I have been wanting to write this post for quite some time, but it is an overwhelmingly big topic to tackle and unpack. There is so much to say about social media / Instagram that it's hard to know where to even begin?? I’ve actually been working on this post since August! 😂 A couple months ago, I listened to this episode of Jen Gotch's podcast "Jen Gotch Is OK... Sometimes" (if you aren't already a listener of her podcast... I highly recommend). Anyways, this episode focused on social media - specifically addiction to social media (it's a really good listen!) - and it put me in the headspace to finally sit down and start to spew out some of my own thoughts on the subject.
I joined Instagram in the summer of 2013. I was a junior in college and was working at a summer internship when one of my friends and I decided to join together at the same time. I don't remember why exactly we decided to, but neither of us initially really intended to use it for anything serious (or at least I wasn’t). I posted photos from *life at art school* lol... like: sunrises after all nighters, sketches for projects I was working on, primarily unhealthy food that I was eating shamelessly to help get me THRU, and the occasional "I got off campus and did something fun!" shot. It basically started as some sort of visual journal chronicling that marvelous time. If you scroll way back on my feed, all of it is still there. 🤣
At the time, I didn't really think much about curating the *perfect feed* or how things looked in my grid. I edited my photos quickly with the awful in-app filters (shout out to Valencia ✌🏼). There was no intention to grow an audience or build a following - and I was primarily just connected with peers (people I knew IRL). The goal wasn't to try to build a personal brand (although ironically, this was the very early beginnings of that). Terms like "engagement" and "influencer" hadn't really emerged yet.
After I graduated, I started viewing Instagram differently. I began to see it as an opportunity to put myself out there and be seen. I thought to myself... "maybe I could make a name for myself!" It wasn't about wanting fame necessarily... but at the same time... maybe subconsciously in a way... it was? Not because I have a desire to be “famous” - but because as someone who creates for a living in this day and age, it seems impossible to not have an online presence. A creative career is probably one of the few (career) paths where having social media can largely benefit you and actually help you land work. Likewise, not having any sort of online presence might actually hurt your chances. I thought to myself: “If no one can find me or my work... how are they supposed to know I exist? How are they supposed to hire me?” And so... I started taking it more seriously.
I changed my handle to something more appealing. Can you believe I used to go by "@amyhoards" because I thought that'd be a GREAT way to refer to my love for collecting things (seashells, sea glass, rocks, glass bottles, feathers, fortune cookie fortunes, stamps, etc)? I mean good luck to anyone who puts “hoards” in their social media handle, (although my love for collecting ALL the things still is going strong) haha. Unfortunately, having a generic / common name meant I couldn’t claim “@amychen” and I didn’t want to limit myself with just “@amychendesign.” I struggled a lot to come up with an “all encompassing” alternate name for myself, but landed on “@amyventures.” It felt fitting because it sounded like a broad enough umbrella for me to explore all of my various interests (art, design, food, travel, etc.), and I still use that handle today. I started being more conscious about the photos I was taking and editing those photos with more care. I studied hashtags, and used them in hopes this would help me gain exposure. I paid more attention to how photos looked next to each other on my feed, and the act of curating was fun for me. Slowly but surely, I started gaining more followers and growing my audience.
In 2015, I was named a suggested user by Instagram - which is basically the ultimate compliment, right? I went from just a couple thousand followers to over 40,000 in the span of just a week. Jen talks a bit in her podcast about how likes and followers and comments and *engagement* in general results in a rush of dopamine and it makes sense (because of our culture’s obsession with instant gratification)... so as you can imagine... the feeling of Instagram giving you all the validation in the world (and seeing all of the likes and followers and comments come flooding in) was quite the rush. A significantly large portion of those new followers were probably fake / robots (and I knew this), but I’d be lying if I said this didn’t serve as a little bit of an ego booster. I think this happens naturally whenever we are validated in any way… whether that is in the form of recognition (like a feature or an award) or if that is another person telling you straight up: “you are doing great!” 😬
With that increase in followers came an initial avalanche of opportunity. I feel like I owe so much of my early freelance career successes to Instagram. It opened a lot of doors for me. It's also crazy how people suddenly think you are a *somebody* just because you have a "large following." I got invited to events and started working with dream clients. But somewhere along the way… I hit a wall.
As much opportunity as Instagram has brought me, there are many days where I have literally just wanted nothing more than for the app to disappear. Could you imagine? A world without Instagram?! How freeing that would be? Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a recluse and live off the grid and not have internet or access to social media at all, lol. Piera Gelardi, co-founder of Refinery29, recently published a post expressing similar sentiments to her feed - and it really resonated with me:
“Do you ever fantasize about deleting your social media presence and just living fully in the physical world?”
UM. YES. ALL. THE. TIME. 👆🏼
This spring and summer, I largely disconnected from the Instagram world. I posted every now and then - but my consistency was sporadic at best. I have no idea how I posted every single day for several years. Some days I even used to post more than once. I know that there are ways to schedule social media posts, but I personally have never felt compelled to do that. I like being spontaneous about what I post and when I post - and if that’s not every day, I think that’s okay. I don’t want to post something just to post something.
I get tired of the "highlight reels" and people "doing it for the gram." I get sick of seeing “#ad” on so many posts (and think I’ve even gotten sick of slapping it on posts myself - although I am currently brainstorming new ways to work with brands in a way that gets me excited to create ad content again). I try not to compare my life to others because I know comparison is evil, but a part of me feels like this is unavoidable unless you follow zero people and / or interact with no one… which kinda defeats the entire purpose of SOCIAL media? Often times, generally speaking, it feels like there is too much damn content to consume.
Despite all of the negative talk about Instagram lately, Man Repeller recently published an article discussing its “most underrated upside.” MR writer Harling Ross makes the case that:
“It really democratizes access to having a platform for your words and your thoughts and your SELF, and as a result it’s connected me to a lot of people I would never have known about otherwise…”
Early on, I think I really relished in the idea of having my own platform to share my voice and my way of seeing the world. Sometimes I feel like I forget just how powerful of a FREE platform it is and can be… Sometimes I feel like I take it for granted.
Recently, I’ve been reminded of just how connective Instagram can be. Last month, I started conducting beach clean ups at Coney Island. An effort that first started with just me, then grew to 2 (all because of a comment on my first solo beach clean up photo) - and last Saturday we just had a 3rd clean up where 8 (!!!) people came out! None of that would have been possible without Instagram, and that’s pretty crazy and cool to think about. I think I’m opening my heart back up to the fact that Instagram’s not all bad and destructive and terrible.
I’ve been trying to be more conscious about the ways I create, share, and consume content on Instagram. I don’t feel like I’ve totally mastered that consciousness yet - and maybe I never will? But I’m trying, haha. 💩 For awhile, my personal mission was to “spread joy and positivity” - and while I think that is still part of my mission - sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough to me. Instagram was starting to feel too “vanilla”… too superficial… too many pretty pictures with no bigger message. I’m currently in the process of digging deeper and finding new creative purpose with beach clean ups and the bigger-than-me issue of pollution and sustainability. I enjoy talking about something not so pretty on a platform that glorifies pretty. I’m not saying that all my posts from here on out will have a bigger philanthropic voice, but right now that is the thing I’m most excited to create content for.
Every now and then, I think it’s good to ask yourself “why do I post what I post?” and also “why do I follow who I follow?” Like a personal check-in. If you don’t know your why - it’s okay to step away and figure it out - even if that means posting nothing at all for a little while. And, it’s 100% okay to unfollow (or mute) people who no longer serve you.
The world of social media - specifically Instagram - has changed so much in the last five years. There have been so many updates that I've honestly lost track and at times feel like I can't even keep up with it all. Stories and IGTV are some of the bigger and more recent additions that have completely transformed Instagram into a whole new animal. Everyone who uses the platform for business has been affected by the algorithm changes. And now that Instagram’s cofounders have stepped down themselves… who knows where the app is headed next?
As annoying as its evolution has been (to both witness and experience first hand) - I still think there is a lot of good that can come from it. I feel like it’s an ongoing journey to figure out how to use the platform meaningfully as it constantly and rapidly changes, but that’s okay. In the end, it’s just an app… right??! We are all so much more than what our Instagram feeds portray of us. And the world is so much bigger than the endless scrolling vortex that lives on our handheld digital devices.
Is your relationship status with Instagram “complicated” too? Whether you too are a creator who uses it as a business tool or someone who just uses it because it’s a fun creative outlet for you outside of your job — I’m curious to hear your thoughts! How do you use social media with intention?