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