When Instagram crashed last week, millennials freaked out. But if you’ve spent years building up a following and your major source of income is getting paid as an influencer, it’s understandable that you might have totally lost your shit when your main platform disappeared. Let’s unpack this a little more…I said, “your main platform”, but really, it’s not yours at all. Instagram is a third-party platform. You don’t own your audience on Instagram, which was made evident last week with the crash. So, what can you do if you have been putting all your creative eggs into the Instagram basket? Well, it’s all about building up an audience that you have more agency over, and I believe the best way to do that is with authentic content and creating connection.
I’m a firm believer that if your content is authentic, audiences will engage. Whenever I go into a new creative project, the first question I ask myself is “how does this topic make me feel?” I have to connect with a project emotionally before I can even begin brainstorming how I’m going to tackle it. One of my favorite creatives, Hannah Beachler (her name may ring a bell from her recent Oscar-win as production designer of Black Panther), often shares in interviews how she needs to totally “feel” something in a script before she will engage in the job further, joking “it’s all about me.”
We can all fall trap to external motivators – money, likes, boosting our profile – but long-term creative success really depends on intrinsic motivators, that is, what drives your passion internally to work on a project. Now, finding your authentic voice doesn’t mean you can’t build up a successful Instagram following, many have, but I believe that with authentic content and voice you will be able to penetrate an audience beyond Instagram, and in terms of longevity as a creative and making a positive impact on the world, this is important. When you build an audience authentically, they will follow you outside the Instagram platform, and this is how you can leverage the platform but not make it your primary community. When Instagram crashes again in the future, which I’m sure it will, will your audience know where to find you? What are you offering them other than that carefully curated Instagram post? Authenticity matters, please don’t forget that.
I’m often wondering if some of the top influencers think about legacy. Will the world really remember that shot you posted of your great peach-shaped ass that got a lot of likes, or will they remember you for the film you made, or the art exhibition you had, or the youth community project you created? When I create, I think about legacy all the time. What will make my kids proud of me long term? What will have the most positive impact on others? What work will continue to be shared far and wide well after it’s been released? Too many Instagrammers think about the short term, and I see far too many females especially focusing on their bodies rather than their creative craft. Legacy, to me, is fundamental in shaping your long-term creative career. I reflect on my values all the time, writing down what is most important to me. I cross-reference my personal values with the creative work I am developing and sharing, and make sure that everything I do reflects these values. When you’re planning your creative content or brainstorming on an idea, ask yourself: “does this project reflect my personal values?” I suggest you sit down and list up those values first if you haven’t already done so.
Let’s go back to this idea of connection. Instagram can certainly enhance connection, but I find it can be very limiting compared with other platforms. For me, connecting with my audience is everything, be it in a film or an Instagram post. Everyone who knows me will confirm I am a talker. I love people, I love community, and I love sharing. I try and be at all my film premieres and screenings so I can connect with the audience in Q&A. I have recently begun visiting high schools, giving talks and mentoring small groups of senior creative and film students. I love webinars and engaging with others. Particularly now more than any other time we need to cultivate compassion among each other through real connection. When your Instagram page next crashes, have you put in place a pathway for your audience to connect with you beyond the gram?
I’m interested in your thoughts. Do you rely on Instagram as your primary platform and revenue-driver? What are your values, and do you infuse them into every creative piece you create? Post your thoughts in the comments or come and engage with me on my Facebook Page.