Updated: Oct 30, 2020
So... I have no idea how anyone would end up on this website if they didn't follow me on instagram... but just in case you have stumbled here, I'm going to give you some background, and everyone else a recap, before we get into this!
So... on Tuesday morning, I was drinking my morning cup of tea in bed, scrolling through Facebook as you do, and I saw a post which caught my eye. It was by a young girl, who posted on a large-ish equestrian Facebook group saying that she really wanted to grow her social media following and if anyone had any tips, she left a link to her Instagram "for feedback". Now... as someone who works professionally in this arena but not in the equestrian world, my interest immediately spiked and I thought "oh cool, I wonder what everyone has to say!"... oh wow. The naivety, the optimism... did not realise I would end up down the hole I did!
The comments really upset me. Various people telling this relatively young (probs 20ish?) girl that the only way for her to be successful was basically to follow these "rules" based on what's favoured by "the algorithm"... some of these things were (and I quote!), spend more money entering more competitions, clinics and training to "be interesting enough", buy specific brands of clothing/equipment to "be fashionable/keep up with trends" or because said brand had a good following so spend LOADS and "you might get a feature", conform to popular trends/beliefs etc, not speak out about things you care about that "might be polarising"... and these were only some of the things she could be doing... the feedback on her current Instagram...
Her horse was "not nice enough looking", she was not "competing at a high enough level" or "doing enough shocking things with it", she was not "bringing anything new or interesting to the table", her content (both imagery and captions) were not "high enough quality" and she was coming across "the same as everyone else"... I mean... Jesus Christ.
Now none of this stuff was said with malice, the people saying it were saying it as if it was a fact, and the main reason for that was "because it is favoured by the algorithm"... and hey, is this young girl meant to know any different? If she is told "factually" by a load of people that that is what she needs to do to succeed? So there she goes, dutifully agreeing in responses to these comments that effectively, they are right she is not good enough and doesn't have the money to make herself good enough, and therefore should give up on her dreams. My heart literally shattered.
There are two reasons my heart shattered:
Every single person is unique and special and has something totally of their own to bring to the table, you DO NOT have to change who you are to be special, you already are special, or none of us are, whatever way you want to look at it! And no one, specially not a bloody computer algorithm, should make you feel like you are not good enough.
A lot of these things were fundamentally false, especially the reference to the fact that it was "based on the algorithm". As a social media professional I can tell you, they were false. Yeah, I'll admit I can give some logic to some bits, but very misunderstood/misinterpreted. So this girls hopes and dreams were crushed on the basis that she couldn't achieve these things... but the things she believed she "wasn't good enough" to achieve are false.
So... I took this, got super passionate about it and set about trying to find out if other people felt this way too... maybe I just didn't because I work in social so have a more than average understanding of how it worked?! Are there other people who are this crushed by these, seemingly totally random, rules?! So I set about a little project for myself, in the hope that I could find out and share it with people... and a billion Instagram stories later and WAYYYYY too many hours spent replying to messages and not enough spent doing my actual job (oops). So... this is going to be SUPER long and I apologise in advance, but if it helps one person not feel shit about themselves then its been worth it.
Part 1 - lets gooooooooo bitches
So, some poll results...
Now, as I'm sure you can tell, I asked a lot of those questions on purpose, based on the comments that I saw on that thread, as like I said... maybe I was just out of the game in thinking these things didn't matter but... well.. although the results speak for themselves, I'm going to go through them anyway... I told you this would be long!
"Real" captions or "Instagram worthy" captions - now I obvs didn't word it like that cos everyone would say real... but that was what I meant by question one. So a reasonably even split, which basically says... people kind of like stuff that's real, long and chatty, but it doesn't matter that much to them. This was a rule this thread warned against... "don't write your captions too long and informal, the algorithm doesn't like that!"... hmmm okay... that's technically not actually true. Instagram algorithm favours things that keep you on the app and scrolling so actually, longer captions + more interesting = more time on the app. But also, the real users of Instagram are not that fussed either way.
"Real" stories or "Pre-Made" stories - another thing that was said, Instagram doesn't favour things videoed natively on the app in stories, and prefers "better" content that's pre-filmed and prettier. Again, this is basically inaccurate for the same reason as point 1, and because a computer algorithm doesn't assess the particular stylisation of your stories, it just wanted you on the app and scrolling... This time a more definitive answer from the users, they massively prefer the organic and immediate content... which means they are more likely to be on the app more to make sure they don't miss out... which is what Instagram wants... so no, it is not law that you're favoured if you pre-make and style your videos. That's not to say there's anything wrong with doing so, you could argue that anything that's more visually appealing is better on a visual app... but what I'm saying is, it IS NOT a concrete "rule to success". That is just different marketing strategies...
"Talking or Text" - now this wasn't specific to the thread but I was interested personally! I don't talk on my stories, I write everything down because I often watch stories when I'm bored, for example watching TV in the evening or on a train, and I watch them on silent because IMO it's rude AF to play that out loud! So... I wondered if it made a difference. Seemingly it does a bit, and from the direct replies it was basically "what the person is saying is what's interesting, but if I can put a face/personality too it because they're talking to me, then its just nicer!" - which I do agree with. But if what you have to say is interesting enough... its not a deal breaker! Interesting... but also from a personal point of view and from the feedback I got... if you're talking AND write captions, that's the best combo.
"Human or Horse" - now this was interesting and looking back I wish I had worded the question different but... basically, are people following you for you as a person, or for the horse. Sadly, the most frequent answer was people messaging me saying "both" or "it depends"... so badly worded by me. The results lean towards personal... and most of the time the sentiment was, if I'm neither way on the person but like the horse, I'll follow, if I like the person but I'm neither way on the horse, I'll follow... but interestingly... even if they reeeeeally liked the horse, if they actively didn't like the persons personality they didn't follow. And I mean... thats life? As a human in every walk of life, some people will like you and others won't... so no, according to the rules of the thread, you don't need "the best horse"... like in every other area of life you will get on with some people and not with others, and in the middle with some, and that's okay. Same with horses, some people have more interest in a particular look or breed but... same applies!
Brands - remember the "you have to spend money on certain brands" etc... turns out, again, no one reeeeeally cares. Again, logically some of that is sound... if you're talking about, tagging and being shared by bigger brands, your name/page will reach more people... so okay, I'll give them that logic. Will it make all those people like you? Unlikely, but it could put you in front of them, so some of them may. However, for me personally... it has the opposite effect. If I see people buying every new thing from the currently popular brand and over egging it... I personally get switched off and find it annoying, and a lot of people agreed. Equally if a brand dangles bait to get people to buy their stuff for "clout", I also switch off... and again a lot of people agreed. But fundamentally, by only a few votes admittedly, but really most people don't care either way. So if you have the money and want to then cool, you get that bag girl... but please don't spend money you don't have for it, its not that important.
"Activity or Personality" - again, according to this thread you could be the most interesting person in the world but if you're not out actively competing and training (which all costs money!) then it doesn't matter... "because of the algorithm". Now again, I'll concede a bit of logic... if you're at/tagging/using hashtags for currently relevant things (e.g. Badminton), then yes, you might again be visible to more people. BUT... and this is a big but... when it comes to day to day clinics, training, comps etc... INSTAGRAM DOESN'T KNOW. If you posted 20 posts about all this stuff you'd done, insta doesn't go "oh look she trained with this person", "oh look she moved up a level" blah blah blah... it doesn't know. If you alternatively saved your pennies and wrote 20 equally interesting posts about yourself and your horse, insta would judge them no differently. Now you could argue and say "but fundamentally comps/training are more interesting than just be and my horse?!"....... weeeeeellllllll according to my poll, by a landslide, thats not the case at all. People care far more about you.
"Not jumping big enough" - now this is simple... does anyone care? No. Most people like to follow relatable content, so people like them, or aspirational content... so people a bit above them. Yes, if you post some *shocking* picture/image of a Shetland jumping around a Grand Prix then sure, amazing... that shit will go viral... but on an every day level... most of the time no one cares! And again... the computer algorithms at Instagram doesn't know that it's mad for a 14hh pony to compete at Foxhunter... it doesn't know! It doesn't purposefully favour it. It will favour *shock* content, because people are looking at it, not because its fundamentally programmed to. Its programmed to push out stuff that people want so the more you watch that content, they more it'll get pushed to you. Does that mean you need to put pressure on yourself, your horse or put yourself in a dangerous scenario to get that? No. You can achieve the same, or to be fair even better (aka long term rather than short viral) successes without putting yourself in those positions. It is not a concreted into the algorithm of insta that bigger jumps = more popularity. So you do not need to feel that you are not good enough if you only just 70cm.
"You need to be doing this or that discipline" - again... the Instagram wasn't built to favour dressage over carriage driving... I can't imagine anyone at the actual Instagram even knows what those two things are! Yes, some disciplines (namely dressage, eventing and showjumping) are more broadly known and followed... but it IS NOT written in the algorithm that you must be doing them to be successful?! How would that even work?!... If you are discipline specific, you are likely to appeal more to people who do the same thing, so if you are specific to a broad discipline then yes, it may help. But also, there are broader things than the discipline that you compete in that are common across all riders, like horse care, hacking, learning, a love of horses etc... those are WAY broader than any specific discipline and therefore if you want to reach a big audience, focus on that!
Right... at this point I have rambled for a long time. So call this the end of Part 1... I will continue... At this point I imagine to Part 10 (oops) but I'll try as far as possible not to and to keep it concise.
Next time: the common reasons people use social media, and I guess a round up of Parts 1 & 2 together to try to turn it into either factual info to hopefully make you know your worth is not defined by an algorithm... and for those who want to use Instagram better... some actual real tips that won't make you hate yourself... what a thought!!
* Edited to add - part 2 is now live here.
(And in that spirit, have a non-perfect photo of me jumping my non-perfect pony over a tiny little jump... cos, fuck you, fake algorithm rules... you don't rule my shit!)