I consider myself a pretty positive person. And I'll usually go to great lengths to make the best of a situation, if I can. But would you all mind if I complained for a moment? Specifically about Instagram and my relationship with it, particularly as someone who relies on it for part of her income? I promise if you get bored or want to roll your eyes (I get it, I really do!), you won't hurt my feelings if you stop reading now. Feel free to exit.
A while back, I gave up trying to "crack" the code with Instagram. I realized it was a losing battle, where my mental health usually took the biggest hit. Algorithms change. Facebook's business initiatives don't have me, a sole content creator, at the forefront. And attention spans are getting shorter by the second, meaning content has to be reverse engineered to accommodate. Personally, I think we're on a very slippery slope.
And while I usually refrain from queuing my sad, tiny violin to gripe about any of the above-mentioned "issues," I think it's gotten harder and harder to ignore in recent weeks, ever since I took time off from social media to grieve a personal family loss — the death of my dog. As I mentioned at the time and as I'll mention now, I've never been good at sharing my thoughts, feelings, emotions in real-time, in a "talking to camera" fashion. It's just not me. And as many of my managers have reminded me over the years, I realize I'd likely spike my engagement if I did it that way and perhaps queue a few tears. But you know what? It's not how I process things. I need time, space and freedom to write it out. Not a front-facing camera.
I know PTO for grievance time is a luxury a lot of people don't have so I want to underscore how fortunate I feel to be in a position to be able to step back in the way that I did. I know I needed that time to cry, to feel deeply and to reflect. So I took it, all the while knowing that returning back to a regular posting schedule would come with some setbacks, namely profile reach limitations after not being active on the app 24/7 the previous week. (Before we move on, let that sink in for a moment. I think most of us, if we're really honest with ourselves, usually think twice or at least feel guilty for taking social media breaks. That's pretty telling.)
What I didn't anticipate when I took that break was just how much my profile would be limited for weeks after the break. My typical post reach has been cut by more than half. And I seem to be getting an increasing amount of DMs from a small handful of my active readers who mention my content just doesn't show up for them anymore, despite their best efforts to "teach the algorithm otherwise."
I know what you might be thinking at this point: Does any of this really matter?
I'll pause here to say something that Shelcy and Christy of NYC x Clothes mentioned the other day that really stuck with me: numbers don't matter. And philosophically, they don't. But in a very real-world application sense, they do. Like any other business owner in any other industry, I have to focus on metrics to some degree. It would be foolish and shortsighted not to — especially when those same numbers are tracked, measured and evaluated by current and potential future brand partners. In short, numbers are tied to my livelihood, and if they're severely stunted, I think anyone would agree, it's gets harder and harder to dust yourself off in those moments to create more, to create better, to create anything at all.
Granted, nothing about the freelance work that I do is guaranteed. After working years at a corporate job, I'm very aware of the security tradeoffs. And normally, I thrive with creative challenges or constraints — it's part of the reason why I was drawn to this industry years ago well before it was a profitable venture.
But what I do take issue with is when the playbook isn't transparent. When the rules are always changing. When the tips and tricks for success seem to be a constant game of copycatting between social media platforms. And when I or you, as human beings do, experience something personally profound and decide to take time off from social media and dare to live OFFLINE for a few days, we can't seem to regain any of the footing we had before (which mind you, wavered day to day as it is).
Well, that's when you start to wonder, who is this relationship serving here? And who is it ultimately harming? Even if you don't happen to be a content creator who relies on Instagram for your income, I think we've all been meticulously trained at this point to desire, crave even, social currency.
Don't get me wrong, in a lot of ways, that social currency is a beautiful thing. It builds communities. It creates connections. It brings awareness to topics, ideas and people that otherwise may have a hard time being seen or heard. But when those platforms, almost in the same breath, are gamifying the system in a way that makes it impossible to step back from their services for fear of losing reach to said community, well, that feels terribly abusive. I'm pretty sure it's textbook gaslighting if a company says they care about their members' mental health, only to turn around and write code that diametrically opposes any personal boundaries those members could set for themselves with their app.
OK, I know what you're thinking here again: Why bother with this? Why take on the Goliath of Facebook? Facebook isn't going to change because it wouldn't serve their bottom line to change. End of story.
To which I have zero good answers and a lot of hard questions, namely for myself. The thing is, I really enjoy creating content. I don't necessarily think my creations are revolutionary or groundbreaking by any means, but I do think I can weave a story together, one that hopefully transports you all in some way, however small. It's the creative director role I always admired while reading Vogue magazine growing up, that through a lot of hard work and resourcefulness, I was able to manifest for myself on a smaller, more personal scale. I didn't get into this space to become a "celebrity personality" or a "performer" and yet increasingly, with every platform update, it seems that's the direction I have to take if I want to succeed.
And still, I rise to the challenges. If you followed me at all during the height of quarantine, I think you might agree. When new waves of Facebook business initiatives come through, I really do try my best to authentically interpret it for me and my brand. For in-feed photos. For Stories. For Reel videos. But at a certain point, I have to wonder, why am I allowing this app to make me feel so inadequate, when I'm definitely not lacking in effort, ingenuity or scrappiness? To be clear, I don't need thousands upon thousands of new followers. I'm very happy and content with the beautiful community I do have — I just want to be able to meaningfully reach them. Right now, that's very hard to do. And if I take time off? It's next to impossible.
Perhaps all of this begs a larger question about how much we value our work/life balance, especially in this country. But I think I've exhausted myself thus far (and likely some of you), so I'll stop here to end on: If anyone who is still reading this feels like they're trapped in a similar cycle of feeling owned and controlled by their work, I see you. I understand you. And I hope you find a way to break from it soon. I wish I had better answers or guidance for you. I don't. But sometimes, as my painfully positive inner voice is reminding me, just knowing that we're not alone in something, is comfort enough.