Shadow Bans and Insta-Shams: Are we to Blame?

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These days you don’t have to look far to find someone complaining about Instagram (it’s even been in the news). It seems like every fifth tweet I see when I do my usual breakfast browse of the old feed is a rant about bots and shadow bans and fake birds. Between the algorithm and the recent hack that wiped thousands of accounts and caused an engagement blackout for even more, it seems tougher than ever for brands and bloggers to build a meaningful audience on an app that’s barely recogniseable from its earlier versions.

It’s true; Instagram has completely changed from the app we all fell in love with back when it first appeared. Ah, those hazy, Valencia filtered days when we only followed people we knew in real life, posted blurry snaps of our breakfasts that would appear on the feed at – yep, you guessed it – breakfast time.  The days when three hashtags was considered over-doing it, when no one had even heard of a flatlay, and Facebook hadn’t sunk it’s teeth into the app yet. They were simpler times…

Oh how things have changed! Nowadays – with an algorithm that decides exactly what we see on our feeds and when, a plague of “Love this!!” bots and the risk of being mistaken for one yourself if you’re too active – it’s easy to think that the app’s actively out to sabotage its own users. It’s so easy to blame the app when no one sees or likes your latest post, and then strop on over to Twitter to find someone to agree with you that The ‘Gram’s out to get us (…and y’know hopefully draw enough tantrum attention to bring over a few new followers in the process – yeah, I see what you’re doing there). But, the cold hard truth is that we need to shoulder some of the blame ourselves on this one.

Aside from the obviously annoying in-app changes beyond our control, we – as its users – have brought on a few changes ourselves. I mean, the way we use Instagram and what we want to get out of the app has completely changed – particularly over the last year. Instagram has become far more than just pretty pictures – after all, there are plenty of those. With feeds that are scrambled and littered with ads, we’ve become fed up of scrolling. We just want to see the content that makes us smile, and nothing else. Because of that, we’ve become a fussy bunch when it comes to following – and we seem to purge our feeds more often than we pack them with new accounts.

Think about it; when was the last time you followed someone new, and – more importantly – stuck with them?

Think of following a new account like starting a new relationship. You probably hit that follow button because you liked what you saw (I saw the complementing tones and the balance of selfies, flatlays and outfit posts on her grid and it was “like” at first sight…), but what made you stick around?

It seems like we’ve all learned that beauty is only screen deep when it comes to Instagram; these days we’re after more than just a pretty picture, we want the whole package. We follow accounts that get “real” in the captions, instead of summing up with two words and an emoji.  And we want accounts that are honest and humble instead of all those smug-face Insta-shams. A little aspiration is good for everyone, but these days – and in today’s world – we prefer to be reminded of the great things we already have in life instead of that designer life we’re lacking.

Instagram Stories has become bigger than I think anyone could have predicted and a huge reason why a lot of people stick with new accounts. We like to see real life every day moments and flashes of personality; the good, the bad and the ugly. We’re forgetting one of the main reasons why we all fell in love with Instagram in the first place, something that Stories feeds into in a huge way; we all love to snoop!

And lastly, and probably most importantly, we like accounts that talk back (and not the like for like, comment for comment accounts and pods – because that isn’t supportive nor is it genuine engagement). I’m talking about accounts that teach us something, support and inspire. Accounts that go that extra mile to make us laugh, smile and feel better about ourselves.

So, instead of moaning and getting down about the stuff we can’t change about Instagram, maybe we’d be better off putting all pent up energy into changing the things we can. Post all those random daily highs and lows on Stories, make the effort to throw positive comments around, and just have fun!

What type of accounts do you like to follow on Instagram, and what makes you stick with them (or unfollow them)? 🙂

Help! I’m too Shy to Blog!

It’s a funny old business Blogging, isn’t it?  It’s a sort of introverted way of being extrovert.  A quiet way of being loud.  A safe way of being ourselves. I think most people start blogging because they need an outlet, a way of throwing their own unique brand of personality, creativity and voice out there on their own terms. Personally, I’ve always found it a bit difficult expressing myself honestly in person (without hitting the gin first…); I’ve always been better at writing than speaking.  Those who know me well, know that when I open up I’m capable of being loud and opinionated, funny and sometimes even smart… but that’s something that takes time.  With blogging though, all the interaction happens through cables, wifi and computer screens with profile pictures and screen names, and that gives us a bit of a buffer zone; we can be as up front and as honest as want about who we are (or want to be) without fearing that dreaded face to face, real life , real time reaction.

Or at least that’s how it is to begin with, when you first start blogging.  After a while – if you’re successful (whatever that means) – you’re going to be forced to step out from behind your computer screen.  You might get invited to an event, or into a collaboration with a brand which (Eeek!) requires real life, real time interaction with actual human beings.  You might suddenly want to write a very raw, very personal blog post, or, after months and months of keeping your face out of your blog photography, you’ll suddenly feel the pressure to reveal more of yourself in a profile picture or outfit shots with yknow, your actual face.  And yes, at some point your friends and family are going to clock what you’re doing and say those dreaded words, “So hey, I found your blog…” *Gulp*

The truth is that at some point, you’ve got to actually own your blog.

For a lot of bloggers this is where things get exciting, but for some, it’s a scary kind of exciting. Suddenly, blogging isn’t an exercise in introverted extroversion (…?!) anymore, it becomes real, and the inevitable question that goes along with that is whether you can actually do it – whether you can take that next step and put yourself out there like that.

So what do you do if you feel like you’re too shy to blog?  If the thought of talking into the camera on Instagram Stories or YouTube makes you feel sick?  When you can’t quite bring yourself to send that ballsy, opinionated tweet, or publish that honest ‘I cried while writing this’ blog post.  What do you do when you’re considering ditching an event because you’re just too nervous to promote yourself, or you’re thinking of deleting every single one of those outfit shots because, ugh, awkward?

Well, the first thing to ask yourself is whether you actually want to do any of those things.  Do you want share everything with the internet? Do you want to post pictures of yourself online or share your most unpopular opinions with the world?  If the answer’s no, then don’t do it. Simple as. Don’t ever feel pressured into fitting into someone else’s idea of what blogging should be.

But, if the answer’s yes and your own insecurities are holding you back, then it’s time to get over yourself, get real and just say, “Screw it, let’s do it.” The blogs that do well are the ones written by bloggers who are human, with flaws and imperfections who – instead of being crippled by them – embrace them and put them out there in the most honest way possible.  They’re not too shy to say f*** it, this is me.

I think this probably applies to everything else in life.  You know that old mantra, Sing like no one’s listening, Party like there’s no tomorrow, and Dance like there’s no one watching.  Wellmaybe we should all   just Blog like there’s no one reading.  😉

Do you ever feel too shy to blog?  Is there anything you’ve ever wanted to post but have been too scared to?

Why it’s Okay to Unfollow

I was flicking through my Instagram feed the other day.  It’s a strange mix.  There are the sporadic posts from friends and family (including my Dad; whose Instagram theme includes scribbling lines over Google Maps to show the world where he’s been walking), random pet accounts (cute!), mixed in with some online friends, beautiful bloggers and bakers – y’know for a bit of daily inspo.  (Oh.  And unavoidable adverts.  Ugh.)  I scrolled down – liking, saving, commenting – and then, I got stuck.

Wait.  Who the hell’s that?  Oh.  The account of a friend of a friend who followed me and I – politely – followed back.  Another grainy gram of a night out with some friends I didn’t know in a bar I didn’t recognise.  Why was I still following him?  Enough was enough. I clicked through to his profile page and my thumb hovered over the The Blue Button of Doom… but then something stopped me.

I felt guilty. Guilty about unfollowing. After all, they were still following me. So wouldn’t it be rude to cut and run? A prime example of poor netiquette? A sort of virtual dine and dash? I mean, by pressing that button you’re basically sending the message to that person, “I’m not interested in you anymore. Buh-bye!” Never mind the fact that they might be a virtual stranger or that you’ve never spoken beyond a couple of comments with emojis, it feels cold and cruel to hit that button. All of us have been on the other side of this at some point, so we can relate; we know how it feels when someone blue buttons us. It stings a little, and you’re left wondering what tweet, which instagram or snapchat was it that finally pushed them out the door.

Think about it. How many people are you following on various social media platforms that you’d quite like to ditch but don’t because you feel guilty? Those polite follow-backs, friend of a friends, old school friends you haven’t spoken to in a hundred years. How many tweets and Instagrams do you eyeroll your way through every single day just to scroll to the people you actually care about, to the content that makes a difference to your day?

Social media has become such a massive part of our every day lives. Scrolling Instagram is the first thing I do in the morning (or at least it used to be pre-puppy!) and the last thing I do at night, and like it or not, those internet relationships we forge through social media are becoming just as important and as valuable as our “real life” ones. They matter. So why are we hanging on to the ones that don’t – the ones that don’t excite, inspire or interest us – just because we feel bad for unfollowing? Would we waste our time like that offline?

I hope this isn’t coming across as bitchy or cold, it’s meant to be the exact opposite. I’d rather have a feed that’s full of mutual, meaningful relationships and content that I value and feel inspired by, than one clogged up with names I don’t recognise and content I don’t care about.  Wouldn’t you?  And it goes the other way too; don’t keep me on your feed and in your life because you feel like you have to, keep me there because you want to.

We need to shed the guilt about unfollowing someone, just as we need to learn to either ignore or live with that sting we feel when someone unfollows us.  It might feel personal, but it’s not.  Not really.  The relationship never got personal.  They didn’t get you, and that’s okay.  Hitting that blue button from time to time (and being blue-buttoned) is a necessary part of finding your tribe. 🙂

Instagram Stories: Tips and Tricks

I swore never to become one of those people.  You know, the people who take Instagram seriously. The ones who shudder at the thought of posting a ‘gram that hasn’t had the VSCO nip/tuck treatment first (hell no!), or a snap that just doesn’t fit in with their *groans* “theme”. Pfft. Well whaddya know?  1 year later and I’ve gone over to the dark side. Somehow, I just got sucked in.  Long gone are the days of posting a spontaneous snap of my builder’s brunch with a bit of Valencia filter to bring out the baked beans slurping over the side of the plate. But it’s no secret that Instagram can be tough and disheartening at times. If it’s not the algorithm killing my buzz then it’s those big accounts playing the follow/unfollow game, and now there’s something called shadow blocking – where Instagram itself (the nerve!) selectively blocks use who use too many hashtags without them even knowing it. It’s true to say that I fall out of love with Instagram every day for some reason or another.

Then, Instagram Stories came along and I finally had a place for all those sloppy, spur of the moment snaps.  It’s brought the spontaneity back to Instagram – the no pressure, no filter fun – and it’s the perfect place for those raw snippets of daily life.  Through them I’ve fallen back in love with Instagram.  Like kids and bedtime stories, I tend to flick through them before I go to sleep – just to see what everyone’s been up to in “real life”; where they went, what they ate, what they made, what they wore, what their dog (or cat!) did.

It’s within the last month that I’ve really started having fun with it. I micro-vlog on days out or when I’m cooking (or need to rant about my dog ripping up his puppy pads) and I love playing around with the features. It’s tipped to be the next big thing in social media marketing and blogging over the next year, with more and more users getting involved.  So if you’re just starting out with Instagram Stories or you’re looking for a few tips and tricks to up your game and make things a little more interesting, look no further!

You don’t have to use Instagram to create your stories.  Handy tip numero uno; you don’t have to just use the app to take pictures or videos. With one downward swipe you can actually pull in recent videos and pictures you created using other apps like Snapchat.  By doing this, you’re not confined to using only the features Instagram Stories has to offer.  I’ve used my camera app to film videos and then sped them up or slowed them down (cool  little trick for making driving and road trip stories more interesting).  I’ve also used VSCO for other filters and Snapchat for selfies.  Remember though, you’re limited to using videos created within the past 24 hours (again, you can get around that by resaving or editing the photo/video).

Sick of being cut off after 15 seconds?  If you’re fed up of spilling your heart out to the world and having it annoyingly cut you off every 15 seconds, try this.  Record in your camera app and then snip the video into 15 second segments.  Upload them into Instagram Stories in order, and voila!  Each video should seamlessly run through into the next one.  No mid sentence shut downs! 🙂

Text. Unless you use another photo editing app, there’s only one font to choose from in Instagram Stories itself. You can change the colour of the font using the paint pots at the bottom of the screen, or, if you press the “A” button at the top of the screen you can add a background colour to the text to make it easier to read. Move your text around the screen, resize it using your fingers, or using the slider on the left. Hold down words or letters to change their individual colour.

Pens. Using pens is a fun way of doodling or handwriting on your videos. I’ve got a pen with a stylus on one end which makes handwriting and drawing on my phone screen a bit easier and fits easily in my bag. There are LOADS of colours to choose from; either hold your finger down on a colour pot to tweak, or swipe left for more. If you want to colour-block your screen, or give your selfie a colourful haze then select the marker and a colour then hold your finger down on the screen.

▲ Stickers. Stickers are great for adding a little something-something and are constantly being switched and updated. Click the smiley sticker in the upper right hand corner and you can access location, time and temperature tags, emojis, photo booth props and stickers related to the day of the week. 🙂

Stamp your location for a better chance of being discovered by others.  A more recent update to stories is the ability to watch “City Stories”, a collection of stories from users in one area (you can search for these stories using the search by location function).  If you stamp a location to your story (even if you make it really, really small!) it has a higher chance of being added to the collective story for your home town or city/place you’re currently visiting – meaning higher views and – you never know! – followers.  If that’s what your end goal is, of course…

Face Filters.  Another recent feature is the ability to play around with facial filters (sounds familiar… *ahem* Snapchat *ahem*).  Press the little face next to the camera button at the bottom of the screen and change up your usual selfie for something different.

Get social, or not! Mention or tag other users in your stories by using the text feature and typing “@” followed by the person’s user name. Restrict who sees your story by pressing the little star in the upper left hand corner.

What do you love/hate about Instagram and Stories?

Five Questions to ask yourself when you lose the will to Blog

A couple of Sundays ago I was curled up on the sofa catching up on a bit of Mr Robot with the hubs when I realised that – for pretty much the first time since I started this whole blogging malarkey – I didn’t have a post scheduled for Monday morning. I’ve strictly stuck to a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule since November, always making sure I was scheduled a week ahead, and up until a couple of weeks ago I hadn’t found it that difficult. But bam! Out of nowhere I found myself lagging behind. Funnily enough, I think Sunny was more stressed about it than I was (he’s more into page views and numbers than I am – weird), “What are you going to write about?” he asked, and despite having a whole stock of ideas for just such an emergency, I just shrugged.

Friday came and went. Nothing went up. The likelihood is that nobody really noticed. But I did, and it bothered me.

Let’s be clear. This is not writer’s block… it’s more like I’ve suddenly run out of steam.  I’m all out of motivation not just to blog, but to keep up with the promotional side that’s all part and parcel of the whole blogging game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having a blast. Blogging is great fun, albeit a lot of hard work. But, I think every blogger reaches that point – probably in the first year – where they suddenly get fed up and question what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and how their little corner of the online world fits into the ever growing blogging “community”…or not.

So these are the questions banging around in my head as I try to get my blogging mojo back.

1. Why did I start Blogging?

You know what it’s like; there’s that initial spark – that rush of excitement – when you first start blogging. Setting up your blog is a lot like decorating your first apartment, and those first comments, likes and follows give you that buzz and the validation to power on and keep doing your thing. Then, a few months down the line you’re exhausted. You’re buffering posts like crazy and scheduling your dinner around Twitter chats and have completely forgotten why you even started in the first place. Asking why you became a blogger should help realign your focus to what matters most and work out what your blogging “reason d’etre” is.

2. What do I want to get out of this?

Definitely linked to question one; asking yourself what you’re hoping to get out of blogging might help create some goals to work towards.

3. What kind of Blogger am I?

As soon as you start blogging it’s easy to feel like you’re a very small fish in a very big pond. It’s er… a bit crowded, let’s be honest. You start comparing yourself to other bloggers and then you might even start adjusting what you write about to suit what everyone else is writing. I recently came to the honest conclusion that when it comes to blogging, I’m a square peg in a round hole (not that’s a bad thing..!). I’m a thirty year old with split ends who cares far more about that little avocado seed sprouting on her windowsill and history books about dead people than about rose gold sunglasses and NARS sheer glow.  #Luxelife I most definitely am not. I’m just not that kind of blogger and if I tried to be, I wouldn’t enjoy it. When I started out I unknowingly branded myself as a mud-loving, welly-wearing writer, and that’s who I need to stay true to. It’s 100% likely there will be people of there who don’t want to read about that, and would probably rather read about rose gold sunglasses than my muddy walk. Oh well. You can’t win ’em all. The lesson? Write as if no one’s reading. 🙂

4. Do I need to make a change?

There’s nothing wrong with feeling you need to change something. Maybe there’s something that’s just not working. Maybe you’ve been sticking to a three day schedule and just can’t keep up. Maybe you’ve started a series that just isn’t working out how you thought it would and you’re sooo ready to ditch it. Maybe you’re bored of your layout, your photography. Maybe you’re fed up of WordPress and want to move over to Blogger, or vice versa. Change is good.

5. Do I need a break?

Sometimes you just need to take a step back. For me, I was sick of the promotion side of blogging and felt like I needed a break from it. Twitter chats had begun to infuriate me because I started to feel like I was just answering the same question over and over again. The whole point was to “connect” with other bloggers but for me it had suddenly felt like I was just regurgitating the same answers to the same questions and getting the same “YES THIS” response over and over again. I actually turned my phone off (for real, the actual off button) when one chat asked what I’d do if my Instagram account got deleted. Umm… I’d live? I was ready to type out 100 characters of full on snark. That was my wake up call. I was  bored and fed up and needed a break.

What do you do when you lose the will to blog? 🙂