In between the ads seemingly every three posts, forced "suggested" posts and accounts, and the infamous algorithm, a lot of us have grown very apathetic toward Instagram in the last few years. If you are one of those people, here are three ways to make the app more enjoyable again.
Instagram has undergone a lot of changes in the last few years, all of them great for producing revenue and terrible for an enjoyable user experience. What was once one of my favorite apps and places to find inspiration and follow the work of those I admire has become an annoying feed of ads and suggested posts through which I try to wade to find the actual content I want to see.
So, why do I still use it? Well, by virtue of sheer numbers, it is still a fantastic hub on which to see work from millions of talented photographers, and its design makes it easy for me to mindlessly scroll through it when I have a minute or two to kill while waiting in line or the like. And with a few tweaks, you can make the experience better. It will not undo the ever-increasing ads or give you back a chronological feed, but it will help.
Before I jump into the meat of the article, it is worth noting that this advice generally applies to those of us who do not use Instagram as a business tool. That requires a different (and more committed and disciplined approach).
1. Unfollow People — A Lot of People
I did this about two years ago. I started the day following about 800 people, and by the time I was done, that number was below 300. Why? When I opened the app that day, I realized that my feed had become a bunch of memes, pictures of acquaintances' breakfasts, random family photos, and somewhere amidst the visual din, actual photographs. I had allowed my feed to become diluted to the point that the original reason I used Instagram had taken a back seat to everything else. If I want memes, I can get on Reddit. If I want to see your family photos, I can get on Facebook. And I don't want to see your breakfast anywhere (sorry), unless you are either Gordon Ramsay or it is a video of your breakfast being viciously critiqued by Gordon Ramsay.
When it came to more personal connections, I kept my close friends and family. Everyone else got the boot. I could still interact with them over Facebook and texting; Instagram was meant for visual inspiration. Two years later, I still keep my following count under 300, and my feed is far more enjoyable because of that. And it has produced more meaningful interactions, because everyone there is someone I really want to be there, and I don't have to wade through a bunch of other posts to see their work, meaning I'm far more likely to stop and engage them with comments.
2. Post Whatever You Want Whenever You Want
All the platforms can dress it up in whatever language they want, but social media is meant to do one thing: condition you into feeling anxious that you are missing out and encourage you to spend more time on their site and/or apps, feeding them more data and viewing more ads. If you feel anxious when you have not checked Instagram or Facebook in a few hours, your relationship with the platform(s) needs to be recalibrated. If you spend more than 10 minutes obsessing over the right hashtags and which feature accounts to tag before you post every image, your relationship needs to be recalibrated.
Instagram should be something that brings you joy and inspires your creativity. Otherwise, why are you using it (if you aren't using it for business reasons)? Don't get sucked into the likes-for-dopamine cycle that plagues social media. Post what you want, when you want, and don't worry about building your follower count or getting lots of likes or features. If you get lots of likes or your following explodes, great! If neither of those things happens, who cares? You are not obligated to use these platforms, so if they aren't making you happy, either change your relationship with them or cut them out of your life.
3. Ignore the Numbers and Focus on Meaningful Engagement
There is a reason all social media platforms put the number of likes, thumbs up, or whatever metric of approval they're using front and center. They want you to chase numbers and condition yourself to posting high-interaction content, because that means more revenue for them. But that often leads to a very shallow and unpleasant experience for you.
Instead of chasing likes, focus on meaningful engagement. Spend time interacting with other users, asking them about their work and techniques, and finding inspiration. If chasing likes is like eating a cookie, meaningful interaction is like eating a balanced meal. The cookie is good for the quick enjoyment and sugar rush, but you will be hungry again after a short time, and it is not something that will keep you healthy long-term. On the other hand, the balanced meal might not be as exciting in the moment, but you will be much better off in the long run.
At the end of the day, you probably are not going to remember the most likes you have ever gotten, nor will your follower count make you happy. What you will remember, however, are the nuanced compliments and critiques from those you admire and those with whom you have built real friendships and professional relationships. Those are the balanced meals of Instagram that will make you happier in the long run.
Instagram has changed a lot and not really for the better. That being said, while there is nothing you can do to get rid of the ever-increasing ads or bring back the chronological feed, you can take control of your experience in other meaningful ways and avoid being drawn into the endless, ultimately fruitless pursuit of likes and follower counts, instead trading it for building meaningful relationships, finding inspiration, and improving yourself. Don't let Instagram suck you into the social media black hole; make it something that works for you, or remove it from your life.