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The social in social media
I was never part of the popular group at school.
If you have ever met me this will not be a surprise - too short, too fat, too opinionated - I was also eighteen months younger than most of my school year, something that does not make you cool as a teenager.
However I cannot remember ever wanting to be part of it - somewhere where your status depends on more people wanting to be friends with you than you are prepared to be friends with. The cliquey inner circle and the adoring admirers. It always looked a bit limiting. I'm sure was quite sneery about it, inspired by all those coming of age books and movies.
Of course, once you leave schoo,l this social model pretty much dissolves, offices, colleges, universities are all more diverse and people find it much easier to be themselves. I may not have wanted to be part of the popular gang but I do remember the relief of it no longer being a thing.
Which makes me wonder why social media - Instagram in particular - has this element.
I'm not talking about personal Instagram here - because people use that for a whole host of different reasons and in particular like specific accounts so they can build up a pretty and inspirational feed.
I'm talking to the people who say they want to use Instagram to build an audience, the makers, the writers, the yoga teachers and chefs who see social media as an ideal way to get their message out into the world*.
Every day I get about 30 follows from genuine people/businesses on my Instagram account. Within a week 25 of those will unfollow me as part of an 'audience acquisition' tactic that baffles me. People employ bots to like accounts in the hope that a percentage will like them back and their follower numbers will increase. They then unlike the accounts to keep the gap between followers and followed as large as possible.
That seems bizarre. We are no longer in high school, our status is not determined between the gap between the number of people who follow you and those you follow. When I see small and mid-sized accounts with a massive difference I assume that they have done this kind of follow/unfollow thing, or that they have bought followers, or that they just don't want to interact at all. It certainly isn't a way to spread your message.
I see Instagram in a completely different way.
Instagram is an amazing app. When people there like my photos and comment, I can then immediately go over to their accounts, get a glimpse into their lives, see what makes them happy, comment on their photos and begin a connection.
This is amazing. For a small social business I can't think of anything more amazing. Where else can you begin to forge relationships with people as genuinely and quickly?
Most of the people I follow are the people who follow me and like or comment on my photos - they are a mix of Members, customers, people in my Facebook Group, people who just like what we do - I don't follow many big highly curated accounts.
This means that the feed that I wake up to in the morning is a really diverse thing - it is not a sweep of beautifully filtered, carefully edited photos because most people outside the professional instagram bubble don't care about that. They care about sharing their lives.
So every morning I see the things that makes my customers smile - the spaniel puppies, the children baking, the bright blue sky.
And that makes me smile too.
So what I would say to people wanting to build a worthwhile audience is this - if you want to have a beautiful edited feed then create a private account just for that, but use your public account to be lavish with your likes, comments and follows (they don't cost anything) and connect with real people.
*I absolutely see how this becomes more difficult once you have a massive and highly engaged following! Obviously no-one can spend all day chatting and you will only ever see a tiny proportion of the people you follow. I would love to hear from people who have found a solution.