Something is wrong with Instagram

When Instagram launched in 2010 it was a new exciting place for photographers not only to showcase their images, but also for trying new venues regarding colouring styles (filters), croping styles (remember the squares?), it made Selfies popular (how many times before that had you seen so many people on the street grinning into their own camera?) and even new editorial possibilities (along with Twitter they made Hashtags popular, if I am not wrong). Instagram opened up a whole new way of Photography and for that I am thankfull, really.

Since then Instagram has gone a long way and evolved into a mature social platform with millions of members and even got bought by Facebook in 2012 for the astronomical sum of 1 bill. USD. No wonder the adverstising industry got interested (“if there is so much smoke somewhere, there has to be a fire there”) and commercial content found its way in. Not only brands are submitting directly content within their own accounts, but indirectly, too. How? Very simple: find an Instagrammer with a large figure of followers, check if he/she fits into your target group (sports, travel, food, fashion, etc.) and simply get him/her to post an image that somehow relates to your product or service. This can be blantantly by showing the product/service on the image (“just smile and hold our product into the cam!”) or hiding it subtle in the editorial space underneath (“I never leave my house without wearing my *placeholder for product*!”).

Don´t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about adverticers making ads in a place where they think it will be cost-efficient. We have ads everywhere… in the streets, in TV, on radio, magazines… so, why not on Instagram. I´m just fine with it. If you don´t like it… scroll it away.

No, there is something different that has begun to bother me in the last months or years. The thing is: as the platform has given birth to a new revenue chance for some Instagrammers and the word has spread, that you can make cash out of your stream, some smart a**es have developed strategies to maximize this possibility. It´s very (theoretically) simple indeed: build up a large enough follower base (something in the 100 thousands) and suddenly brands are going to reach for you to place their ads (blatantly or subtle) in your stream. Voila… it gets shown to your large audience. Job done, brand happy, cash earned. Even here I am totally ok with this. If you have build up a large audience with your work and you want to get some cash back out of it, no prob, do it. The people that don´t like it will unfollow you and everything is fine. Some goes for TV, radio or magazines… if you don´t like the content of somebody you just skip it, look for another broadcaster or just don´t buy the paper.

But… in the last months I have observed that a new strategy for growing and building up your audience is beeing used: let´s take a standard account with some hundred followers, let´s call him Snappy Joe. So, Snappy Joe has a normal life, goes to work to earn his money and has always had a passion for Photography. He takes some good snaps here and there and posts them into Instagram. Some people like the images (specially his friends and family) and they push the small heart. Sometimes even he gets discovered by people he doesn´t know personally and, as they like his style or topic or whatever, they begin to follow his stream. More hearts. This is the way it used to work. And sometimes even the platform itself features your account into their own showcase and suddenly you have some thousand new followers. And some hundred new hearts.

The way Instagram is structured now Snappy Joe can see who is following him. He gets and alert from the app every time a new follower comes along. So, normally he would check out the new followers accounts and if there is some stream he likes, he would follow them, too. #Reciprocity.

What Snappy Joe does NOT get informed about is, when somebody unfollows him. Only if he carefully observes his list of whom he follows and notes their names and changes to the other list of “followed by” and  compares the two lists… he would realize WHO followed him, WHOM he then decided to follow and WHO then unfollowed him. As you can read… no simple task. Instagram has (for unknow reasons) decided that when this reciprocity is broken Snappy Joe does not get informed (easily). Ok, you could now state that this is no heart-breaking policy and that Snappy Joe should go on with life and don´t care about who unfollows him. Yep… you could say this. BUT it´s not the fact that he gets unfollowed that bugs me… it´s the way it is beeing done lately in a massive way:

Snappy Joe and his account of 300 followers gets suddenly followed by a large-account Instagrammer Sporty Jane. Sporty Jane has got 150.000 followers, but follows just a few 120 accounts. Strange, does Snappy Joe think… such a “star” is following me now? Does she really like my images? Wow! If somebody with such a large account likes my images… they have to be somehow good! Snappy Joe feels happy, flattered and beginns to follow Sporty Jane immediately. #Reciprocity.

In the next days Snappy Joes stream will begin to show the images of Sporty Jane holding (blatantly or subtle) the product a brand is paying her for to show. What Snappy Joe does not know is… that 2 days later Sporty Jane has long unfollowed him and his stream (sometimes even only 2 hours later). The chances Snappy Joe gets this are small. Only if he continuosly checks his account, he will realize this. And there are many, many Snappy Joes and Janes out there on Instagram.

I guess this are automated processes that some companies are offering in order to grow and build up your account if you pay for the service. And it seems to work out very good. I took the time to check one of this Sporty Janes, who was building up a new account from Zero… and she went from Nada to 4.000 followers in 4 weeks. And of course she followed and unfollowed me automatically. By the way… last time I checked her account she was following a whopping 12 other accounts.

I am not sure… but this new way of obtaining audience (and therefore money) is kind of dishonest and mean. It leaves a bad taste. The spirit of community Instagram once had is diminishing by this kind of activities.

What should Instagram do? Actually very simple: if they can inform you about new followers, it should be no problem to inform you about who unfollows you. This way you would honestly know if someone is following you because they like your images… or because they like the money. Just keep it honest.

My instagram Account is

… and trust me, I will not follow you back if I don´t like your images 🙂