You're Using Instagram All Wrong

Inspiration through photos is a function of interests, not your social connections.
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Late last year, Instagram started to really bug me.

My feed was quickly losing its consumption value. It would be accurate to say that I felt I had immeasurably spent way too much time staring at (and obligatorily double-tapping) friends' photos that I:

1. Had already seen on Facebook
2. Don't need to see because of oversharing

Is that a harsh position to take? Yes. However, considering that Instagram is now part of Facebook, you have to remember that they leverage your social graph in all their product experiences. Not following your friends on a social network can be seen as antisocial behavior in real life -- especially if they already follow you, but here's my take:

Duplicative content is a giant waste of your time.

I've been using Instagram for a decently long time. Long enough that I managed to score the username is @jeffrey (with a little help).


I would argue that it's no longer fair to assume that knowing someone in real life guarantees a boundless relationship with that person online.

Hopefully over time, people will become better curators of the content they consume, and content creators won't assume a built-in audience courtesy of their social graph.


I found myself almost never consuming Instagram content from the app itself because it felt like I had seen most of it already elsewhere. Maybe not the exact picture of your dog or kid that I saw 20 minutes ago, but that's what I call generally duplicative content. It's the "Yeah... OK, I get it..." type of content.

Then there's the exact photo you already saw on Facebook, Liked, and even commented, "Nice!" And it's now being presented to you on Instagram with its own set of comments and hearts. I call this absolutely duplicative content. Frankly, Facebook needs to do a much better job of integrating Instagram content to avoid this issue.

Pop-quiz: Do you also heart it on Instagram?

Instagram made content-sharing to other apps like Twitter and Facebook so simple. Before we could even decide what the etiquette was that answered the question above, Facebook bought Instagram, so the problem (as I saw it) just got worse through their integration.

I effectively stopped looking at my Instagram feed, but did continue to use it to take, filter, and post photos (to Facebook). Early this year, in an effort to reduce overall social media noise from all accounts, I decided to unfollow everyone on Instagram and start over.

Exceptions to everyone were certainly a few close friends and family members, but I also found myself thinking twice about unfollowing some accounts that consistently pushed content I enjoyed and that I wasn't seeing anywhere else.

Those types of content broke down into three categories:

By simply reducing noise, content quality and my subsequent interest level made my feed worth paying attention to again. By starting with only a small number of accounts to follow, I quickly discovered more accounts worth following simply by network effect.

Artists called out galleries or shop accounts who linked back to more artists. Skaters linked skate photo/video/brand accounts that linked back to more skaters. Designers linked to design stuff that lead to more design account discovery.

Instagram has became my absolute favorite source of inspiration.

My Instagram feed is filled with content that amazes me. I feel inspired by and connected to things I care about. I'm constantly finding new content through the network effect built off of my interests -- not my friendships: that's what Facebook is for.


That being said, I did not change the way I share on Instagram. If you follow me, you're getting a constant stream of pictures relating to my cats, my health, what I eat, weird things I find, and basically anything that compels me to point my phone and shoot. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't follow me, but hey...

"One person's trash is another person's treasure."

My point is, broadcast whatever you want. Whoever you are. Tell the story of you through your photos. Try not to carry the expectation of people you know caring about what you share.

Be the first person who cares about your content. By being yourself, others will follow your account for your content -- who cares who those people are? Better they're genuinely interested in what you post. Racking up obligatory virtual high-fives from your social network is worthless.

Here's the challenge:

1) Commit to unfollowing everyone on Instagram.
Don't over-think it, ignore visceral reactions, and go fast. A couple drinks can soothe the sting of imaginary obligation. Slash and burn!

2) If you have to think twice about removing an account (family and close friends included), decide against whether it's duplicative content (generally or explicitly), and if real value is being added to your interest-based consumption experience.

3) Find and follow all arbiters of your interests. Leverage their network. Pay attention to accounts they link to in descriptions and comments. Unfollow them if their account pivots away from your interests.

4) Unfollow anyone who adds too much noise, no matter who they are or what they do. Everyone's tolerance for noise is different. Discover yours, and set a bar.

5) Don't feel obliged to create "in-kind" to how you consume. Do your own thing. Someone out there loves my cat pictures as much as I love 30-second skate videos.

6) Inspiration through photos is a function of interests, not your social connections. Chase what inspires you. Be true to yourself, and inspire others with who you are.

7) From now on, be an active curator of your experience, not a slave to your social network's content. I promise you there's way better content on Instagram than you currently follow.

Instagram's superpower is being an unending path to inspiration. Its weakness is being a tool for mass content duplication. Actively curate over obligatorily consuming. Instagram can be your favorite app again, too.

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