Instagram is a tough nut for writers to crack. It’s a visual platform where pictures and videos of attractive people being good-looking in varying scenarios get the most attention. Image is king on Instagram. Plenty of people have, of course, used the captions of their photos to share their writing. The text is nearly always rooted in the image, though. Those of us who start with text first have trouble getting the platform to work for us. There have been writing success stories on Instagram — users who share their writing (usually in the images) and gathered large followings. The Instapoetry ecosystem has produced a few stars.
I never really could figure out what to do with my Instagram besides sharing my essays with excerpts from the text in the captions. I don’t live the kind of life that plays well on the platform. In addition, I’d been thinking of abandoning my account for ethical reasons. Facebook (which owns Instagram) is being revealed to be a bad actor in new ways almost weekly. A recent U.K. parliamentary report said Facebook behaved like “digital gangsters” — pretty strong language that I think is probably warranted. I decided to stay on both Facebook and Instagram, because I’ve dug up some pretty useful receipts on the sites. People tell on themselves on the platforms, and sometimes I need to be listening. I also decided to keep sharing my work and start microblogging in earnest.
A couple of weeks ago, I had an itch to discuss Marie Kondo and the snide, racist remarks three prominent White Feminists made against her on Twitter. A couple of spicy tweets wouldn’t suffice, and I didn’t want to write a full-blown essay and post it to Medium. I just wanted to get a few things off my chest. Instagram’s 2,200 character limit (around 375 words) seemed like the perfect place for a bit of a rant. I made a simple graphic reading “Marie Kondo vs. White Feminism” and posted my thoughts in the caption. Surprisingly, it got over 140 likes. That’s a small number, but I had only 100 followers at the time. Given how fiddly it is to repost on Instagram, I was genuinely shocked to get more likes than I had followers. I was also surprised to see the post popping up in people’s stories. The biggest surprise was picking up a bunch of followers and two new patrons (a commenter asked if I had Patreon and I got two signups when I replied with the link). My next microblog “Why I Don’t Engage With ‘Not All White People!’ Arguments” did even better. In combination with the Marie Kondo post, it helped me double my number of followers.
The thing I was most surprised by was how impactful simple text on a plain background was. I thought Instagram users would punt the simple graphics into the sun. I take much more care with some of my other posts, none of which have done as well as my microblogs. The biggest lesson of all this has been that I was overthinking things and comparing my account to others that are performing entirely different functions than mine. I’m still at the very beginning of this experiment, but so far it’s going much better than I could have imagined. It’s my writing that’s making the difference. That’s what I’m going to double down on.