand in”?
That’s where the role of Instagram promoters comes in. Usually young and glamorous models, they are hired by companies and given freebies in order to attract a mass of followers to the brand. These “Instagram Models” spend their time uploading pics and hashtagging as much as they possibly can in order to maintain their following – often documenting every moment of their day in meticulous, perfect detail.
One of these former Insta devotes, Essena O’Neill, recently took a much-publicised stand against the lifestyle she had become accustomed to, claiming she was “quitting social media.” In a video (which quickly and somewhat ironically went viral) O’Neill talked about her obsession with achieving the perfect body and how she used to skip meals because of the fitness model on Instagram that she aspired to look like.
O’Neill also complained that being an Instagram based promoter and model for various brands meant spending hour after hour creating the perfect “selfie” an obligation that sapped her ability to enjoy authentic moments in life. She said she was suffering from depression as a result.
Becoming an Instagram celebrity was a never-ending obsession and there could never be enough followers to satisfy O’Neill’s ego.
Whether or not O’Neill’s experience is indicative of the general experience of Instagram users and promoters is arguable. Nevertheless, it does point to the considerable problems arising from a tool that creates a fickle measure of influence.
Despite all the efforts to measure and analyse social media marketing, a formula that guarantees mass followers on Instagram just does not exist. I would argue that in a lot of ways Instagram is a necessary evil. Stay savvy – you need to be seeing some tangible return on investment for the time and energy expended to be worth it. Social media is capricious, and, if you let it, it has a huge capacity to suck you in. In short, it’s not worth selling your soul to Instagram.