How to Use Instagram
From a Newbie
I've been on Instagram for a few years. However, until recently, I honestly don't know why.
I'd only posted sporadically, and had spent very little time browsing other people's stories. Being in my mid-forties, and stuck in my ways, I'd been happier to keep to what I know; which, in terms of social media, had always meant Facebook.
But, when I started to write, and then post on Vocal, a friend told me that I really needed to start taking Instagram a lot more seriously. If used well, there's no question that Facebook could help me tap into a wider readership. However, it was nothing compared to what Instagram could - potentially - do.
And, given that my friend has spent most of his professional career swimming in the waters of Search Engine Optimization, and is an expert on all things social media-related, it was advice I couldn't ignore.
So I took it.
And it worked. I've gone from 45 followers to a 1,000 in 60 days. I know that's relatively small-scale for many. But, for me, I'm more than happy with that growth.
Granted, I could've just paid for those followers; lots of people do. But, it's a source of pride that I've been able to do it organically, and honestly.
What struck me most was that my friend's advice was breathtakingly straightforward. Putting it into practice was a different matter; although the concepts themselves were basic, hard-work was still required. Goodness knows how long I've spent in total on Instagram over the past few months. But, it's work that's paid off.
It's been an interesting journey, and these are the main things I've learnt:
1. From the outset, I wanted my Instagram account to be about my writing, about my articles. Yes - I was always going to post some things of a more personal nature on there, but that's primarily what my personal Facebook account is for.
My Insta account was predominantly going to be about my work. Specifically, about my admission to a psychiatric ward, and what happened upon my discharge. So, following my friend's advice, I changed my profile name, clearly signalling just what this account was going to focus on.
Out went 'christopher_donovan', and - in its place, in came 'chris_fights_depression.'
It was a risk; the mere presence of the word 'depression' was always likely to put some people off.
But, not only is there nothing I can do about that, those people are probably were never going to be that interested in what I've got to say anyway. The people I really wanted to put my work in front of were those with either an interest in mental health, or kindred spirits - people who struggle with their own mental health, as I do.
Changing my profile name was the first step in that. Sometimes you've got to be bold, and upfront about what you're doing: That's probably never more true than when you're trying to navigate, and stand out, on a social media platform that is already saturated with content. 'chris_fights_depression' was nothing if not bold.
2. Name change complete, is was time to begin posting. The most obvious things to start with were links to my articles on Vocal. However, if that's all I was posting, then people will assume I'm just simply trying to sell them something. And, people are savvy; if they believe all you're trying to do is take money of them, they switch off.
I know I do.
But, I wasn't really selling something. Not really.
Vocal is great, but I don't really earn money from it. At least, not enough to pay the bills. If I can direct more traffic to my Vocal page, then fantastic; I'm never going to decline a few more readers. But, it's not about the money; the returns are too small for that to even be a factor.
I write, primarily for me, for my recovery; it's essentially journaling, a way for me to untangle all those thoughts and emotions I have knocking around in my mind.
But, I also write because I'm passionate about mental health. I'm not naive or completely daft; I'm not going to change the world, and suddenly destroy the stigma surrounding mental illness with a few articles. But, maybe, just maybe, I might make one or two people see the subject though different eyes. If just one person reads something I've written, and treats one person in their life with depression a tiny bit more compassionately, I'll consider that a huge achievement.
So, that's what my posts had to be about; mental health. And, as soon as I saw that's what my primary focus should be (with my articles themselves being the secondary focus), there's really no shortage of topics to talk, or post, about.
Yes - many of my posts are mainly about what I'm talking about in my latest article. However, in order to build up a following on Instagram, I had to post regularly, as in daily; I only tend to produce one article a week, so I couldn't just hark back to them.
And that was actually quite liberating.
For the most part, my daily posts are a bit random; they're often just what's knocking in my head at that moment with regards to mental health, or are inspired by something I've read or seen somewhere else on the Web, or something that has came out in therapy, or a conversation with a friend. Unlike my articles, which not only follow a (rough) chronological order, but also build on ideas developed in earlier pieces, my Insta posts do not. They don't have to.
Each one is a snapshot.
I hope that, collectively, they combine to create a tapestry, but they are individually each a tiny window into my world, that do not have necessarily relate back to anything posted either before or afterwards.
The posts themselves are simple: I find a photo I like on Unsplash (which is free to use, and full of wonderful images), then save it on my iPhone. I open up Messenger, and begin to create a story. Using the photo I've just downloaded, I'll then add a bit of text, and then save it. Ten minutes later, it's on Instagram.
It's simple, but it works for me. At some point, I'd like to get more ambitious - I've always loved making films, so I'm sure I'll dabble in that when I've got more time. But, for now, my belts-and-braces approach works.
In terms of success? Some posts work, and some don't. Some resonate, some fall flat. You could drive yourself mad trying to figure all that out. I don't. I just accept that not every post will gain traction. To negate that, I simply post regularly. The more I post, the more successes I have.
Yes - I do like to keep it all simple.
3. However, there is one exception: The more the personal the post, the more it works. People do really want to know about you.
A well-meaning, maybe even very resonant, quote about mental health works never connects as deeply as a short piece about what I'm doing, or discovered. If I accompany that with a photograph, then all the better. Your 'story' matters - that's the bit people are most interested in, that's the part that makes what you've got to say different, unique.
Only I've been through what I have: there may be universal elements, but only I can tell my story. The more I do, the more others appear to want to know.
4. However, it's not just what you post, or how regularly, that matters; engaging with the people who leave you comments is paramount.
Firstly, this is just good manners; if someone has taken the time to write you a message, the very least you can do is say, "Thanks." Don't be rude.
But, secondly, this is your audience - engage with them. If they've left you a comment, it's because something you've said has struck a chord with them. Talk to them about it. Yes - cynically speaking, this is never going to hurt the growth of your online 'brand.' But, it's also about being a human, about fostering connection: If you've gone online to find kindred spirits, don't ignore them when they reach out to you.
One thing I try to do, is 'tag' others if they've reached out to me. Putting their handle in one of my own posts may, in turn, help them grow their own base. Again, you could do this cynically; tagging is effective, there's no question it'll add followers. However, for me it's just an extra way of saying, "Thank you."
5. However, you can't just post and hope others will find you; you've also got to find your own followers.
Search for people swimming in the same waters as you. No matter what you're interested in, or even what you're writing about, you'll find thousands of kindred spirits on Instagram.
Follow them, like their posts, leave thoughtful comments.
Like your own posts, it's easy to get cynical about this, and just carpet-bomb everyone else who is talking about mental health. However, again, the more personal I am, the more traction I get. I'll like a lot of stuff, but I only leave a comment if a post genuinely resonates with me. Other people, in turn, like my comment, and follow me back.
For a little while, I did leave hundreds of comments, many of which were - cynically - designed to promote my own page. And.... nothing. Nada. Zilch. However, the moment I changed that approach, and only left comments that mattered to me, my followers grew.
Again, be personal; don't comment on everything - be honest, and just leave the comments you know you can justify. If you do, you'll find followers; it's as if, despite the digital barrier between you and them, people can still sense genuine, and heartfelt. And that's what they'll respond to, and engage with.
So, those are my thoughts on the world of Instagram. I am still learning, but my followers are also growing as I do.
And, believe me, if I can achieve that, anyone can.
If you've liked what you've read, please check out the rest of work my on Vocal. Among other things, I write about film, theatre, and mental health: The story of my admission to a psychiatric ward, and my attempts to rebuild my life following my discharge, starts with 'Flow: The Psychiatric Ward.'
You can also find me on Elephant Journal and The Mighty.
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