12 Reasons Why I Suck at Instagram and You Probably Do Too

12 Reasons Why I Suck at Instagram and You Probably Do Too

Like many photographers, I've been scratching my head at how to win the Instagram game. Over the last six months, I decided to up my game and upload daily content and be more active on the platform. The results are out, I still totally suck at it. My reach, engagement, and even numbers of followers have gone down. So rather than blame the platform or the evil algorithm, I did some detective work to find out why I was really bad at it, and chances are you will recognize yourself in some of those points.

1. I Wasn't Sticking to One Genre

This is probably the cardinal Instagram sin. If you look at successful Instagram profiles. They often do one thing really well and stick with it. Now that’s a problem with me because I don’t like to restrict my photography to one thing. I love drone photography but also landscape, cityscape, street, and videos so when new people would reach my profile they would see a mish mash of very different images and decide not to follow me. I’ve since attempted to unify my profile around my drone photography work recently, but I’m not sure if I like it. However, a lot of people have done very well from sticking to one niche. 

Someone who doesn't suck at Instagram is Jack Morris of @doyoutravel with a cool 2.6 million followers. When you visit his feed, you are first struck by how beautiful the images are but then by how well put together it all is. It's almost a work of art in itself. Like a giant always-evolving portfolio, perfectly handpicked. The pictures are always a variation of him (and his girlfriend) in beautiful places, expertly composed. After browsing his images, you just can't help but want to follow him and be part of his adventure.

Pictures used with the permission of Jack Morris.

Compare that with how my feed used to look like a few months ago. It hurts.

2. I Don't Stick to One Color Palette

I like to post different pictures because I like to edit pictures differently. Doing the same type of images and edits over and over again doesn’t excite me. I’m not doing that muted look that's so popular on Instagram right now. It’s a desaturated, moody look. I did wonder if I should adapt my images to make them more like that. But it’s just not my style; I love vibrant colors. Do you alter your images in the hope of making them popular or stay true to yourself and stay unfound? 

Photographer Jack Harding has created a very successful Instagram account thanks in parts to his striking desaturated and moody look.

Pictures used with the permission of Jack Harding.

Harding's old harry rocks versus mine. 16,639 likes versus 559. Time to find the saturation slider.

Drop da bomb.

A post shared by Content Creator (@jcourtial) on

3. I'm Not Paying for Features

The best way to force your way into a quick growth is to pay for shoutouts, essentially popular accounts who will post your picture with a link back to your profile. I did it once, but the experience of paying some smug teenager a couple of hundreds of pounds hurt my soul (it now can be thousands for the most popular accounts). I should swallow my pride here and see it as an investment in my personal brand, but it seems my pride is more stubborn. As the creative bar is raised more every day, starting a new account without promotional help will result in having to spend ages trying to build a community from scratch.

4. I Did Automation

I confess, I have used automation in the past. My account was getting no traction whatsoever. My background is social media strategy, why could I not crack this Instagram thing when everyone else seemed to be racking thousands of likes and new followers? That’s when I entered the dark arts of automation. Although I see no point in buying followers, I did give the follow/unfollow a try for a while. It worked well, but it still felt dishonest, and when I analyzed the type of people who have followed me back I realized they were mainly inactive type of people. So I probably screwed my account’s engagement right there. On top of that, I hear Instagram flags accounts that use automation and restrict them even further (I have no proof of this, just a rumor). Since the shadow ban episode, I realized that for half of the hashtags I was using, my pictures are not being displayed anymore.

5. I'm Not Taking People on a Journey

It only occurred to me recently that Instagram is about the people behind the pictures, not just the pictures. What that means is that it doesn't matter if your photos are technically more elaborate than the other guy. If she manages to captivate her audience with her stories, building an emotional connection with them, she will win any day against me. I used to bitch that my pictures were much better than some of the most popular accounts, but I was missing the point. 500px is a place to show off your editing skills. Instagram is the place to tell the stories of your life through beautiful images. Big difference. What makes you special, why should they care about you? I’m also not leveraging Instagram Stories to create that emotional connection. I’m a private person and always think that what happens in my life isn’t that interesting most of the time. But if you don’t do it, no one will care about you and want to follow you. The most popular Instagram accounts all use Stories to build an intimate connection with their followers, to show them the behind the scenes, who the person behind the camera is.

Look at Misshattan's profile. Polished and moody New York pictures are on her feed.

Pictures used with the permission of MISSHATTAN.

But fun (slightly crazy, but in a good way!) videos of her life on Stories.

And it works well together to create an emotional connection much more than only her pictures could. I mainly upload a few snaps of where I travel to, once in a while, hardly enough to build a following of converted fans.

6. I'm Not Making New Friends 

As I started spending more time on the platform, I realized that most popular accounts commented on each other’s profiles. I found it strange at first, but then I realized that all these guys have probably met on the platform and have become Insta-friends. Which probably led to some I-scratch-your-back, you-scratch-mine type of promotion. I’m not the kind of person that easily starts conversations with people, on and off Instagram, but I tried talking to a couple of photographers I really liked. We’ve since become good Instagram friends, following each other’s work, commenting, and private messaging jokes and insights. It has also made the use of the platform better, as it doesn't feel like just a broadcasting platform anymore. But I’m still a long way to having a large group of Instagram friends like some of the accounts I follow.

I recently became Instagram friends with @johnedwardjames who has a great feed and is a super nice guy. We share a similar passion for drones and landscape photography. But unlike me, he is truly smashing it on the platform. His engagement rate is a 20 percent. Yep that’s engagement, not reach. I barely reach 10 percent of my followers, he gets 20 percent of his followers to like and comment on his posts. And as I was writing this article, he was one of the first photographers that popped in my mind to use as an example. So I guess it works.

James' posts will often flirt with the 10,000 likes bar with only 34,400 followers. It's no small feat.

7. I'm Stuck In Landscape

And I mean in both format and genre. On Instagram, what seems to be doing very well are landscape images but with humans in it and in vertical/square format. Basically the exact opposite of what I’m doing. I do generally think accounts with people in them do better. I have no proof, only my observation. But as I said, I feel Instagram is about the connection with the person behind the camera, not just looking at pretty pictures.

Collect moments...✨✨✨ Wandering through dreamy mountain meadows dressed by @etsyau @ginnyandjude. #MyEtsyStyle

A post shared by Emilie Ristevski (@helloemilie) on

Another super Instagrammer, @helloemilie does that very well, including herself in her images in a very poetic way, which creates stunning and emotional images that empty landscapes could not probably not. You don't get to 1 million followers by accident.

If you follow the top Instagrammers, you will be hard-pressed to find any pictures still in landscape format. Most have moved to portrait formats as they get more visibility on mobile phones and consequently more engagement.

My stuff tends to be mostly large landscapes, which are not best suited for viewing on a small phone.

Stairway to heaven #lagos #Portugal 🇵🇹#praiadocamilo

A post shared by Content Creator (@jcourtial) on

8. I'm Lazy With Hashtags

If you only use simple hashtags like #portrait, #sunset, #wedding, and #landscapephotography, you are basically wasting your time. There are millions of pictures with similar hashtags, your picture will just be a tiny dot in an ocean of mediocrity and no one will find your account from looking up these hashtags. Using #sunset or #travel is not going to drive any traffic to your account.

I’ve used the same list of 10 basic done hashtags plus a few travel ones like #beautifuldestinations or #moodygrams for the last 6 months. And nothing basically. Barely a share. But that’s because I’m lazy. What I should be doing is finding better hashtags and travel accounts that are smaller but where I have more chance of being featured. Finding accounts that fit my style better than using #agameoftones when my images clearly don’t fit their style, just because maybe they’ll like it. They haven’t and they won’t. Finding destination accounts where I have more chances of being featured. It’s pretty hard to be featured on the @london account and their 2 million followers, but I can probably get a feature from @wondruouslondon and its 48,000 followers. Let’s remember that the goal of using hashtags is for people to find your images and hopefully get featured in popular accounts. And a lot of hashtags have just turned into a massive pile of garbage. I don’t have a hashtag strategy but I know I should try new ones, see what works.

Mental note, must nail this: "Your Official Instagram Hashtag Guide for Photographers: A List Of The Best Hashtags."

9. I Don't Tag Other Accounts

Hashtags are limited to 30, but you can also tag other accounts in your image. I should probably mix hashtags that are more descriptive and using tags to target accounts that might feature my work. But I haven’t got myself to making that list just yet.

My friend Antoine Buchet was able to build his account from 0 to 11,000 followers in a few months with an aggressive hashtag and tagging strategy by focusing on London accounts (and some very nice pictures of course).

Images used with the permission of Antoine Buchet.

10. I Don't Write Engaging Copy

As I’ve tried to increase the frequency of posting to once a day in the last few weeks, I’ve found it really hard to come up with a good copy and chose the lazy path once again of naming the destination and maybe some banal anecdote about the place. Some people write witty copy. Once again I failed to leverage the caption to create that intimate connection and let people in my world engage and entertain them.

I tried the joyful tone, but it doesn’t suit me. I need to hire a copywriter (Joke. Hum. Kind of.). 

Sunrise + old castle window = perfect framing. 🤓

A post shared by Content Creator (@jcourtial) on

God I suck at this. And Instagram will give more visibility to posts that have a high engagement rate. Asking questions to your audience is a good way to do this. But I'm always scared no one is going to answer and you'll look like Johnny No-Mates.

11. I Don't Promote My Work

I know using hashtags and mentioning other accounts in the faint hope that they will feature work is not enough. I should actively promote my work, send links out there, but I’m too shy and don’t like spamming people. OK fine, I’m an idiot. But how do you expect people to find your work? I also haven't got myself to join an Instagram pod. Doesn't sound like my cup of tea and too time-consuming for me, but I hear it works for some people.

12. I Don't Consistently Invest Time on the Platform

It’s only my point of view here, but to be truly successful on the platform, you need to invest a minimum of one hour per day finding new hashtags, commenting, liking stuff, checking what people are doing, etc. That’s on top of the fact you have to post a picture every day to be consistent. And that takes probably another 30 minutes, writing copy, etc. Plus now you have to do some Stories to keep your audience engaged. So we are talking a minimum of 10 hours per week. By my own assumptions, I think a lot of people will spend an average of two to three hours per day on the platform. Turns out I also have other things to do with my life and probably another reason why I suck at it. Every time I have taken a pause of a few days, my reach took a big hit.

Summary

I've come to realize that I suck at Instagram because I don't take it seriously. I don't invest the time and creativity it requires. I don't plan ahead. I don't engage with the community enough. Because winning at Instagram is almost a full-time job in itself. Taking the pictures is almost the easy bit. You've got to learn to tell your story through your images and take people on your journey. Think ahead when posting so it all looks coherent. Create fun and engaging stories. And promote the hell out of it.

The creative bar has been raised pretty high and to find your own space on Instagram will require commitment, dedication, creativity, and time — loads of it. The question I keep asking myself is whether I am willing to commit 20 hours a week to make it on Instagram when you could do other things that could also contribute to your building your brand or business?

Log in or register to post comments

38 Comments

I've been putting in a bit of an effort with Instagram. Nothing too intensive but more than I'd like and less than I'd need to do well at it. The thing is though is there any advantage to doing well at instagram at all? Back in the early days of Facebook there was a big advantage. When someone liked your photo all their friends saw it immediately and it put you in front of a lot of potential new clients. Facebook doesn't work that way anymore. Instagram never did. Is there any value in having large amounts of followers at all?

Basically I see my instagram as just being a showcase for clients who are looking me up specifically. So I just want it to look like we're popular and busy. Having more likes would, I guess, make me look more desirable there but then you can just buy them if that's your goal. Probably better doing that and saving the time building a following.

Chad D's picture

I should have started a long time ago :) just started from scratch lat month

if ya like awesome pet pics
www.instagram.com/chad_dahlquist/

funny the author has like 15k following :) ? hmmmmm

david squire's picture

I agree with you, "I should have started a long time ago..." as in I wish I started an account in 2012 or '13... haha.

As for the author having 15K followers, all relative I guess... Albert Einstein once said, “Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.”

david squire's picture

One more thing... You do have awesome pet pics!

I think it there's another side to the "Gram-life". Yes, one thing is being cohesive with your work and how you sell yourself for the sake of selling. Obviously, for some this is their livelihood. BUT, I think that if you share pictures just because you like this "world of light and compelling compositions" - you do whatever the hell makes you happy.

Awesome post Jerome, Instagram sure is frustrating when so much work goes into every post and nobody seems to notice 😫

Martin Van Londen's picture

So to follow up on #12

I had a great run on IG for about a year and a half.. I was very engaged, and my engagement went up a lot. But the then I got lazy and started to use automation, at the same time I started a new job that kept me too busy to post consistently and my engagement sank.

Sense then I've stopped using automation and just focused on quality. I'm committed to growing organically and making real connection.. if that works then great! If not at least I know I can stay connected with people and show my new work. The numbers are not back to my hay day.. they are creeping back up. I'm just going to stay positive.

But please check me out...

@versace_van_londen

Thank you

20 hours a week?!? hahahahahahha...no. that's just...I can't even. Don't these people have images to edit and deliver to clients? God bless'em for doing all that work to make pretty grids and sweat over color palettes. 95% of my posts are from my iPhone, I don't post every day, I very rarely use non-ironic hashtags (just can't stand the look of a big ol' hashtag farm at the bottom of my posts...looks, well, needy), I don't really engage with other photographers/pods/whathaveyou and I do all right on IG - my follower count is decent (but shallow - could have more engagement) - it's fine for my purposes - let models and fans know what I'm doing at the moment and book shoots when i'm traveling.

it just seems like a bunch of people sitting around congratulating each other for taking a picture that looks good on a iphone while waiting in line somewhere.

Jonathan Reid's picture

1 point I'd like to add: you're not posting content of the US. That's by far the largest user base. I discovered that when I posted some NYC content, my activity exploded. London is good, the US is better.

Jerome Courtial's picture

Interesting! #13 I haven't moved to the States yet ;-)

Jonathan Reid's picture

No, but a flight to NYC may be cheaper than paying for a feature. Certainly more inteteresting.

Jerome Courtial's picture

i know i was joking. You are making a good point about take pictures of what people are interested in,

I think it very much depends on your audience and who you want to be engaging with. I've been on two trips to NYC recently and posting shots from there do very badly in comparison with my usual landscape shots. This is because my audience expect landscapes, not city shots. If your new audience wants to see NYC shots, they won't necessarily like it when you run out of those shots and get back to posting what you would normally. I'm 100% with you on the fact that money is better spent on a trip somewhere though!

Jonathan Reid's picture

I used NYC as my example as it's the only place in the US that I've visited, but my point of the largest user base being in the US is still valid. I understand that your engagement might be low from existing fans, but what about new followers. Did you pick up any?

All good, I recognised that, it again comes back to what your audience wants to see though and whether the content is sustainable. A week long trip to a photography mecca wouldn't keep anyone's account growing for a long period of time I guess. I may have picked up a few extra followers from the shot I did share, but not that many as if they went to my profile and saw that I mainly posted shots they weren't interested in they would be less likely to follow. On the other hand, I did acquire a number of followers from Hawaii with the shots from there, they fit in with my feed though :)

Daniel Haußmann's picture

Just wait a bit and very soon your account will stand out again, as "everybody" will use the same muted, desaturated look.

In fact I did and do rather the opposite. Trying not to too many similar images beside each other. (https://www.instagram.com/haussmann_visuals/)

And yep, seems this does not help in getting followers. Still I am more busy than ever before. So I try to keep doing whatever I want.

Jerome Courtial's picture

haha that's what I'm thinking. Hopefully it will be in my lifetime.

Saturated and colorful and yet still moody. I love the look.

Jerome Courtial's picture

thanks Lawrence

Christopher Morris's picture

Yikes. I'm pretty happy not to have the pressure pros have with photography. I have a difficult time caring about the social media world and having to feed that beast. As a mediocre hobbyist who nevertheless enjoys this artistic medium I am pretty happy doing just about the opposite of everything mentioned above. To make every photo post client worthy seems incredibly stressful.

Jerome Courtial's picture

indeed, it is a job in itself, on top of the photographer's job!

I personally don't get Instagram. My general advice is that in a lot of these types of tools it's too late now to change. People can only really follow so many people. Every so often someone new will appear but in most cases you are one of many. For most users of Instagram / 500px / Flickr it's pointless the effort it would require to get more followers. It's like a Pyramid scheme. Only a few can be at the top supported by a large group of people wasting their time below them. It's all so superficial.

Marc DeGeorge's picture

Instagram is simply another social media platform. While its great for photographers because it's about showing images (and video, don't forget that!) it is not the only place to promote yourself.

Here's some questions to ask before diving in head-first into a social media platformL

What are your goals? Sales? Recognition? Followers?
Where are the people you want to reach? On Instagram? Snapchat? Facebook?
What are you trying to communicate?

Hopefully these will give you a better idea about what actions to take. Instagram is great, and I use it daily, but my prospective customers aren't there, so I promote in other places too.

Also, realize that social media isn't the only method of marketing yourself. In fact, most companies use a multi-tiered approach that social media is only a part of.

Happy hunting.

Do you feel that the time you spend on your Instagram, no matter what amount it is, comes back to you in some way via references, or business, or some other kind of revenue generation? Or is it just for your own... whatever it is that people get out of posting to Instagram? i.e. Aside from the very few people that can actually enhance their income from their vast followers, I don't see a valid business argument? And even then, a very small percentage actually make a living from posting, and those are working it 24/7. So why not take the pressure off completely and post when the spirit moves you or you have something compelling you just HAVE to share, and otherwise... ignore it.

Jerome Courtial's picture

True, it's all down to what you want to get out of it at the end of the day, and how much you are prepared to put in it.

david squire's picture

What a great article, thanks for the write-up! Lots of things to consider here.

Jerome Courtial's picture

thanks David!

Is this a repost article? I'm so sure I've read exactly this some time back.

Alessandro Carpentiero's picture

Interesting points, still in my opinion the algorithm does make a huge difference.
I didn't change anything in my IG approach (except trying to improve day by day), but with time fewer and fewer saw my posts, leading to the evil engagement drop.
The whole IG machine is not built to motivate & support creators, they just want their money.

Jerome Courtial's picture

It sure does have some effects, I have felt it. However there seems to be ways around it as all of the Instagram users listed above are still getting incredible reach and engagement, even with the evil algorithm. It just means you need to work harder at it. The question is whether you are ready to do it. I'm not sure I am personally!