First, you need to know that Instagram is no more the place for creative people as it used to be.
Over the years, it evolved into the marketing tool and everything what its owner (Facebook) does, is optimized to monetize the user base of the platform into the revenue.
Well, it's business and you couldn't expect that service remains free of charge forever. Facebook should please their shareholders and earn money. That's all OK - we just should stop pretending it's still a platform for creative people.
I could give a less scandalous title for this post, saying that "Instagram is broken". It is easy to see why: Instagram does everything to break the natural desire of creative people to show their work and to get inspired from the work of other people. But I insist to keep saying "ruined", because this sad status quo is a result of deliberate efforts from Facebook, and broken things won't be fixed. It's safe to predict that things will only get worse with time.
Let's go back to original reasons why creative people were jumping on Instagram bandwagon when the service still was small and cool.
1. Be seen
We, photographers, spend countless hours researching the locations, finding subjects, setting up the light, pressing the shutter at the right time, distance and angle, selecting and post-processing the best shots. Of course, we want to show the final result to the world, so it gets appreciated. Feedback (hopefully positive) from other people is our first reward - even before this image gets sold. Sometimes (oftentimes) we don't want sell this or that image and people's appreciation is our only reward.
In the early years of Instagram, you could establish a personal relationship with people who would like to look at your art. They were seeing your images in their feeds, liking and commenting them as they came. Fast forward to 2017 - it's not working anymore. People don't see your images. Not because they don't like them anymore. The ugly truth is that Instagram does not show your images to them. It might show them, but it all depends on artificial intelligence. All-mighty and top-secret algorithm that is lurking in Facebook server farms, that's what decides what users see in their feeds.
2. Get inspired
When we look in the opposite direction, situation is a little bit less desperate. You still see latests posts of *some* of your Instagram friends in your feed. You still can open the list of people you follow, go to their profiles and see their posts in beautifully chronological order. Yes, you can't rely solely on your News Feed anymore, because Instagram's evil algorithm will show you what it thinks you will like the most. But your newsfeed is not the only way to search for some content to get inspired.
There are hashtags that still work in 2017 (although I expect them to be totally screwed up by 2018, too). "Explore" page is pretty useless, it's just where Instagram mafia is getting even more powerful. You can also see what your friends like - and if the get inspired by something and your tastes are similar, you might like it too. Most probably that's also taken into consideration by Instagram algorithm, but in this case you have your full control on what you want to see.
So, there are ways to get inspired by the content you really dig, but default way to that (News feed) is totally broken. You will be shown the images of all the same people all the time, at wrong times, and on top of that, you will have a (totally irrelevant) ad every 8th image. What's not to hate?
Why Facebook is doing that?
I summarized it already in the second sentence of this lengthy post. Facebook is trying its best to monetize on the user base they've inherited from independent Instagram and then multiplied after the acquisition. They are advertising company and they sell ads. Whatever they do, has the final goal to sell more ads.
I doubt they will show "sponsored" posts more frequently in your feed, because it's already too frequent (I stopped scrolling through my feed because I get infuriated by useless ads after the first minute). What will happen is that "sponsoring" posts will get more and more expensive for advertisers.
I won't talk here about how useless "sponsored posts" are for small advertisers (large brands just don't care). What you might have already noticed if you happen to have a "company account" is that Instagram always offers you to "promote" your best performing posts. That "This posts performs better than 95% of your posts" message is, of course, bullshit. Anybody who isn't lazy, can go through his latest posts and find a lot of evidence to the contrary - but you are trapped to believe that you need to invest some money to their advertising machine.
The most important thing to notice here is that Facebook wants you to believe into the correlation between the metrics of your posts and quality of your work. They want you to get into the toxic race for numbers and pay for something that should have been there for granted - for exposure. With one hand, they hide your posts from your followers and with another hand, they ask for your money to fix this.
What should I do now?
At this very moment, there's no serious competitor to Instagram in sight. We are forced to use what we have. So, until next big (and more ethical) platform for creative people emerges, I urge you to:
- never get upset about the numbers and ignore the race for numbers
- use Instagram in ethical ways yourself
- find a good balance between time you spend on your work and the time you spend promoting it on Instagram
In the next posts, I will give you some practical advice how to stay sane and calm when using Instagram in most effective and ethical way.