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February 9, 2024 —

Rekindling our relationship with Instagram

Brand designer, creative mentor and writer Sarah Robertson recollects the golden era of Instagram and considers how we might revive its once vibrant community spirit
rekindling creativity when using Instagram
Sarah Robertson
brand designer, creative mentor and writer,

Photography

Anna Considine
Photographer,
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Can you remember the first photo you shared on Instagram? The thrill of those early likes and follows, all wrapped up in the promise of discovery and creativity? It was a time when every post felt like a window into another world, and a simple hashtag could transport you into a shared human experience. Fast forward to today, and the landscape of the platform has transformed dramatically. What once felt like a vibrant neighbourhood now looks like a crowded marketplace, and I wonder, can we recapture its charm?

Lately, when faced with creative block while using social media, I’ve been thinking about how to shift my approach to work better for me. I’ve let go of Facebook and Twitter (or X), and LinkedIn may follow, but I still carry a torch for Instagram. Perhaps it’s nostalgia for the halcyon days of vintage photos and grainy filters, or maybe it’s the potential the app still holds to nurture a sense of belonging. Whatever has me longing for the good times, it is a powerful reminder of the impact it once had.

Since its inception in 2010, this once simple photo-sharing platform has transformed into a behemoth with over a billion users and was the most downloaded app at the end of last year, closely followed by its kid sister, Threads. This growth, while motivating for those who continue to benefit from it, has also led to increased saturation, making the experience feel repetitive and, at times, overwhelming.

rekindling creativity when using InstagramReshaping your approach to Instagram

For design studio Paper&Cloth, Instagram has been instrumental in growing its audience and showcasing the stunning work produced by its artists. But there have been hurdles along the way. Laura Yates commented, “The push towards heavily favouring video content has been a real challenge. To fully take in the beautiful details, our natural inclination is towards print and illustration that lends itself to a still format. We’ve experimented with reels and simple animations to keep things fresh, but we have a hankering for the old days when you could appreciate a beautiful still image!”

It would be easy to think that the days of genuine connection and artistic expression are behind us, but I believe we can reignite that spark and actively shape how we want our community to look and feel. Instagram exists, after all, as a largely free platform that enables its users to grow accounts and do business, often without investing a penny. Some argue that algorithm changes and commercial pressures have negatively altered the experience. There’s merit to these concerns; indeed, the push towards monetisation and the prioritisation of video content adds a certain weight. But the power to reshape things rests in our hands.

rekindling creativity when using InstagramPaper&Cloth has a separate account for their Stories trend subscription, which is better suited to moving content. Laura adds, “Reels are a great way to give a quick overview of work we love, a sneak peek of our latest issue or reveal a delicious new colour palette. Finding exciting artists to share with our following has reignited our love for Instagram. It feels much more like the inspirational and supportive community it used to be.“

Renewing social media creativity 

Can we find ways to foster that feeling of connection and creativity within the constraints we face? I asked Anna Considine, founder of Studio Gently, about her enthusiasm for the platform. “I keep my passion going by remembering that to me, Instagram isn’t about likes or follows, it’s people. The platform has changed a lot over the years, but the community I have found there remains the best thing about it. They make me continue to engage and make using the app enjoyable! It’s very telling that it was my biggest source of client leads in 2023, so this year I’m planning to build on the success it brought.”

I echo these sentiments as, in the past three years – since the launch of my branding studio – Instagram has been my greatest source of business. So, while the space looks very different from the one we once knew, perhaps it’s less about returning to a past version and more about adapting our approach.

One of the ways I’ve done this is to invite a sense of fun back to the platform. Earlier this year, I decided to plan an Instagram challenge and invited Anna to co-host #CreativeLeapFebruary with me. We created the prompts in a slow, simple, sustainable way, so it’s not your typical daily posting affair; it’s an invitation to rest, reflect and rediscover your energy for showing up and sharing. And to weave in tiny moments from our lives and work.

Of course, promotion has its place, and businesses wouldn’t survive or thrive without bringing attention to their products and services. But we will likely enjoy it more if we bring playfulness and personality into the process. That’s what challenges like this one are about—being open to experimentation and curating an experience for ourselves that feels aligned, focused and joyful.

rekindling creativity when using Instagram

5 ways to positively adapt your use of Instagram

  1. Confront overwhelm
    Acknowledging the overwhelm and saturation I’ve felt on social media has opened the door to ongoing discussions about how we, as a digital society, can address the challenges. It’s not just about individual adaptation but communal efforts to redefine our digital spaces for the better. Collaboration, I’ve found, is essential.
  2. Diversify engagement
    Relying solely on one platform is a risky business. While a large percentage of my business comes from Instagram, this has prompted me to diversify and cultivate that sense of belonging in other spaces, too. So I’m experimenting with Substack, pouring time and care into my website, and becoming more active on Pinterest.
  3. Encourage sustainability
    To truly enjoy social media, I believe we ought to move away from the pressures and stresses of consistency. Not only can the word feel constrictive, but is it sustainable to share or show up in a way that doesn’t feel good? I advocate for a slower approach where Instagram is just one part of the big picture.
  4. Curate, curate, curate
    Tailor your experience of using the app to support your emotional wellbeing. Be selective about who you follow and how it feels, and move towards shaping your feed in a way that feels less noisy and more nourishing. And try not to let the pressure to perform diminish the fun and joy that Instagram can bring.
  5. Build community
    Is your experience filled with genuine connections and meaningful conversations? If not, it’s worth exploring ways to deepen these aspects, such as engaging in comments on your own posts and the posts of others, forming or joining groups with shared interests, or participating in initiatives like #CreativeLeapFebruary.

Let’s reclaim Instagram as a space for creativity, rediscover the joy of sharing, and build the kind of social media outlet we all yearn for – one post, one comment, one connection at a time.

___________________________

Sarah is a brand designer, creative mentor and writer. She collaborates with clients to define their vision, craft beautiful visuals and discover their voice through her studio, These Are The Days.  You can learn more about Sarah on InstagramPinterest and Substack. She also shares seasonal Inside Story letters with her email community and co-hosts the Gathering Stories club, a monthly co-working session dedicated to content creation.

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