Leaving London

I suppose it needs an official announcement: We are moving. 

Again.

I don't think I want to write much about leaving London, as I think it's already pretty clear I'm going somewhat reluctantly. Allow me to be sad about it - it means I had a really great experience; it doesn't mean that I don't like the States or that I'm wallowing. Like any move, there are things I'm looking forward to, things I am happy to leave behind, and things I will miss terribly. 

Why are we moving? Basic reasons: work and kids. We knew we wouldn't be here forever, the plan was 3-5 years originally. We could have stayed, Cal's role here is highly valued and they really wanted him to stay here long term. There's been some restructuring in their cyber security global operations, and Cal wants to go a different direction with his career and that's only possible with the position in New Jersey. But to make things more interesting logistically, in about 6 months time, he'll be working at their NYC office. Who doesn't love a good house hunting challenge? So, when people ask where we are going, I'm just sticking with, "the NYC area." 

The kids are ready to move. They miss our families and they've romanticized every convenience of American life. While they've adjusted to their British schools, they've always felt very conspicuous and at times unwanted. I'm sure I could write an essay about their experiences, the good and the bad, but I am trying to be brief. And the short answer is - they're allowed to have their feelings, even if I think they're understanding of life here will change as they get older. And the timing means that our oldest will only be in his second year of high school, which hopefully won't impact the academic and social transition as much as it would next year. 

So yes, being an adult means everyone in the family has to be taken into consideration. Adulting is really not my favorite thing right now though. 

We have found a place to rent in Summit, NJ (a place we found in between the two commuting locations), and it seems like everyone I mention this to knows someone who lives in Summit and loves it. The deciding factor for me was reading about the walkable downtown area and small town feel with easy access to NYC. I'm really not looking forward to returning to life in my car. Walking everywhere is something I will miss a lot, not to mention I've been happy to deal without car ownership headaches for 3 years. I'm pretty sure though that the ease and options of getting into NYC will not be as robust as it is with London. But as you may already know, the universe balances itself out and I'll get to drive the family car to Target again. #silverlining

This summer is going to be weird. 2 months of floating around and trying to get three different shipments to one place we can call home for a little while. 

The real sadness is leaving so many people that have made my London life such a joy. I'm terrible with goodbyes or showing any real emotion in general - I just come off as insincere because I don't know how to act. But really, who is good at saying goodbye? And the truth is, I'm grateful that it's hard - because it's wonderful to have friends that have made me feel so much like part of this city and part of their lives. The time has gone by so quickly, but how wonderful it's been to be here, to have had this experience that has become ordinary and daily routine for us.

Which leads me to end with this quote from Stranger than Fiction, one of my favorite movies  (featuring an angry baker) that sums it up perfectly:

“Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren't any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true.” 

 

 

On Getting Paid

I write this with full acknowledgment that most of you will feel I'm whining, or trying to legitimize frivolity, but I'm doing it anyway. Probably because I feel like I'm overdue a good long rant, and because I think there's an educational opportunity. Many of you want to know if I'm getting paid for what I do on Instagram and how it happens, and then there is the segment of marketing, PR, and social media managers all working under the umbrella of advertising for brands (hereafter let's just call them brands for brevity) that I am really hoping to reach. I am doubtful of my impact or influence in that area, as this busy year of Instagram life has proven to me that this latter group only wants to hear from me when they want me to do something for them, namely promote something - they want access to my audience, my following, my instagram, and you'll find that I'm quite protective of that. And then there is the third group of people that I'd like to consider what I'm saying, and those are the Instagrammers that the brands have dubbed 'micro influencers'. (The definition of micro influencers depends on who you talk to, but here's some reading that reflects what I've been hearing about it. I'd say that on instagram I see more of it happening with accounts under 15K as the algorithm changes prioritize smaller and new accounts.) You guys are the big target right now, and sadly it's because brands know you are talented and they know you will work for free. 

How's that for an introduction? (I'm not sure I'll be able to convey the information accurately without the use of emojis though, which is worrying on several levels.) Let's get to it then. 

The answer is yes, sometimes I get paid. Emphasis on sometimes. How are people making money through Instagram? I'd say a combination of the following: 

Sponsored posts: I think most people are aware of sponsored posts, when there is obvious product placement. (You'll see a lot of interesting things being added to flatlays for this very purpose.) I do not do a lot of sponsored posts, and I only feature products I would recommend to a friend or buy for myself. (If I am paid for a post, I will always use #ad in my caption.) In this scenario, most instagrammers have a fee per post, and it varies according to the size of their audience and the amount of work involved in creating the post. This is where people usually think they will start monetizing, but quickly realize that Standard Operating Procedure is bartering. The brand gives you a free product and in exchange they want a glowing post from you. Buzz words include: collaboration, partnering, campaign, and project.  Very few will be straightforward about what they want or mention that they have a budget for advertising. (They're just testing to see what you'll do for free.) Some will ask about your fee, and the smallest percentage of savvy brands will tell you outright that it's a paid opportunity and how much they are willing to pay you for working with them. Emphasis on work. They are hiring you as a freelancer, they give you a brief, and ask you to sign a contract. There are smaller brands that are very clear that they don't have a budget but really want to work with you and aren't sure how to do it. These are not to be overlooked. There are definitely situations in which I will do things because it creates a good working relationship with a brand that I value and we both benefit from the partnership. 

Press Trips: These kind of trips have been around since before social media, reserved for journalists in the business of travel, reviews, or photography for various publications. They now include bloggers, youtubers, instagrammers, and other social media personalities referred to as "influencers." You get a trip to a nice hotel in a destination spot and have an itinerary created for you that's meant to give you the full experience. You don't have a lot of control in these situations -  meals, sightseeing, events, your group - your time is very managed. That's not to say it's unpleasant, it's just that it's often not relaxing for the Instagram group. The journalists will go on a trip, take some mental notes, snap some photos, and rely on the press information emailed to them, and sit down a week later to write about it at their own pace. Instagram expectations are just that - instant. The PRs are your escorts for these trips, and they keep a close watch on your accounts and offer a lot of reminders about posting. So, that enormous soaking bathtub or private spa pool you see in my Stories? Chances are very unlikely that I ever use the luxury items in the hotel because I have to prove that I am constantly creating content during the trip. We get up early to make sure we get the best light for photos, scout out the locations that will work best, often there's a significant amount of styling for a photo, we need time to edit them properly, and we take a lot of photos because we want to provide the best content we can. We are considering our audience, the aesthetic, the accessibility, and all of the details, which is what instagrammers do best.

Most Instagrammers are not getting paid for press trips (but I'd be happy if I'm wrong about this). They are viewed as perks and the brands will often total the value of the trip (not what it actually costs them) as a reminder of what you're getting. Keep in mind that the other people I've mentioned, the PRs and the journalists are getting paid for their time, whether it's their salary or a fee for an article, and a majority of them also get per diem for meals and travel expenditures. It is a business trip. I do not do a lot of press trips, because they are my time and work. It's difficult for me to schedule child care for a "free" trip when the cost of doing so often exceeds the value of said trip. (Obviously it would be a different situation for a single person with only their schedule to consider, but I'd like to see everyone's time and work valued regardless of marital or child status.) 

Appearance Fees: Yes, there are people getting paid just for showing up. There are instagrammers that are so popular they are offered money just to attend an event. No, I'm definitely not in that category. You're looking at accounts that are greater than 500K and pushing a million followers. They've reached a quasi celebrity status, and many of them have agents. (I'd say that most of this group are fashion based.)

Content Creation: This is kind of a fuzzy concept. Everyone talks about content creation - and everything is content. See? Not exactly crystal clear. For me, content creation is defined by the industry it accompanies. For Instagram, creating content means making images for my own feed, but also for other accounts or brands. For example, I will spend a few days at lovely cottage sponsored by Kiehl's and take photos of the experience and the products that are then used by Kiehl's for their social media channels. Sometimes I am credited for this work, sometimes not - it depends on the contract - the same with getting paid. I have recently decided that I will only do content creation for a fee, because I've been undervaluing my time and my abilities. 

Freelance work: This is the work that comes as a result of people finding you through instagram. Whether you're an artist, or a wedding photographer, or a graphic designer. I don't get hired for paintings or logos, but people do hire me as a photographer. They book photo walks with me to learn about mobile photography, and I also get paid to consult about Instagram - how to use it and strategies to grow an account organically. This is the way I prefer to make money, because it's more comfortable with my own hangups about getting paid. It's straight forward and all parties understand the transaction taking place. There are a lot of people offering e-courses as well, with instagram as their sole target audience. Basically, there are a lot of ways to find work through a well curated account with relevant content and it seems the most reliable way to get paid. 

All of these streams combined are not enough income for a family of five, which is why I have discouraged a few people from quitting their day job to become a full time Instagram Sensation. There are definitely people that can do it, but the percentage of people in that group is small and real talk - the vast majority of them are beautiful and young. It's a hustle trying to get jobs, manage them, and often payment from brands is slow - they give you 48 hours to complete your end of the brief, and they'll pay you in two months time. 

This is the point at which you will be rolling your eyes repeatedly and tell me that anyone can do what we're doing, so just enjoy the benefits. But that's exactly my point, not just anyone can do it. If anyone could do it, then the brands wouldn't need content created and everyone with an instagram account would have a huge audience. It's taken me a long time to get comfortable with the idea that I have a skill and knowledge base that has taken me years to develop. My instapals and I know our shit. The opinions about Instagrammers getting paid remind me of the fervor and bewilderment from 10 years ago about bloggers getting paid - people don't understand why and they feel okay demanding the details. I honestly cannot think of a time that I've asked someone to explain to me why or how much they are paid, but the age of social media has changed society notions about work and the world in many ways, so I understand the curiosity. 

We are often contacted by social media managers for brands to grab a coffee, or chat about a campaign, or figure out how to collaborate. We take these meetings frequently, and during these meetings we are asked a barrage of questions about Instagram, strategies, content, what filters to use, you name it, people have asked us about it. So, the people that are getting paid to run these social accounts get a wage, their PRs get a wage for finding them instagrammers to promote the brand, and they pump us for information about how to do a major part of their job. The fact is, they are asking us to consult with them in return for a cup of coffee and some rehearsed flattery. This is not meant as a slight, I understand that the PRs and the social media managers are doing their jobs, but I'd ask them to consider that so are we, and support our position when liaising with brands. They are asking us for our time and our expertise, but I think the major disappointment is many of these brands have big budgets for advertising that they will spend on print ads, televisions ads, photographers, social media personnel, or other services, but they will balk at the idea of paying an instagrammer.

But wait you say, back the truck up, didn't I just say I get paid to consult? I do! The people that pay me are individuals and small business owners that want guidance about how to improve their accounts. And they don't blink an eye about paying me for this, they just book a time and get on with it. They understand the value of creating a cohesive and styled feed, they value my time, my experience, and my understanding of instagram. Brands want to be on instagram, they understand how relevant it is even if the aging management doesn't get it, but they do NOT value it. Which is funny, because it seems all of the instagram business related advice I hear emphasizes the effectiveness of instagram campaigns at reaching consumers. Any article you read will tell you we are far more likely to buy something that's been recommended by someone you know. It's the ultimate word of mouth. Not to mention that of all the social media platforms, Instagram has the highest engagement rate. (Yesterday, I bought a cardigan that I saw in someone's instagram post, and I knew that was exactly the point of the post - I saw something I liked, that fit my aesthetic and I wouldn't have gone to the shops to find this cardi if I hadn't seen it on instagram. It bloody works on any of us!) This is why I have sympathy for most of the social media managers - they also have to continually prove that they should have a job with the brands, and they have to explain instagram to people fully entrenched in the old guard of advertising. Their managers want them to win instagram without actually spending any time or money on their content.  There's not a number on a piece of paper or an ROI staring them in the face - it's a difficult concept for a lot of people. It's a grey area - an intersection of personal and public space, marketing, promotion, documentation, and social matters all jumbled in a virtual world adorned with peonies and coffee. 

Can you imagine a different scenario? What if I asked a house painter to come to my house and paint a few rooms for me and when she was finished, I told her thanks - I will definitely tell all of my friends about you. (#somuchexposure) Or you just ask that painter to meet at your house, bring all of her painting tools, and then ask her to guide you through the entire process of painting those rooms? Of course you will thank her and recommend her to your friends, but you really did all of the work, right? 

The bottom line is, I pay people that provide a service for me, freelancer or not. I pay for my hair cuts, I pay a graphic designer for my Angry Baker printed materials, I pay my babysitters. I pay for their time and their skills. 

Maybe you're wondering why I don't just get a real job. (Yes, I do read minds) This is incredibly flexible for my mom life, that's why. I think I'm allowed to find something that works for my family, the same as anyone else. I really don't like the prevailing notion among brands that asking to be paid makes us greedy divas or, my favorite, "difficult to work with." I think it's reasonable that I ask to be compensated when I've been asked to work. 

And now a plea to my fellow Grammers - we need to commit to asking for fees. They don't have to be the same across the board, as we clearly have different accounts and audiences. It would ensure that brands don't take advantage of micro-influencers or others they think will work for free. We don't even have to hold hands; we can just make it the new standard operating procedure. It would make a big difference if we all banded together and agreed that we are worth it.

 

 

 

This Modern Life

I skipped February, but it was short. Here's my round up of links that interest me for March :)

Caravan Bankside

Caravan Bankside

Eat

Caravan Bankside brunch - Jalapeno cornbread, frijoles negros, fried egg, avocado, chipotle, lime. 

Read

'Boys have deep emotional lives.' An interview with Rosalind Wiseman, who tackles Boy World in her latest book.

Christian, Conservative, and Parenting a Transgender child in Texas. This looked a bit like click bait to me at first glance, but I am always impressed by people that can stand up against any powerful organization when very personal experiences change their perspective, their hearts, and their lives. 

Mo Willems' Funny Failures. I'm glad to see more discussion about the myth of overnight success and the importance of understanding the role of failure in your life and work. Plus, Mo is wonderfully snarky. 

 

Visualize

American House Architecture. I want to buy this poster when it's back in stock. I find myself staring at it the way I would a map, trying to take in individual elements and the whole of it at once.

 

Watch  

The first decade of Monocle - I know they started as a magazine, but I kind of think of Monocle as the British NPR. I mean, I would carry tote bags for either of them. 

Schitt's Creek - this show makes me laugh. A lot. Who knew Eugene Levy had a son? 

 

 

Listen

Record shopping with Cal at Sounds of the Universe in Soho this week resulted in this vinyl gem. I don't know anything about it, but I dig it. 

 

#linklove

Sexy Thyme with Kiehl's

I pulled out the dslr for some product and lifestyle shots for our quick trip with @kiehlsuk. It's been interesting to see how the way I compose is heavily influenced by the my use of my iphone as my primary camera (particularly that shorter focal length). I try to keep an open mind about that, bc I'm simply tired of  photographers claiming there is some sort of hierarchy of "real cameras" (or photographers for that matter). I'm not actually here to talk about purists and precious views, but trust me, I could really get into that debate.

I tried to do my own thing this time - something different than what you'd find on my instagram, relying on the mood, the setting, and the experience of a luxury getaway at Thyme Hotel.  These are the photos I like the most, a mix of iphone and dslr. I call them Sexy Thyme in the Country. Get it? Wink emoji here. 

I guess because Valentine's Day is coming up, and the winter light was so blue and rich,  it felt like excess was the only way to go. And I'm clearly into my new leopard jacket. Rawr. 

I wasn't using a flash, and I didn't add any vignetting post processing. This was really just the shadowy light in my room. If only I'd brought Kate Moss for what I'm now calling Editorial Light. 

Notes from the Field

Sometimes when I'm styling flat lays, I try to think about what I would actually be using/doing. And sometimes I just tie wooden spoons together and take off my rings. 

Did Instagram kill the blogging star?

Well, that was a stretch. But something that's been a topic lately. I think blogging was over about 4 years ago, so I'm still surprised by the way it keeps popping up in conversations.

I get all kinds of weird emails these days. There are a lot of people, from marketers to travel enthusiasts, that want to either sell me something or plug their products or them personally. This isn't a whine, it's just a fact that now that I have an audience on Instagram, people email me all the time. A majority of it is form emails from people casting a wide net to see who will bite, and some of it is very niche. Like the time I got offered free colonic hydration. (Yeah, not really sure how that photo is supposed to play out on social media.) And there's the group of people that just want me to provide them with a day by day itinerary for their upcoming trip to London.

The dead giveaway for me that a person has just sent me a form email (made to look as if it's personalized) is that they refer to my blog, my blogging style, etc. Well, you guys know this blog has been dead for a while and I'm not a blogger per se, so it's an easy way to spot the PR people just throwing out bait to see who they can catch. But, I also get a fair amount of inquiries from brands and companies that ask if I blog or if I could provide a blog post in addition to instagram content, so there must be some people out there that are still reading blogs regularly? Who are these people? I'm serious. I think people may dip into some of their old favorites now and again, but I'm guessing you only end up on blogs now if you've been searching particular topic on google, or if you are bored at work.

I know a few bloggers that have talked about the difficulty of unifying the conversation between their blog and instagram, and I know of instagrammers that have started blogs because they feel it's a requirement for social media types, and if nothing else, a place to store all the extra photos that won't ever show up on IG. I can think of only one person that manages to bring an instagram audience to her blog (Me & Orla) and I'd say that a majority of those people are visiting for her frequent instagram posts and insights. (I don't know Sara personally, but I think she's bloody brilliant) I follow a lot of bloggers on instagram and you can always tell at events who's into what channel based on clothing, camera usage, and proximity to the food. (Okay that list bit only identifies me, but I think it's a characteristic worth noting.) I don't read any of their blogs though, and you can often tell which platform an audience is using based on their comments. That is to say, I think people tend to hang out on their preferred social media channel, and so many of us have grown tired of reading anything more than a few sentences. I'm not saying that's right, I'm just saying we are all pretty demanding about fresh content. We want it now, and we don't really want to work for it.

Instagram feels like a form of micro blogging anyway. Pretty photos and trying to share something that people can relate to or a thought that provokes discussion or comment. There's far less room though to get into a bunch of navel gazing, which i think might be the main reason readership has dropped, and it's much less of a commitment. We prefer easy lifestyle voyeurism, right? I know I do. But I keep getting these emails about it and I keep having real life conversations about starting up a blog and the benefits. 

And so this is my very long way of saying that I think everyone behaves like me, and I can't really relate to people doing otherwise. (hahahahaha) No but seriously, I'd love to know your blogging habits if you've got a second, reading and otherwise. Do you read them? Do you blog yourself? How often? What kind of content? Why did you read this? How did you end up here - instagram? I'm going to ask about this on my post today because being a former blog junkie I'm truly curious.

For transparency, I'll go first:

My name is Mendy, and I do not read blogs. I do not look for them or search them out. I occasionally find recipes for baking on blogs, and I very rarely blog myself. I blogged regularly for about 2 years, mostly as a way to escape diapers and mom groups, and for regular writing practice. I do not ever click through from instagram to go to people's blogs, and I actually find it a bit annoying when people announce a post, so I feel super hypocritical about all of this. For the most part, I think blogging is best served by niche interests and very focused content. And truth be told, I think Instagram is oversaturated and on its way out, and I'd really like to go back to a monthly gossipy book club and get all my socializing done in one go. 

This Modern Life

New year! Goals! Hype! New me!

I'm trying to recommit to writing a bit more than captions and do more reading, online or otherwise. Sadly, instagram was how I got a majority of my news last year. Embarassing, but true. So, I was thinking about what would get me back to working on this space and spending more time thinking and reading. I've already given up phone time while commuting (with mixed results) and I feel like I'm still looking for a slower pace, without sounding like someone that's just fetched water from a well and is hand sewing drab colored pilgrim clothes for her children. (Don't tell me you don't imagine me in this scenario.) 

So, how about a monthly roundup of interesting stuff to read, to view, to eat, to discuss, to share - because we all love expressing our opinions via the less lazy people that have taken the time to articulate their views! Hyperlinks are how we show our love in this modern life. I'm thinking the first week of the month will be my schedule and I'm hoping that you will too. There are no rules, only links!  (Next year, I'm giving up exclamation points.) 

JANUARY

Food - I made this gingerbread layer cake with salted caramel sauce for Christmas this year and it was a winner with everyone in my house. I cannot decorate to save my life, but let me humble brag about how good it tasted - and thank Izy Hossack for solving our christmas pudding dilemma. But you can make it for any day of the week, because cake. 

Tech - Traffic is fake. Everyone is worried about their numbers, follower count, impressions, their reach, but nobody knows the real size of their audience. So maybe we should all chill and thank our moms for being the only reliable traffic to our social channels. 

Read - I finished the last page of The Secret History with a bit of longing for my less connected and analog university existence. I intentionally slowed down to make it last longer. I do believe that I liked this one more than The Goldfinch, if you'll allow me to be blasphemous. Donna Tartt's descriptions of the effects of drugs, alcohol, and illness are so vivid and visceral that I find myself cringing and scared straight with each of her novels. Basically, governments should hire her to run anti-drug campaigns. And it made me wonder if any of my friends are going to kill me.

Princesses are Terrifying. A Feminist article that I try to work into any conversation with uninterested people that I think will never read it or agree with me and will continue to annoy the hell out of me in person and online. Also, has Elle mag always been so political or is this a new thing? 

Drink - I was sent a giant bottle of Mirabeau Pure Rosé, and I shared it with some friends new years eve. It was a big hit and now I've got to get some bottles for not sharing :) 

Watch - The OA, and Glitch on Netflix while we wait for the next season of Stranger Things. On Amazon Prime - Catastrophe (hilarious and it's filmed in so many of the places I actually go in London).  I want to emphasize again, THE OA. You must. 

Wear - I am loving the Wedgie Levi's I bought a couple of months ago. Apart from the really poor choice of name. Let's bring back real denim. 

Happy linking!

 

 

How real is real?

We all know about fake accounts, followers, and likes that can be bought on instagram, so let's talk now about what else might not be as it appears - the actual photos you're viewing.

There are so many instagram apps that enhance and/or dramatically change your photos that I can't begin to enumerate them all. I'm all for editing your photos, whether it's your DSLR or your phone pics. I'm also not one of those purists that believes you can't touch your photo at all or it's not authentic. Even film processing is pushing, pulling, and adding contrasts and colors to the end product, so I don't buy the idea that Photoshop is some sort of bastardized editing hack. It's also somewhat disingenuous to add in so many "natural" touches to your photo that what you've done is create digital art, and not a photograph. So call it that already. I think it's really tricky to find the balance though, as some things are trends that will fade quickly and leave your photo looking a whole lot like a tribal tattoo around your bicep. You feel me?

I hope to be somewhere in the middle ground when it comes to editing photos, because I do think there is some enhancement that improves the quality and captures a bit of the human eye experience that can be lost in the overall flat appearance of a photo SOOC (straight out of camera). My iphone photo editing process is this: SKRWT for lens and perspective corrections (straightening London facades is a pain in the ass if you were wondering), Snapseed for exposure, and VSCO for filters. That's pretty much it. I do use Retouch for small bits that I don't like, mostly rubbish that's on the streets or near houses on collection day. Retouch is a content aware brush tool that does a fairly good job removing objects. I love showing people how it works because it seems like magic, but I also love showing them what it does if you do something absurd like try to remove a person from a photo. So there's my confession for you, I am literally taking out the trash.

I think most people are familiar with the deceptions that can be created with photoshop in digital photography, but I don't think many people realize that instagram is full of all kinds of fake shit that's become standard because people feel it ticks some sort of value added box. Clearly, I have no opinions on this subject. #smugemoji

So, what's real? It's hard to tell. I'm honestly taken in by some of it at first and left scratching my head about why I can't produce those kind of results. And you'll see that like smoke bombs, bialettis on the mountain top, succulents, latte art, and flags draped on people at the beach, these apps cycle through their own instagram trends. Right now, it seems that the sun kissed haze app (who knows how many or what it's called) is big in London. Here's a tip, there is not that much sun in London! And you'll see these hazy spots made to look like lens flare that show up in photos, in places where the sun couldn't possibly be. I will say it's a bit better than the actual sun ray app, where you end up with heavy handed lines drawn across your photo that look like someone applied it with some sort of glowing ruler.

So, fake sun, fake sun rays, what else? There are apps that let you clone objects from one photo to another, so you can add something like more birds to your photo. Yes, you've seen a lot of fake birds on instagram. I guess they're not totally fake bc someone did take a photo of them first to beef up the final version. (At least I think that's how it works, so don't quote me on that.) There are also tons of apps that let you change the colors in your photos, whether it's desaturating the majority of all but one single brightly colored object (this is so early 00s), or turning your skyline into a blaze of pinky orange. There's fake lens blur (trying to mimic the bokeh you get with a DSLR), there are fake reflection creators, and there are fake mustaches. If you can't spot those though, I'm a bit worried about you.

But don't get jaded yet, I've got some good news! (I've developed this optimistic streak that I can't seem to shake.) For all the digital imitation stuff you may be encountering, there's just as many (and hopefully more) great photos and photographers on instagram, so don't assume everyone is an evil mustachioed man drumming his fingers as he tricks you into a double tap. I've realized over the last few years that it's also a skill to be able to identify the qualities of a good photo. Obviously that can be quite subjective, but I think training your eye to identify the elements that make a good photo for you personally, is worth it in our modern image laden world.

And lastly, you want the realest of the real? I was identified yesterday by a Fabrique employee at the Notting Hill shop. That's not the best bit. No, the best bit is that she works at the Seven Dials location and was only visiting that location. And that my friends, is a true reflection of the frequency I visit Fabrique and take photos of cinnamon buns.

 

 

 

Instagram Dreams; Part Deux

See? I cannot be less annoying about these blog titles. I just can't.

As promised, we're gonna chat about what I did to help my Instagram growth. And I will try to be as transparent (bc that's a cool buzz word) and forthcoming as I can about my motivations. I suppose I feel the need to discuss them first because I haven't always been very intentional about my Instagram use. At first it was just fun to take snaps of whatever was in front of my face and filter the crap out of them, and then it was about photo prompts and contests, and tagging games. We all seem to go through these similar stages of instagram use. (Remember the first time a stranger liked your photo? or even worse, commented? A small moment of terror and then, you get over it, and then you become the crazy stranger commenting and liking strangers' photos. See? Fun for everyone.) And then the more I explored Instagram, and saw what people were doing, I wanted to produce better images. It was probably just naivety, but I assumed everyone was posting photos they'd taken with their phones and some of them were frickin amazing. It seems like the majority of users now post dslr photos almost exclusively, but four years ago, that was seen as the biggest cheat. Or at least I saw it as cheating, because to me the point was using your phone. That was the medium. I started out as a purist bc 1) it leveled the playing field and 2) the challenge of producing a great image with the phone in your pocket felt like mission impossible. The photography aspect of it took over my mindset completely. I knew I could take more than just snapshot variety photos and I wanted to prove that. It's THE CHALLENGE.

Also, I'm lazy and I was tired of carrying my stupid heavy dslr.

The only goal I ever set for myself was 1000 followers. That seemed like a huge number to me. If one thousand people were checking out my photos, I thought that would be a reflection of their quality. I was on instagram for 2.5 years before I reached the one thousand mark. (In all fairness, I wasn't really actively trying to create growth my first year. In fact, my account was private for most of that year.) My first attempt at trying to get more followers was trying to get featured on the popular curated accounts, using their hashtags. (I was dying to get a feature on VSCO, and that was back when they only had about 20k. I've given up that dream, bc now they're 2.3 million strong and I believe, allergic to anyone over the age of 32.) I had somewhat moderate success getting featured, but that rarely produced a large boost in numbers for me. So what did work? I think it was a combination of these things:

Good Content - The bottom line is Instagram is a photo sharing app. Unless you're famous for something else, you really need to have decent images. You'll need some thought about what you're posting, some continuity, and a noticeable style. I don't think you have to be a professional photographer to achieve this. But you do need to make sure your shots are in focus and not edited in a crazy way. (I'm looking at you, Miley Cyrus, oh wait...) Obviously having a background in photography is helpful, it made editing a lot easier for me to figure out, but editing apps are still much more intuitive and user friendly than photoshop.

Hash tagging - this is another topic that I could probably write about for days. Using hashtags is incredibly important if you want to get your photos noticed. I cannot say it enough. I feel the need to explain this from the beginning.

I LOVE HASHTAGS. But I haven't always loved them.

At first, I found them really annoying and desperate looking, but I knew that it was the only way to get my account noticed. I knew people were looking at the hashtag feeds to find and like photos. So, I would use a maximum of 4 hashtags. Never more. My understanding at the time was very limited, I knew that hashtags worked as a filing system, putting your photos in a group with all the other photos with that tag. Beyond that, I thought people were just trying to create obscure tags to be funny. So, I was drawn to the most popular tags and used those. (I have to interrupt this to say that Instagram has changed the hashtagging system a few times, the biggest change coming when hashtags became tied to your posting time. Before that, you could throw a hashtag on your photo 3-4 days after you'd posted it and get it bumped to the top of that feed and (Yes!) get more likes. It was like a time release effect, dropping a hashtag every few hours. But now, as you know, you have to get them on your post pretty quickly or they're pointless.) It took me some time to figure out that those tags, do not help you much because they spend so little time at the top of the hashtag feed and with a small account, they weren't making it to the best tool for attracting people - Top Posts, AKA, the leader boards around my house. (I blame my gamer son for that addition to my vocabulary.)

I know you still want to know why - WHY? WHY? Why are they so important? Because hashtags get you the audience you want. People use their aesthetics to decide who to follow and most hashtags are associated with a certain look or style.

#kinfolk #liveauthentic #slowliving

You know just what you're getting into even when you just see these right? How about these?

#eatyourfeelings #carblover #nomnom #foodporn

Choosing tags relevant to your aesthetic is key. Find the people with the same interests as you through hashtags and then pay attention to the hashtags they're using. Do your research. That's it.

Engagement - this is another thing that happened very naturally for me, I became accustomed to chatting with people I didn't know to get to know them. Especially on my own account- I reply and I answer questions. That's just human decency in my book. The thing is, yes, engagement is important, but the real truth here is that people are important. I actually really hate that we refer to each other as "followers." I want to be treated as though I have feelings and my own experiences, and I hope that I do the same for other people. (Except those damn tourists.) People want to be noticed and valued. That is a life approach for me, not an instagram strategy. Don't post photos and put your phone away, "Put the social back in your social media." (Yes, I just quoted myself, and I can only hope this is engraved on my tombstone as my legacy. JK. We all know my tombstone will be covered in carbs.) Talk to the people that run your favorite accounts. They see the comments, but not always the likes, so keep that in mind. Try to post at a time when you can chat with people about what they're up to, your photo, or your caption.

Which brings me to another point, putting some effort into your captions is a great way to get people to engage. Great photos are cool, but at certain point, people want to know about the personality behind the photos. (My snarky captions were never part of a plan, that's just the charming personality i was born with.) It doesn't have to be funny or fact filled, and honestly, I can't handle it when people post inspirational quotes, but it does need to spark interest. Like the photos you post, try to find your own caption style and don't try to mimic someone else, because people will notice. My thing is I try to tell people something new - either about me or about the photo, something relatable about life. That said, remember that people probably don't want to know every single detail about you. Because #narcissist.

Networking - I do not like the idea of networking. The premise feels slimy to me, but when I moved to London, I started considering instameets. It was a social decision because I didn't know anyone and I figured that if I found the people that like to take photos of their food, I could maybe make some friends. (Instameets are just an set day/time/place where people get together, socialize, and take photos that they can post for instagram.) I had no idea what to expect from these gatherings, and I seriously expected that I would be the oldest person attending. Instameets vary widely - some are invite only, some are huge throngs of people where you don't know anyone, and some are hosted by apps, or cafes, or museums, or whatever. They are more common in certain locations - bigger cities obviously having the most to choose from, but it can be done anywhere. You can host your own and try to find other people interested in gramming near you. The point is, you need some facetime to get to know other instagrammers. If it's not possible to do that in person, find a way to collaborate, or take a holiday and find someone!

The first instameet I went to was horrible, and I am surprised I decided to try another one, but I did after I noticed the IG interactions of the people hosting it. They seemed nice and the group was smaller and the meet was designed for food and photos, not talking about monetizing or how to get as many followers as possible. It was a complete reversal of my first experience. I found my place and found some terrific friends. I will be honest with you, I've met a some instagrammers that think they are very important and entitled to adoration. They also think they deserve everything and everyone else is just lucky, which is not a problem limited only to instagram, but it definitely exists. These are people that will only talk with you if you have X number of followers or know the right people.  And I've also met some that are genuinely caring and interesting people that prefer real human interaction. This is just being realistic about some of the pitfalls of gaining a large following, and I don't feel the need to white wash the subject for you. There's a fair amount of competition on Instagram, some of it good and some of it just petty. I believe in good work and being nice - that's how I play.

Obsessing (aka attention to detail) - a lot of people use analytics for their feeds. I've tried a few and found that I don't need most of the information they provide and not really any info that I hadn't already noticed myself. There are times of day that are definitely better than others, and there are better days for posting as well. It depends on where you live and where the majority of your followers live.

Bonus - Living in London. Yes, London is a fabulous city and people love it. I am very aware of the fact that a huge draw to my feed is my location, which provides me with great material. BUT, I also know that there are huge accounts that are solely comprised of photos inside someone's carefully edited home. The material rarely changes, just the angle and the day. A consistent style and good images can make up for what you lack in location.

And now for the bad news. All of this is subject to change. At any time. Who knows how long until the new algorithms will roll out? You'll notice that there are constantly little tweaks being made by Instagram that affect your user experience. As I said in the previous post, it's a game, and if you're gonna play, you'll have to take the time to figure out what works.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

 

so you want to be an Instagrammer?

I really wish the title of this post were less obnoxious, but you know, consider the source here. I also find it quite odd to blog about Instagram, but lately I've been peppered with questions about what happened with my account. People that know me have congratulated me on my "success" and others have inquired if I was on the Instagram suggested user list. It seems they know I'm pretty ordinary and they're too polite to unleash their full bewilderment about thousands of followers. I know, it kind of boggles my mind too, and I honestly have to pretend that I'm just posting for a handful of my close friends because at times it feels very much like I'm open to all kinds of scrutiny. But back to the question, the answer is no, I have never been a suggested user. I have not cheated by buying followers (oh yes, that's possible), and I haven't found some sort of back door trick.

So, how do people get accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers? Well, here's the basic categories that I've noticed:

1. Instagram suggested user - when you sign up for Instagram, you are initially provided with a list of possible people to follow. That's the suggested user list and a lot of people believe it's the Holy Grail of Instagram life. Accounts are listed for 2 weeks and during that time, hundreds of thousands of people are joining Instagram and usually follow some of the accounts that interest them. During the 2 weeks on the suggested user list, it seems that these accounts generally grow by 35-45K. That's an amazing amount of growth in a very short time. (Can you imagine those notifications??) After they're taken off the list, there's some natural attrition and the numbers fall by a few thousand. Now from these new followers there is a large portion of people that never use Instagram again after signing up, or are just not interested in deleting their accounts, so suggested users often find that their engagement rate is much lower than their number of followers. In other words, there's just a lot of empty accounts on Instagram.

But still there are a lot of people dying to know how to be a suggested user. (I think it's because most people assume the bigger the number of your following, the more opportunities to monetize your account.) That process is something Instagram likes to pretend is mysterious, but I don't buy that. Based on purely anecdotal and unscientific evidence, I'm guessing it's really just a case of knowing someone that works for them or being connected to someone that does. Go ahead and accuse me of being cynical, but I have very little faith in the top secret process claims that come from the Instagram headquarters. When Instagram first launched the app, they made a really smart move and found some great photographers to beta test the app for them, and I believe all of them were on the suggested user list for many months in the beginning. That's why you'll find some accounts from the original suggested user list have close to a million followers. Since then, they've continued to cycle through users (sometimes multiple times) using their never-discussed formula. Don't get me wrong, suggested user accounts have great appeal and strong themes, and I often find myself looking through the list to find new-to-me accounts. There is just SO MUCH talent on Instagram that I can't imagine running out of options.

2. Being a celebrity or notable person - this seems pretty self explanatory. Famous people in some arena of life have lots of fans and haters that want to keep tabs on them.

3. Having a huge social media presence on another platform - there are many bloggers, youtubers, and what do you call famous Pinterest users? Pinners? Pinteresters? You know what I mean, people that are well known for other social media stuff. (Do you guys know Stampy Longnose? I never knew that youtube made its own celebrities until my kids started playing Minecraft and I discovered the world of youtubers which fascinates and confuses me simultaneously.)

4. Buying an account - this is totally cheating and you should not do it because there's a high probability you are GOING TO HELL if you do. But also, the majority of these accounts are stolen from real people and that's just mean and wrong.

5. Organic growth over time - this is where my account falls. This is not to say that this is the natural progression of every account on Instagram. I am not saying all you have to do is take good photos and it will happen. It really bugs me when people say over and over again (particularly those with huge followings) that your talent will be noticed if you just create good images. There are millions of Instagram users, and thousands upon thousands of them are crazy talented. Instagram is a game and you've got to learn the rules and then keep up with them, because as soon as you figure one out, they change it up. And people are doing all kinds of crazy shit to game the system. I'll save that for another post, but rest assured that the ways to fake it are probably more abundant that the number of hashtags I use, and I'm sure I don't even know the half of it.

So what did I do?  There are definitely steps you can take to make your account more visible. Some of what I did was merely an accident born of obsession over details, but as it stands now, there's been a combination of identifiable factors that worked for me. Once you figure it out and build a following of a few thousand, the growth becomes exponential. I'm preparing a list about it all for the next post, because this got hella long.

I realize this makes it all sound very cold and calculating, but honestly, the only reason I keep using the app is because I enjoy it; it is my favorite hobby and procrastination tool. For the most part, Instagram is a much nicer social media platform, and people are generally more encouraging and supportive. And rarely are politics discussed! At the risk of sounding cheesy, I've seen glimpses into lives and countries all over the world that I wouldn't have otherwise. I've learned a lot more about London and other cities. But the best part is the cool people I've met, many of whom are my actual real life friends. So all that talk about community on Instagram, it turns out to be true.

And this is #theend