Instagram Fail! How I failed at being an Instagram star

I’ll admit it, I have failed.


About a year ago, I opened an Instagram account. As a marketer, I wanted to test out that social media channel. I wanted to know what works and what doesn’t. How do you get thousands of followers? How do you become an influencer? How do you become an Instagram star?


After a year on the platform, I have a measly 300+ followers. Many are friends from FB.


And I tried. My failure is not by lack of effort, no!


At first, my account was all about fitness and being a nomad. I invited people from FB groups, and some did follow me. I then started taking more travel photos because I was traveling to so many interesting places. I added past photos because they were so beautiful (I reckon that’s against the unstated rules, as it’s “insta,” right?). I posted the food I was eating because that really is a thing. I couldn’t help but add descriptions to some photos as if I were a journalist with lessons to report. I have used hashtags. I have studied the hashtags of others and stolen a few with the hopes they’d add leverage. I have cropped and beautified my photos enough to make me feel worthy of a National Geographic award. I have followed-for-a-follow, though I never did use that tool that lets you see if someone is following you back. I’ve tagged brands I was wearing hopping one might knock on my door with an offer of giving me items to model for them (very wishful thinking because, you know, 300 followers).


I did not buy followers. That would be cheating. Even if we all know that nothing brings in a crowd like a crowd.


I also refused to do what so many other Instagrammers do to get followers, which is to spam others with useless comments like, “Great feed! Keep up the good work!” or “Nice profile (insert smiley + insert thumbs up).” On a pic I posted of an uprooted palm tree #climatechange #savetheearth, a girl responded: “2018 is going to be amazing!” I asked her if she was being ironic or if that was some sort of totally off the mark automatic reply. She never answered.


I have a sneaky suspicion that fame and glory happen on IG by way of selfies, and I am not good at taking selfies. I think selfies are a generational thing. Sure, everybody does it. But only the young – and by young, I mean millennial and younger – can do it right almost right away. They smile for the camera, and it comes out right. They know how to angle their face for the best effect. They never seem to have one saggy eye. They just get selfies.


I, on the other hand, do not. If Gen-Exers don’t post selfies, it’s either because they tried and they look bad, or they just gave up trying. I even had a competition going for a while with a friend-of-my-age for the ugliest selfie. They were so much easier to make!


I like to believe I am getting better at selfies. I’ve been practicing. Still, I can’t bring myself to put a whole lot of photos of myself up on the web because, who cares? Other than my parents and possibly a cyber-stalking disgruntled ex, who cares to see my face in different locations? I pass up following people who only put up selfies because I don’t know them, so why would I want my feed to be flooded by their face? I don’t.


Instagram Banana Bread Photo

I got the most likes, 94 to be exact, on a photo of me in a bikini at the helm of our boat. And I’ll admit, I posted that as a test. And I was right. As I wasn’t about to post that here, I offer you the second most liked of my photos (84 likes) of banana bread on a makeshift cooling rack of knives. Go figure!


Shortly after opening my account, I met a young woman, Kate Frost*, at the INBOUND event in Boston. Over dinner, we found out that we were part of a same FB group and happily exchanged IG handles. Kate had over 10K followers. That number was nagging me, so over dessert, I asked her how she got so many followers. We both leaned over her phone as she swiped her IG page to show me older photos. She explained how, when she started her page, she often wore clothes of a particular brand (without being an ambassador for them, mind you, she just liked their clothing). The clothes were very colorful, which made the photos (of herself) pop. I was befuddled. Was she really telling me that she gained followers by wearing bright clothes?


I’m not that great at selfies, I don’t want to post a bunch of photos of myself, and I don’t wear flashy clothes. I don’t want to spam people because that’s annoying and I don’t want to buy followers because that’s dishonest. Is there anything else I might have missed? Oh, and I don’t have an Instagram-husband – because that too really is a thing. I have a husband. He couldn’t care less for Instagram.


Maybe I’m too old for IG. Maybe I’m too naïve. I love the communities that can be formed on social media. I have made actual friends online. Social networking has become part of my social life. (Is that sad?) Instagram is great for pretty pictures and voyeurism, but it’s nothing like the groups that can be found on Facebook or LinkedIn. I have another friend who’s a slow-travel blogging star (and also a millennial). Paulina** once told me that IG is not what it used to be. She says it used to be “a creative outlet for hobby photographers,” whereas now it’s “a marketing and communication tool like any other,” and like Facebook.


As a marketing experience, I’ve failed at Instagram. As a social experience, Instagram has failed me.


I’ll still post my pretty pictures on IG, and I do believe it has its place in the social marketing world, especially in B2C. I am gracious enough to know that one can’t be an expert at everything. I’m happy to work on social strategy – it should definitely be part of most companies’ marketing mix – but I’m happy to hand over the social media execution to those best suited.



* Kate Frost now has 14+K followers on Instagram. She no longer wears loud clothes, but she does post beautiful pics of her travels. You can follow her here:

**Paulina was crew on our boat when we crossed the Atlantic in January 2017. I love her as only sailing crew can love each other. You can read Paulina Weis’s blog, “Paulina on The Road,” here:

If you want to follow me on Instagram, you can!

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