Building a Useful Relationship With Instagram

I'm tired of Instagram, and I'm guessing you walk a similar path. The platform that was built on photography and promoting good imagery is exhausting for photographers. While I'm not certain what the end-game of Instagram is, it seems user experience for the creators is not at the top of the list. That's why I created a method that heightens my own user experience, and I'm sharing it with you.
I decided that I'm putting community ahead of the algorithm. I'm putting my own mental health before a feed full of filtered photos. When I made that decision, it felt more natural, and I was able to consider posting to Instagram again. I'm not competing with any other photographers or an algorithm designed to make me feel less about myself. Instagram, if you're reading this, yes, that's how we feel.

Instead, I'm putting the story back into my photography and adding to my visual storytelling by writing about my capture. At an art gallery, we would stand back to stare at a white wall with a picture, and then read the caption underneath that photo. We'd take our time moving from one photograph to another; sometimes, the photographer would walk up and tell us a story. Maybe that's not possible in the digital world, but we can have a slice of that pie, and when you do, it's powerful. 

Speaking of power, do you know what's more impactful than a paid ad on Instagram? A legitimate community that appreciates your work is a powerful component of your business. A community that understands you're a true artist with a story to tell, something uniquely different than 99% of the IG posts is powerful. That type of loyalty and attention span is what the best marketers in the world are after, but it comes from authenticity from a true community.

Bernie Sanders by Walid Azami

Bernie Sanders by Walid Azami


I decided to truly embrace community, which means I respond to comments in a thoughtful manner, more than a sentence, and I inquire about them. You know, the way our parents taught us growing up, but somehow, we've forgotten on social media? 

Amazingly enough, it works in a way you wouldn't guess. I started to see more of their content on my feed, and it seems they started to see more of mine. They commented more often, which means they felt comfortable. People who rarely ever commented started to join the conversation, and you know what? I forgot about the Instagram algorithm or chasing higher engagement numbers, and that's when the magic really kicked in. Because I embraced a community mentality, I posted less but engaged more. I realized that Instagram rewarded this with an increased algorithm! What? Isn't that just how life works? You stop chasing, and then, they chase you. When I stopped chasing the algorithm, I became happier, and instead of being used by the algorithm, I began utilizing it for my own benefit. 

Then, it inspired me to create a method that would benefit photographers in particular and work around our needs. Here's the list of requirements I had:

  1. I needed to figure out a system that required one post a week, nothing more than that.
  2. I don't want to spend more than 5-10 minutes a day on my social media. 
  3. I needed to embrace the stories audience, the feed audience, and get them to feel there are actionable moments.
  4. I want to open my Instagram a maximum of 5x a week.
  5. It should boost my community's participation levels and help them feel attached to me.
  6. I want to begin attaching stories to my photography and begin humanizing my work.
  7. I want my followers to feel they are a part of the experience and their opinions matter and will be recognized by more than an emoji.
  8. This new method ought to implement multiple Instagram features, without exhausting myself.
  9. And in a perfect world, I was looking to utilize Instagram to build a community and stop Instagram from using me to feed their machine.
  10. As a bold request, it would be amazing if my algorithm within Instagram increased while completely serving my self-interests.

That's a big ask! And I went to work, making sure that I covered as much of those items as possible. I can say that my method works perfectly and hits the vast majority of my points!

You'll have to watch the full video to gain all the steps, but it's possible, and I encourage you to view your Instagram profile in a new way. 

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4 Comments

Tom Reichner's picture

My use of Instagram, and the user experience I have when I am on it, are very similar to what you describe.

I always tell the story behind the photo that I post.

I see whoever "liked" my photo, and then I go to their profile, look over their past posts, and pick a few to "like". Then I add insightful, unique comments to one or two of their photos. Yes, I do try to do this for every person that give one of my photos a "like".

I use the Direct Message function so much I'm afraid I may actually wear it out! LOL Seriously, I often send a DM to someone any time I am curious about something they posted and have questions about their post, questions that they may not appreciate being asked in the public comments, such as specific location information for wildlife photos.

Each week, I message back and forth with an about 20 other Instagram members. And the average conversation has 2.5 messages from me to them and an average of 2 messages back from them, although some conversations have dozens and dozens of messages going both ways, and many of those messages maxed out at the character space limit.

I have had in-depth conversations via DM with literally hundreds of different photographers since I started my account a year and a half ago.

Many of the people who I "follow" and message with are people I end up meeting in real life. I live all the way up in the Pacific Northwest, yet when I road-tripped to Florida last summer, I met 4 different bird photographers in person whom I had already gotten to know pretty well via Instagram. And when I went to Colorado for a full month last November, there were over two dozen wildlife photographers that I met in person, and shot with, and ate dinners with, who I had first met on Instagram and gotten to know there.

Instagram is the best way to initiate real-life, in-person friendships with people who will become an important part of my life. They invite me to stay at their homes. They want to plan big photo trips with me. They want to come to my place to shoot the wildlife that I have around here. They want to meet up for a meal any time I may be passing through their area. I have gotten to know people - and know them well - who live all over many different parts of the United States. All because of Instagram.

That is the REAL way to use Instagram. All of this stuff about algorithms is ridiculous to me. How does that help anyone to become really good personal friends with other photographers? It doesn't. The people I have gotten to know seek me out, as I do them. We don't need our stuff to "show up in their feed", because we are intentionally going to their page anyway on a regular basis. That's what good friends do, isn't it?

Andy Day's picture

Solid advice, thank you. My mind always goes blank when I try and think of questions for polls. Any suggestions?

Cat Milton's picture

This. Is. Excellent! Wow! Genuinely inspiring and based on such a superb ethos. Thank you xxXxx

Steve Skjold's picture

I am in full concert with what you are doing. I just could not keep up with the daily IG postings. You could say that I have a life too. Right now I am posting 2-3 images a month and find I have a slow growth of followers. It seems that my followers have similar thoughts on photography. I don't even have much DM, prefer to blog more under each photo which I am trying to expand.
I thought IG would punish me by not being a daily contributor, but they seem to be putting my photos in front of likely followers. I also look at the followers and likes pages and return the same favor if I can.
Being a senior photographer I like to encourage young photographers by liking their photos and seeing where they take their photography.