My Instagram Journey So Far
I started idly dipping my toe into Instagram in late 2016. I was on maternity leave with my third son and looking for something to help pass the time that didn’t revolve around the contents of Mr Tumble’s spotty bag. I have never really been one for Mumsnet. I can’t get over the feeling that it is slightly wrong to be discussing baby poo with strangers online so I thought I would try out Instagram instead. I never set out with a grand plan, goals or a strategy. It was just me sharing pictures of my bathroom and finding, to my surprise, a community of fellow interiors fans who liked the cut of my rolltop bath and shared a love of metro tiles and blow job gags.
Since posting that first murky shot of my bathroom 2 years ago I have gained 80K followers, had my pictures regrammed on some of my all time favourite Instagram accounts such as Apartment Therapy, seen my home featured in My House Beautiful and 91 Magazine, collaborated with some of my favourite interiors brands and been lucky enough to go on trips to and write about some amazing places including Malmo (my spiritual Scandi home).
In the last 9 months I have also started, for the first time, to earn money from my Instagram and blog. Not the kind of money that enables me to make Ryan Gosling an ‘Indecent Proposal’ he would actually accept (although Ryan if I have misjudged this and you would in fact be my Demi Moore for £20 and a Grab Bag of Roast Beef Monster Munch call me). But the kind of money that means that my dad no longer tells me to stop wanking over pictures of other people’s cushions (not literally I stress).
However, I have also discovered that whilst Instagram can build you up it can also knock you right back down again and, in the grip of algorithm angst, it can become easy to lose sight of why you started using the app in the first place. So finding myself with five minutes free when no-one is asking me to wipe their bottom (I have told Mr Malmo he really need to start doing his own) I thought I would share with you five lessons I learnt in 2018 about how to grow your Instagram without losing your mind in the process.
Serve up a Killer Shot
Errr duhh Malmo isn’t that the whole point of Instagram? It is but it is a basic principle I confess I have at times been guilty of forgetting! When a post bombs it may well be because the evil algorithm has hidden you down the back of the Instagram sofa but sometime the truth is that actually you just served up a bit of a shit shot! Take this one of my bedroom for example. At the time I thought I was unleashing #gridgoals but it struggled to get past 1K likes and then died. But when I look back at it now I can see that I totally over did it with the filters, zoomed in too close on the bed cutting out the windows to the right and shaving off half of the bedside table.
In comparison in this shot I showed more of the whole room so you can see the bed in context and told more of a story in the image (in this case wife eats croissants in bed and sets off husband’s over sensitive crummy alarm). I also edited the picture in a much lighter way. Same room, different picture, different result with this picture receiving over 6k likes
Filters Can Be Your Friend Afterall
In my last blog about Instagram back in 2017, I wrote that I had learnt to go easy on the filters after an early addiction to adding borders to my images that made them look like they were trapped behind #beigebars. But what I have learnt this year is that filters and editing tools (if used less cack handedly) can turn a photo from meh to marvellous. They also allow you to create a look and feel to your feed that people start to identify with your pictures making them stand out from the crowd.
I have started using third party apps like Snapseed and VSCO to edit my pictures and my goal for 2019 is to get to grips with Lightroom. They have a much wider selection of preset filters to chose from than Instagram and allow a broader range of edits you can make to a picture. It has been trial and error ( I still get it wrong sometimes as shown above) and you may prefer to leave you pictures au naturel. However, since making this change to the style of my pictures they have got picked up and regrammed by some huge interiors instagram accounts like My Interior, Apartment Therapy, Home Adore and Room Porn. Those regrams have added about 1000 followers a time to my account.
Fuck the Numbers
I am not going to pretend that I don’t care the number of likes my posts get or the number of followers I have. The ping of a blue notification can be intoxicating! But what I learnt the hard way this year was that if the number of likes and follows you get becomes your main motivation and validation then Instagram can fairly quickly go from thriller to killer. 2018 started out well for me, I had a couple of pretty big regrams and gained 4.5K followers overnight when the Frugality mentioned me in her stories. But then out of the blue my account suddenly ground to a halt. For the first time I was losing more followers than I was gaining and my pictures attracted a fraction of the likes they had been getting when my account was much smaller.
My first thought was that I had been shadow banned but I was still showing up on hashtags and after the normal two weeks it would take for shadow ban to elapse I was still in insta purgatory! I drove myself crazy trying to work out what I had done wrong googling “why does Instagram hate me” and reporting the problem with pleading messages along the lines of “Dear Instagram please can I come off the naughty step".
It was frustrating to watch what felt like everyone else surge past me whilst my account went into reverse. I had got totally sucked into a “race” mentality. But then my husband put it all into perspective for me by reminding me of ‘Wanted’. A truly terrible action film starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy from the late noughties. The first 30 mins or so of the film are an enjoyable enough action caper in which Jolie and McAvoy team up to defeat a mysterious bad guy. But then it is revealed that the bad guy they are battling is, in fact, a weaving loom of the type that might appear in an episode of Cranford. The weaving loom in this analogy is of course the algorithm.
In the absence of a degree in computer science (or even a basic understanding of Microsoft excel) it will remain a mystery to me. So instead of worrying about followers I didn’t have, likes I wasn’t getting or how big other accounts were growing I decided to focus instead on engaging with the followers I do have and creating content that I think they will like and which I am proud of. That is what my stay in insta jail taught me and I have been happier and enjoyed insta much more ever since. Which brings me to my next point.
Get Authentically Social
Getting regrammed by Apartment Therapy may have been one of my highlights of 2018 but so was the night when, home alone and relaxing in my favourite #FlaccidPenisFlanelettes, I shared a picture of them and asked people to show me their favourite #PyjamasPenisesLoveToHate in return. I received over a hundred entries into the Boner Crusher Hall of Fame with nightwear featuring everything from fleecy festive owls to erection extinguishing ice skating penguins that had me howling with laughter.
I didn’t share my pyjamas as part of any grand Instagram engagement strategy. I shared them because Mr Malmo was out and I was sitting on the sofa eating doritos and fancied some bants. Instagram is “social media” and I am sure you have all read advice which says that the best way to grow your account is to be social and engage with other accounts. There are many different ways you can go about that. You can comment “love this” or “nice room” on as many accounts as you possibly can before you get thumb fatigue. But the rather long winded point of my flaccid penis pyjama story is that when you forget about being strategic and make your followers laugh, or share something that allows you to build real rapport with the people following you they stop being a number and instead become your tribe, your champions and, in many cases, your friends in real life!
Step away from your Phone
“Put Phone Down Mummy”. Four words spoken to me by my toddler this Summer which, combined with my stay in insta jail, caused me to reassess my relationship with Instagram. Prior to that point I had posted religiously every day at the most “insta” appropriate time and driven Mr Malmo mad by constantly being heard to say “just give me a minute whilst I” insert one of “reply to this comment, check my DMs, post this to stories”. Instagram had become like a job and it was zapping the fun out of it for me (not to mention those around me!). I already have a job (in sustainability) that I enjoy very much and I realised that whilst Instagram has brought me some amazing opportunities I don’t want it to become my full time career. And I certainly don’t want to miss out on times with my family worrying about the algorithm or how my posts are performing.
So I did what my toddler suggested and put my phone down. I now take at least 1 or 2 days off a week from posting and do it at times that fit in with family life rather than being preordained by Instagram insights. My account has not fallen off a cliff. I am still being offered opportunities and my account is still growing. Maybe not as fast as others that post more frequently but that is ok with me. Whilst Instagram does seem to penalize you if you disappear for long periods, a day or two off a week doesn’t seem to have angered the insta gods too much. Indeed I think my engagement has been better since I stopped posting as frequently, maybe because it is a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder?! To quote a truly great philosopher (Ray Winstone in the Paddy Power adverts) when the fun stops stop. Whether it is for a day, a week or a month a little insta break every now and then can sometimes be what you need to get your mojo (and sanity) back.
So there you have it, my advice, for what it is worth, on how to grow your instagram without losing your mind (or being a dick). Thank you to every one of you who follows me, banters with me and encourages me on a daily basis.