Week 3: Instagram

Some great advice on, insight into and debate about Instagram provided by others in the discussion group. Lots to get to grips with. When it comes to Instagram, and social media more generally, I’m definitely in the remedial group. I set up an account before the module and acquired one follower (a former colleague) immediately, followed soon after by my son. The activity asks us to develop a strategy. I have posted a sequence of images with a consistent style, and sought appropriate hashtags (though it has been tricky finding ones that attract the right kind and level of interest, as others have noted). I’m responding to any comments made, and increasing the number of people and organisations I follow, thinking about what this implies about my own work. Gaining 20 followers in a day indicated that I should meet the (thankfully low) target of 30 set for the activity. I shifted the content incrementally to bring it closer to my current work.

What Instagram can offer me at this point in time, as a photographer, is limited, I think, but I can see that I could use it very productively (in a clearly directed and designed manner) when I am more advanced in my final project. This would entail, I think, a number of accounts, each focused on a particular locality, plus an account of my own for the work that I produce in relation to these contexts (which would include insights into process and outcomes as well as images). As a means of dissemination (and exchange within a particular group, for instance a residents’ group) it’s a really good resource. Whether or not Instagram facilitates wider interaction and dialogue, as others have observed, is a moot point. The potential for Instagram to stimulate some form of financial return or competitive edge is less of an interest for me, but clearly important for commercial photographers seeking to maximise exposure and access new markets. And it appears that Instagram is now the first port of call for collectors, galleries, publishers, agents, editors and others in the industry, thus making a well-managed Instagram presence/identity essential for many photographers. For those seeking no more than a wider audience for their work, I’m less clear, at the moment, about whether Instagram provides sufficient return for the work required. The crux appears to be developing a strategy (whatever the means adopted, online or IRL) to reach and engage the right audience.

In 3 days I’ve gone from 2 to 66 followers, with a relative deluge of likes. The key appears to be consistent and regular posting, and following and liking other people’s work to show that you are active. And, I hope, posting good and engaging images. To reach the right audience for your purposes, I think you need to accept that there will be a high degree of redundancy. From this point I think it’s a matter of cultivating that audience through well targeted and considered liking and commenting. I’ll continue to post and cultivate, but maybe less frequently, and more experimentally. One firm and unambiguous piece of advice from the photo-journalist I spent time with in the preliminary activity was ‘Delete everything you did as a student’.

I think I can see how I can productively use Instagram in my work. Engaging in an extended dialogue through Instagram is, I think, too much to expect. If Instagram is a calling card, then we have to follow up to make the appointment to engage more fully through other means. Maybe its more like a card in a (global) newsagent’s window.

One key concern for me is the need to be really clear about our aspirations and organise our Instagram use and strategies (and expectations) accordingly. I don’t aspire to be a ‘social influencer’ (now the top career aspiration for young people, apparently – looks like we are going to be reliant on AI for our doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers …), nor to make a million a year as an Instagram star (seriously, who needs that, sitting at laptop all day, generating content …), nor even to max out my likes. So that’s not necessarily where I need to go to develop my Instagram strategy. Better to identify people with whom I share aspirations who have successfully advanced these through Instagram and learn from them. And maybe develop some strategies of my own.