How Small Creators Can Still Succeed on Instagram

Instagram just announced that it’s going to change its feed and switch over to a Facebook-like algorithm. Say goodbye to the chronological feed. And for a lot of us, it kind of… well, it sucks.

A lot of different outlets have already covered this change. A lot of them are focusing on downside of it – we’re going to be forced to compete for views. Which we already do on damn near every other platform (Thanks for not being awful, Twitter!). For a lot of small creators, especially YouTubers like me (like me! like me…), Instagram provided an even playing field.

It was egalitarian.

Now that’s going away. So what do we do? Cue the freakout.

Why Instagram Rocks for Small Creators

My 189 followers (you should become one too by the way) can see any picture I post, so long as they log in sometime around when I posted it (or scroll back far enough to see it). They can heart and comment and do all the other lovely things I want them to do. I can post to major hashtags during peak times and get that many new eyeballs looking at my content.

It is such a powerful platform for small creators, in fact, that it is the key to the social media kickoff strategy that was covered super-in-depth by the fabulous Mykie over at Glam&Gore in her social media growth guide. (Side note: GO WATCH THIS VIDEO. AND THE WHOLE SERIES. FOR REAL.)

But now it’s not going to be egalitarian. And the small creators are kind of stressed the fuck out that this means we’ve lost out on one of the most effective ways to build a following on social media.

Historical Freakouts

YouTube

The Instagram algorithm change will hopefully not look like the YouTube algorithm change.

Remember that time YouTube fucked everyone over?

So we’re back to 2012 when YouTube changed its algorithm and screwed over a lot of content creators – the ones who didn’t post content that fell into certain super-popular boxes. The ones that didn’t have such a large following that they somehow ‘escaped’ the algorithm and kept their views.

Daily Grace existed. Tyler Oakley existed. Strawburry17 did not (for a while).

(Also watch her video about YouTube’s algorithm change.)

But that’s YouTube. YouTube quickly became all about who you are, rather than what kind of content you created. YouTube doesn’t have hashtags.

Facebook

Facebook has sucked for creators since it stopped showing your friends and fans the things that are happening in your life. (Let’s ignore the fact that Facebook has just kind of always sucked.) Let’s focus on the fact that I’ve found out about deaths among my circle of friends like three weeks after the fact because Facebook didn’t decide it was relevant enough to my interests. Let’s focus on the fact that even though one of my pages has 300 Likes, every post gets about 30 views – even with a great engagement rate (close to 100%!).

But that’s Facebook. Facebook has a lot of weird, vacuous, and frankly terrible content created by people you know in real life. Facebook has a stupid and useless hashtag system. Facebook isn’t for creators. Facebook was never for creators. Facebook is about regular people who aren’t pursuing social media.

There’s still hope for Instagram!

Instagram can still be different, right?

We can still make Instagram work.

Even for those of us who are tiny and struggling to find even a small audience.

But how?

How Small Creators Can Still Succeed on Instagram

Remember that part in Instagram’s announcement where they were talking about what they’re going to show you first?

If your favorite musician shares a video from last night’s concert, it will be waiting for you when you wake up, no matter how many accounts you follow or what time zone you live in. And when your best friend posts a photo of her new puppy, you won’t miss it.

I can’t be someone’s favorite YouTuber. Hell, I can’t even be someone’s favorite YouTuber named Michael. But I can be someone’s friend. I can be somebody’s best friend. And so can you.

If you don’t learn anything else from this post, learn this:

Instagram is not about who you already are. Instagram is not full of people you know from high school. Instagram is an established social media platform that centers around the content you create.

Instagram is built on hashtags. You already use hashtags to build your following.

A photo of me half-assedly and ashamedly trying to cook from my Instagram feed.

And yes, I know that means I have to stop posting shit like this.

Hashtags just became incredibly important, because Instagram’s new algorithm is based on relevance and engagement. Be mindful of what you’re posting and how you’re tagging it. Keep it relevant. Keep it targeted.

The same brand strategies that work today are going to continue to work. If anything, they’ll work more effectively, because you’ll be competing less with people who just post whatever they want without any thought to branding.

You can’t just post anything and guarantee that it’s going to be seen by everybody. You have to continue to post great content so that it will get likes and shares and comments. You have to drive eyeballs with quality. You have to seek out your audience.

If your photo gets shown and liked, then it’ll continue to get shown – and so will more of your pictures. If your photo gets shown and ignored, it was a flop. Try again. Do better next time.

Yes, it’s going to be competitive. It’s going to be like YouTube. It’s going to be like Facebook. But it’s going to be on a level playing field because a good Instagram presence is already focused so heavily around branding.

YouTube is an impossible nut to crack for a lot of us because of its algorithm. You have to drive tens of thousands of minutes of traffic to YouTube all on your own before you finally start getting promoted to other people. We can’t do that at the beginning.

Facebook is easier. First, Facebook is driven by engagement. Lots of likes and comments means you’re more relevant and you get shown. This is upsetting for a lot of people because what we comment on and engage with is not necessarily things we want to be shown more of. So I had to make it a point to only comment on/like things that I actually legitimately like. You have to compete with peoples’ racist uncles that incite political riots by posting pictures of babies with guns and shit.

Instagram will be different because it’s cleaner in general. Likes are handed out like candy, and often in the hopes of a reciprocal like. Comments are sparse. Comments are hard to get. Start commenting on things that you legitimately like. Build relationships with people who you actually legitimately like. Be active in the community outside of just trying to give people attention so that they will give you attention in return.

Instagram is going to change, but maybe it will be for the better. Instagram is for people who like to create and share beautiful images. Facebook is for that guy from your hometown who added you in junior year of high school and now posts old memes and racist jokes.

If you’re a good creator, you won’t be ignored on Instagram like you are on YouTube. It can still work.

You just have to stay dedicated and remember to seek out the audience that will appreciate your content and engage with them. Be relevant. Be thoughtful. Get people to share your stuff. Kind of like promoting a new blog!

Instagram isn’t going to become the new YouTube. It’s not going to be the new Facebook. It’s going to be the new Google.

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2 comments on “How Small Creators Can Still Succeed on Instagram”

  1. Michelle Martin (@nerdyorganized) Reply

    Excellent points in here, Michael! I was curious about the new algorithm but you’ve broken it down into easy pieces to understand, while also pointing out ways to make it work for small peeps. Everyone who is freaking out about it should read this. 🙂

    Also, you’re funny, so it was a fun read too!
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Michael Noker Reply

      Thanks so much! I’ve also seen a lot of people saying they support the change because they’re getting tons of new followers and likes now, but I don’t actually think the algorithm has been put in place yet. It’s almost like the announcement is getting people to flock to Instagram to get as much done before the change as possible.

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