For the past week, everything I read about business ownership is predicting the end of the world in the form of Instagram's new algorithm.
It's kind of the same deal as Facebook - and if you ever had a business page on Facebook, you know the story. It was helpful, and then slowly, it wasn't. My grandma at least used to like my Facebook biz posts, but now I'm pretty sure she doesn't even see them. I paid to "boost" a post once, and it did get more views/likes than normal, but it felt weird and trivial. I had just paid for more likes.
Could I track the return on investment for my boosted post? Not really. Do I operate the kind of business that can monetize likes? No. I serve a really niche market: expensive, time-consuming hand printed paper goods. People who didn't need my services still really don't need my services after they see a post. I mean, really, most people just don't need letterpress at all, unless they're getting married or want to order some really fancy expensive business cards. Thankfully in a world of billions of people - enough of them want that to keep me fairly busy.
So now, with the news that my instagram fodder won't reach my audience the same way, I've been reading the numerous articles giving me tips for how to "survive" this change: Comment on the posts of publications I like to be associated with. Tell my followers to allow push notifications on my posts. Find the best hashtags and use them on every post. Ask my friends to engage on my posts to boost their visibility.
I'm reading all of this, and I can't help but feel like this new algorithm is less about "featuring the best posts first" and more about pressuring me to spend more time on Instagram. That, my friends, is the thing I'm rather unwilling to do.
Why don't I follow four thousand accounts on Instagram? I don't want to have new content to look at every five minutes. Plain and simple. If I don't have to scroll back very far to catch up on 12 hours of Instagram, then I'll only open it every 12 hours. I like that pace; it works for me. It's not about what I want to look at - it's about controlling my impulse to look. Why? Because frankly my dears - I have shit to do. I have a family, a three month old baby and half a dozen weddings to print. I need to be able to take a long lunch sometimes and be available if my studio-mate feels like she's about to have a meltdown. I can't afford to look at Instagram all day.
Instagram has created an obscure and time-consuming new economy, and I can't afford to succeed. I'm time-broke.
Once, a long time ago, someone asked me if I had free time for a project. They wanted me to work on something pro-bono, and a lightbulb went off in my mind. FREE time for FREE work implies that I HAVE TIME I'm willing to GIVE AWAY FOR FREE. Wow. It's not about how badly I want to do it, how badly it's needed, or how much that person will love me if I do. It's about whether or not I have time that is free and not being filled with things that are either financially or emotionally valuable. I don't know about you, but I haven't had much FREE time since I started my business almost seven years ago. If I can't monetize the time, energy and creativity I put into Instagram, then I don't have free time to spend there.
Please don't get me wrong, Instagram has helped my business in huge ways. HUGE. The way I've been using it has been incredibly helpful. But in order to "beat" the new algorithm, the advice is to use instagram in indirect, strategic (invisible) ways in order to "win." A business coach would tell me to schedule thirty minutes into every day to spend on instagram, commenting and liking and engaging. But I end most days feeling like I could have used another two hours. I guess I don't have free time. Well then, I'll go ahead and accept defeat. Instagram: I lose.
With this declaration, fear makes it's way to the front of my mind: am I ready to fail? Am I ready to have less "likes?" Less comments? How will I know if my work is good or bad? How will I know if I'm a success or a failure?
The social media culture has programmed my generation to think of themselves in two ways: failing or succeeding. Everyone wants to read the book, take the class and ask the question that safeguards them from failure.
I think it used to be different. I think generations before us measured their worth on a different scale. Instead of wondering if they were a failure or a success they gauged whether or not they had worked hard and done a good job.
Social media success can be measured in an instant. Going "viral" takes days. Racking up likes takes hours. Doing a good job is a slow, sweaty process and it requires that you know what you're doing.
I know several people who work hard and do a good job and don't seem successful at all. They don't have a lot of followers or new cool licensing deals. They put in their 8 hours a day, provide an excellent product and financially provide for themselves. There's less silent applause and double-takes when they walk in a room ("oh my gosh is that the girl on Instagram who does the thing? she is so cool."), but the endgame is supposed to be the same: do your thing, do a good job and make a good life for yourself. When did that stop being the goal?
I'm gonna be on my knees praying that doing a good job is enough. I try to treat my clients well enough to get their referrals. I spend the time learning and checking and double checking and being picky and assuring that what I make is good work. I'm going to roll the dice and hope that losing Insta-fame doesn't mean I miss my concrete, but relatively modest sales goals.
So, I'm not going to ask my followers to allow push notifications from me. I don't want my instagram posts interrupting a quiet moment you may be having over coffee. Dinner with your kids. Your already stressful workday. I don't want my friends to define love in whether or not I put heart-eyes emojis under their last post. I don't want to obsess if my styled pictures of spilled breastmilk look like I'm #livingauthentic. I don't want what we post to feel more important than what's going on our real lives. The life where you can work undistracted and make sure you're following through on what you said you'd do. The life you live when you don't quite remember where you left your phone. Go live that life.
If you watch your posts fall behind and lose engagement - I want you to have this quote. I want you to know that the measure of success used to be about something different, and I think we need to remember it.