Narcissus visits the interwebs

in marketing •  last year

In a very perceptive article, ( Matthew Koller captures the problem with social media in general, and Instagram in particular: you pretty much need it as marketing tool, but if you’re not careful, you are quickly drawn into an addictive, narcissistic world that takes hours of your time without actually being of much use.

Caravaggio (1571-1610) - Narcissus oil on canvas 110 × 92 cm.jpg

Bit of a Catch-22, isn’t it?

Something I noticed: very often, the people who follow you on Instagram are never going to buy anything from you anyway, because they do exactly what you do. E.g. I’m an artist, so I post my paintings, and have them followed by other artists. And I follow those other artists in return. We’re all infamously starving and couldn’t buy paintings even if we wanted to. So what the heck is the point then? Or of photographers following other photographers, or actresses following other actresses? There is some point, to some extent, to which I’ll get later. But marketing it isn’t: competitors don’t buy one another’s products.

Of course, the other category of followers is the one consisting of people who would follow anyone at all with the purpose of being followed back. That way you can quickly gain ten thousand followers, all of whom follow you because you are following them. And once again, what’s the point?

I live in South Africa; the other day I got followed by a real estate agent in Toronto. So he thinks I possibly need to buy real estate on another continent? Or does he just want me to follow him back? Or is he genuinely interested in me and my work? I had another guy in my feed who posted ten or so pictures of himself, every single day. Same questions apply.

When I first started on Instagram, I got this advice: when someone follows you, go check on their page how many followers they have and how many people they follow in return. If a guy has ten thousand followers and he follows ten thousand other people, then it means he will likely keep on following you, and he’s, er, “serious about networking.” If, on the other hand, he has ten thousand followers but follows only two hundred himself, then he’ll likely not keep on following you. And same thing when you consider following someone: first go check whether he follows lots of other people, otherwise it means he likely won’t follow you back.

Naive as I was, I took this advice seriously, and built up a respectable following of estate agents, manicurists, motorcycle mechanics, telephone sanitizers and who knows what else. And every day had my feed clogged by advertisements from these folks. This is how it goes when acquiring followers becomes a bizarre end in itself.

And this is one way in which social media differs from real life too. In real life, no one can have a personal relationship with more than 150 to 200 people or so (which apparently neatly coincides with the typical size of hunter-gatherer tribes, but that’s another story). On Facebook, on the other hand, you can have thousands or tens of thousands of “friends.” Are they really your friends?

Do you really think that guy who just followed you on Instagram, who also follows ten thousand other people, is ever going to notice anything you post? Does he really, genuinely, spend hours and hours every day, going through thousands of Instagram posts, really engaging with what he sees? So what are the chances he’s going to buy what you have to offer, or indeed even really notice anything you post? He is almost certainly just one more guy “building a following,” never thinking about what having a real following actually means.

And now we can see what is likely wrong with the advice I got. One should do it precisely the other way round. If a guy has a huge following, but only follows a few people himself, he may possibly be a narcissist. But it could also be he has a large following because he puts up quality posts, and follows few people because he knows full well you cannot be engaged with thousands, and thus he follows family, real friends and a few people whose work genuinely interests him. You’ll see soon enough by simply taking note of what he posts: quality speaks for itself.

My conclusion: Instagram can be a valuable marketing tool, but not if we use it in a narcissistic way. Do not ever follow someone back just because they follow you. The ones who are going to promptly unfollow you because you didn’t follow them back are not going to ever buy anything from you anyway, or be of any other use. And the ones who followed you because they are genuinely interested in your work will keep on following you and not care whether you followed back.

Better to have two hundred followers who are actually genuinely interested in you than ten million narcissists. And how do you get them? By putting up quality posts, I would think, though I may be wrong.

So now I have this rule: I never, ever follow anyone on Instagram (or anywhere else, for that matter) anymore for any other reason than that I like their posts and want to see more. So yes, I follow other artists because I like their work, or find it inspiring, or can learn something from them. And I follow some photographers for the same reason. And homesteaders because they make me all nostalgic for my own rural youth. You get my drift: I follow some people on Instagram because they add value to my life. If I had money, and wanted to buy something specific, I may also have followed some people who offer those items for sale. But mostly, I try to get the “social” back into social media.

I cannot possibly keep track of ten thousand people. It is simply not reasonable to expect me to, and pseudo-fans on Instagram who do expect that of me are simply unreasonable and I want nothing to do with them. Nobody who follows Justin Bieber on social media expects him to follow them back. They know he’s a busy bloke and simply doesn’t have time. Why would we expect anything different from anyone else? My non-celebrity status doesn’t mean I can keep real track of more people than Justin Bieber or Og the Caveman can.

Thus, the general rule for all Instagram users should really be this: have as many genuine followers as possible, but do not follow more than you can keep track of yourself.

I noticed the results of this policy within a day after instituting it: I got followed and then promptly unfollowed by lots of users, and my follower count is not rising as quickly as it used to anymore. Sometimes, as I unfollow people whose posts I have no desire to see, my own following dips down too, presumably because they unfollowed me in revenge. And that suits me just fine, because now I know that the few followers I have left actually, genuinely enjoy my posts, and are not engaged in mere narcissism.

Best of all, my own feed is no longer cluttered up by adverts from real estate agents.

Now the above applies to Instagram. Here on steemit things may work differently, but I am not here to try to make money, and I have no intention of getting caught up in the shameless whoring, narcissism and navel gazing I see here so often. So at least as far as I am concerned, my Instagram rules apply here as well: I will never follow more than perhaps two hundred or so people here. And I will cease to follow people back just because they followed me.

This probably means that no one will even see this article, let alone read it. But so be it then.

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