Vancouver (and some times Los Angeles) weirdo wears stuff, takes pictures, makes fashion blog.

How to Not Fail at Instagram

Instagram mistakes that lead to your hashtags not working

Imagine this...
You start a shiny new blog, and you're an eager to promote it. You make a new Instagram account, and start posting, liking, commenting, following new people. You use hashtags, you're getting a lot of likes, everything is going just right. Then suddenly a week in, like a plug being yanked out of a socket, the spark vanishes and engagement on your posts take a nosedive. Things are static and quiet. Your account feels like it has flatlined. You link your account to a Facebook page to use the view insights feature and see what kind of reach you have -- and the number is not only disappointing, it's downright single digit sad. Sadder than that one time you realized someone has eaten last piece of cheesecake you've been saving in the fridge. It was keylime, dammit.

It happened to me, and I'll try my best to diagnose what happened so maybe you won't make the same mistake.

A disclaimer: I don't know 100% of all the secrets to Instagram, I'm only making assessments based on experience and endless hours of Googling. 

The Problem
A week into making a new account, and going on my merry way hashtagging like I did on my old one, Instagram said NOPE. Suddenly, my posts stopped showing up in the tags they had to people who were not already following me. I tested this by asking my mom (who by the way, has an account of just cat pictures), to tap on my hashtags to see if I showed up -- I did. So I asked her to unfollow me, then click the same hashtag again. POOF! My photo vanished. It was like I didn't exist to people who were not already following me.

Instagram had clipped my wings.

Without hashtags, I was invisible to the world.

What Went Wrong?
I know that new accounts are under more severe scrutiny than older, more established ones because of everyone's favorite thing in the world -- spam. Somewhere, somehow, I probably got flagged as a spammer, or at least, suspicious on some level. As I was never outright banned and everything else seemed to function as normal, I was hoping it would be a short, temporary thing. I searched for just how long bans lasted, and got answers that ranged from 24 hours to a week -- a week being the most severe just short of an account termination. I figured that whatever I did, the punishment would pass.

But three days went by, then a week, then two, and my hashtags were still lifeless and my posts barely had a pulse. I already went through all five stages of grief at this point, and made a list of all the things I did in that first week that might have triggered Instagram apocalypse. 
  1. Following too quickly: When I created my account, I went ham on looking for other bloggers to follow. I indiscriminately tapped that follow button whenever I saw a pair of shoes I liked, someone with a cute jacket, or really anyone with nice eyebrows.
  2. Liking too many photos too fast: This went along with following too quickly... when my thumb started doing the double tap, I could barely control it. I usually liked a slew of posts from the same person once I've followed them, and then if I had spare time, I'd go into explore and like everything there too. It was like I was playing Cookie Clicker on turbo mode.
  3. Commenting with emojis: Let's be real -- it's easier to use emojis to convey thoughts rather than typing words my autocorrect like to butcher (when 'Looking good!' gets corrected to 'Lurking food!' I just give up.) When I commented, I used mostly emojis instead of real words.
I think those three things combined was a sure fire formula for disaster for a new account. So, what can be done about it?

The Workaround
After reporting the problem three or four times, I knew I wasn't going to get a response. As time passed, and non-hashtag limbo lingered, I realized there were a few things I could do... The mountain is high, and the climb is slow, but I'm determined to still build on the same account instead of just abandoning it and making a new one (and potentially run into the same problem.)
  1. Genuinely engage: Slow down the likes, and comment with actual words, slowly. Since all of my photos are still viewable, just not searchable, people can still see my posts if they interacted with me directly (ie. tapping on my name and looking at my profile). I became more thoughtful with my comments, asked questions, answered questions on others' posts, and responded to comments on the rare occasion that I did get them. This helped me to build followers who genuinely interacted with me instead of just gaining a deluge of likes from randos and bots who didn't even have the same interests.
  2. Don't put all your eggs in the Instagram basket: When this shit storm first started, I got a little obsessive because Instagram was the most familiar social media platform for me. But this is forcing me to branch out into other places that I paid absolutely no attention to prior to this *cough* Pinterest *cough*.
  3. Keep going: I think the most important thing for a blogger is to think of Instagram as a blog companion and not a be all end all. After all, I'm writing posts and putting together photo sets for my blog. Instagram may be seductive because of the instant gratification, but it's important to remember that your blog is your baby and not forget to keep on writing, photo-ing, and posting there.

The Conclusion
I'm still using the same account, and while things are slow, I've adjusted to the pace and has made peace with the fact that my hashtags may never work again. But through this horrid experience, I've learned to use Pinterest, shifted my attention to writing better instead of posting more on Instagram, and started real interactions with other bloggers.

Don't get me wrong, getting 100+ likes per photo during that first week is the pace I prefer, but this is where I am now, and I'm making the best of it.

So if you're starting a new account, my advice is go slow and don't get bitten in the butt like I did.


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