Things I've Learned from Instagram

Why Instagram is like the Hotel California

Instagram. It’s basically the Hotel California, isn’t it?

As in, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. Like, EVER. Trust one who’s tried: I’ve decided to quit Instagram at least half a dozen times this year alone, but it turns out I’m no quitter, because every time I tell myself that, OK, this is absolutely the LAST time I scramble around on the floor in my underwear, trying to assemble the perfect flatlay of my outfit before I put it on, somehow I always find myself lured back in. I have absolutely no idea why.

I may not be able to quit my love-hate relationship with Instagram, though (If I ever bothered using Facebook any more, I’d post one of those “It’s complicated,” statuses…), but I have learnt a lot about the platform over the years, so today I’m sharing some of my very important Instagram lessons, so that those 2,350-odd photos I’ve uploaded over there need not have been taken in vain…
4 instagram mistakes to avoid

It takes a lot of time and effort to post an “instant” photo

Hey, remember when Instagram photos were literally instagram photos: as in, you took ’em (With your phone, not with your fancy DSLR, plus a home photography studio you set up for this very purpose…), you uploaded ’em, and then you forgot ’em? You did not add exactly 30, carefully researched, hashtags which you’ve worked out are just popular enough to boost your account, but not so popular that your photo will have no chance of making it onto the “top posts” section. You did not then go on a liking and commenting spree, frantically “engaging” with as many other accounts as possible,  in a thinly veiled bid to get them to “engage” with yours in return.  Hell, you maybe even over-used the ‘Rise’ filter on all your photos, even although it made you look like you had no nose, purely because it made your hair look awesome, and that’s all that matters, right? Er, YOU did that, I mean: I obviously didn’t. *Whistles innocently*

These days, of course, Instagram is different. It’s complicated.  For a lot of people, it basically amounts to a huge amount of effort just to take and promote that effortless-looking, “instant” snapshot of Your-Life-Only-Not-Really-Because-Actually-Totally-Staged. Over the last year or so,  I’ve learned that I just don’t have the necessary time or energy to do everything that’s (apparently) necessary to grow my Instagram account these days. Sure, I still stage those flatlays, and no, I did not actually wake up like that photo I posted last week, but I’ve accepted that I’m never going to be popular on Instagram, because I just don’t have the necessary commitment or talent for it. I’m OK with that. I think.

Niches are important, themes aren’t

I know I’ll get a lot of people disagreeing with this one, but I’ve tried having a theme  (i.e. all of the photos in the grid having the same kind of aesthetic appearance to them) and it made no difference whatsoever to my account. I’ve noticed, however, that accounts that stick to a specific niche –  i.e they only do outfit photos, or home photos, or photos of their pet frog or whatever – grow way, WAY faster than my own, “little bit of everything” account. Like, WAY faster.

I’m guessing this is probably because followers of a niche account know exactly what to expect from it, and also because owners of niche accounts have access to an entire community of other niche Instagrammers, who all support and promote each other. Makes sense, right? Unfortunately, though, guessing is all I’ll be doing here, because I do NOT have a niche Instagram. No, my Instagram, like my blog, is all over the place, and although I know I’d probably do a whole lot better if were to niche down, as it were, I also know that, actually, no, I wouldn’t do a whole lot better, because I just don’t have the patience or attention span to only ever post about one thing all the time. It didn’t work for my blog, and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t work for my Instagram account either, and would just turn it into a chore, which I’d quickly grow to resent .

I won’t be sticking to a niche, then: you, on the other hand, totally should, if that’s your thing. Well, SOMEONE should really be learning from my mistakes, here, huh?

My mirror has magic, selfie-repelling properties which mean that every photo I try to take in it will make me look almost exactly like Voldemort.

I will never ask my mirror who’s the fairest of them all: I know the answer from it will be a resounding, “NOT YOU, AMBER, LOLS!”  God, I hate that mirror.

The Voldemort photos are always way more popular than the ones I carefully shot and edited, and am really excited to post, though.

Those photos always sink without trace on Instagram, while everyone’s basically all, “Yeah, no one cares about your professional-looking photo, Amber: MOAR VOLDEMORT!”  And this is another reason I’ll never have a niche Instagram account, really: I mean, I know from my stats that those blurry mirror shots are normally the most popular ones I ever upload, and that if I did more of them, my engagement would be higher, but… I just can’t stand the thought of an account filled with terrible (And, trust me, my mirror selfies are really, REALLY terrible: I have no idea how other people manage to make them look good…) photos. Which brings me to another point:

Starting an Instagram theme is a bit like joining a cult

No matter how much you tell yourself you can quit any time, and just go back to posting normal, non-colour-coordinated photos, you really can’t: trust one who knows. Seriously, start a theme, and that’s it – you may as well give up on life, because all you’ll be doing from this point on is obsessing over maintaining the perfection of your theme, and finding new items to photograph in your chosen colour scheme. Think you can break the chain: that you’re so bad-ass you can TOTALLY upload a dark blue photo to your all-white grid, and not even blink? That’s cute and all,  but be honest: you broke out into a cold sweat just thinking about that, didn’t you? I know I did, and I’ve “quit” my theme more times than I can count now. It’s like, you think you have a life, but actually, all you have is an Instagram theme, and that theme CANNOT BE BROKEN, no matter what…

It doesn’t matter how many times you tag or mention the store you bought your shoes from

… someone will still comment to ask where you bought your shoes. Every. Single. Time. If you don’t answer them immediately, you will be accused of being rude and mean to your followers. Fun, isn’t it?

My life is just not Instagrammable enough

Yes, I have a (mostly) white house and a ever-expanding collection of slogan sweaters and stationery, but I don’t get decent enough daylight to photograph those things without a whole lot effort, I can’t take a selfie to save my life (See: ‘Voldemort’ above), and I don’t really DO much to take photos of. Like, right now I’m writing this dumb post about not having anything to post on Instagram instead of going out and doing something I could post on Instagram – which is ironic, really, in an Alanis kinda way. Dontchya think? I mean, even the restaurants I eat in have low lighting and tables that aren’t remotely Instgrammable, which is just NUTS as far as I’m concerned. WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE INSTAGRAMMERS, HERE?

Stories are where it’s at

Yes, the Instagram algorithm might suck, but Stories, on the other hand? I LOVE Instagram stories. Big time. And, OK, I will admit that I sometimes skip right by some of the longer ones, because ain’t nobody got time for that, but Instagram Stories is basically like having reality TV in your phone 24/7, and who doesn’t love THAT?

(Er, I’m going to have to partly raise my hand here, because I hate actual reality TV, so I’ve no idea why I like Instagram Stories. I guess maybe because no one ever has to eat a bug on their Story, or try to impress us with their vocal talents? Well, hardly ever, anyway…)

 No one likes the algorithm. The algorithm doesn’t care.

Seriously, I haven’t heard even ONE person say, “You know what, I much prefer only seeing the photos Instagram wants me to see, even if it means seeing ‘FRIYAY!’ photos on a Tuesday afternoon, and missing 50% of my feed!” Not one person. Everyone hates the algorithm: the algorithm, however, doesn’t care whether we like it or not – it’s going to just keep on doing its algorithm thing, and we’re going to have to learn to either work it or dump it. Me, I’m going for “dump it” – not in the sense of quitting Instagram altogether, obviously, because, Hotel California, remember? – but certainly in the sense of not even trying to play its game, because I know from bitter experience that this is a game I cannot win: or not unless I’m willing to buy followers, or join comment pods, or do whatever it takes to beat the algorithm and start growing my account again from its current standstill position. I’m just too lazy and, well, tired, basically. In fact, “Too tired to Instagram this,” could be my life motto right now.

If only I could get that printed on a sweatshirt or something, so I could Instagram it…


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  • Lucy


    Grea post!

    August 30, 2017
  • Get it printed on a sweatshirt! I’d buy one!

    As for restaurant lighting, I’m drafting a review at the moment and basically every photo has to be captioned “Soz – crap lighting! Ignore the shadow of my phone on my food!” WHY ISN’T THIS STUFF TAUGHT AT INTERIOR DESIGN SCHOOL?!

    August 30, 2017
  • I loved this post Amber – so funny and so true! I’ve taken the decision to not post on there anymore, at least for the time being. It was turning into such a chore and I wasn’t enjoying it at all so I felt I should step away from it for now x

    Jenny | LuxeStyle

    August 30, 2017
  • Brenda


    Your comment about how even if you post a source, people will still ask, is so true! Or if a person doesn’t post a source but does answer the question in another comment, people don’t read the other comments to see. That would drive me bananas! I think it is a fine line to walk between wanting to engage with your followers, while still being able to get away from your laptop or phone to get things done in a day!

    August 30, 2017
  • “My life is just not Instagrammable enough” = the story of my life, literally.

    August 30, 2017
  • As always your views and writing is hilarious ? I gave up trying to be an “instagrammer” with those perfectly currated photos. I really don’t know how my friends manage It!

    I like your little bit of everything instagram, and your mirror selfies are cute and totally not voldemorty!

    August 30, 2017
  • It actually drives me insane. I go up 20 and then down 20…and then up 20…and you get the idea. Some of the photos that I stick up because I’m busy and CBA finding anything good do better than my very carefully edited ones. I’m in the middle of an experiment where I’m trying to optimise the timing of my posts, but I feel it may be futile. Still, there are a TON of dogs on Instagram, so I have to keep it for the benefit of my mental health.

    August 30, 2017
  • I’m not interested in Instagram themes either! I’ve had to separate my two online personas into two Facebook accounts, two Twitter feeds and two Instagram accounts – Oh, and two blogs! I keep my design and art work on one set, and my garden and pets on the other. It’s hard word, and I often find myself almost commenting on someone’s post from the wrong persona, or heaven-forbid, my personal one! Have I over complicated things for myself? Probably, but it keeps my feeds more ‘categorised’ than if it was one eclectic one, which in theory should improve my stats…

    But it doesn’t! I have minute followings on all my platforms. I don’t take amazingly colour-coordinated, orchestrated photographs, but I enjoy writing, and looking back over my old posts, and hopefully sharing some of my knowledge with others.

    I guess that’s what it’s really all about in the long run, for me anyway 🙂

    August 31, 2017
  • Tara McDonnell


    Right off the bat I loved this post and your all-around writing style! The appreciation certainly comes from a dark place of curiosity because as much as Instagram is captivating, it’s also a hell hole from certain angles and reading your perspective was, well, encompassing of both these feelings! So happy I found your blog and will make sure to continue reading!

    September 3, 2017
  • I think I’ve said this before but themes actually turn me off accounts as every photo then just looks the same. Ok so it looks nice and professional but bland to my eye anyway!

    I’m not sure if the algorithm has affected me yet – I do cast an eye at when each photo was posted as I scroll down and they all seem to run in time. I do however see an advert every 2 or 3 posts now which drives me crackers. I’ve definitely been using it less and less, both in terms of posting and liking as I’m so pushed for time these days.

    September 8, 2017