I bought a $20 Instagram Marketing course because I'm at a point in my business where I want to expand and my current marketing outlets aren't providing that growth. When I announced my business last year, I set up an instagram account, created a profile, and then did nothing. A few weeks ago, I started going through the course. It started out pretty basic, talking about how to post and follow people, etc. I felt a bit uncomfortable when the instructors started teaching strategies for getting more likes and followers. In short, it's a lot of tit for tat. Like and comment on other people and hope they return the favor. Seek out similar businesses and see what they are doing, and then see who is following them and start interacting with those people because they are your target audience.
While this might not be my style, I didn't really have any objections to it, and I could imagine how it might be applicable. I found some businesses and accounts in my home town, liked and followed them. I tried using hashtags to expand my audience. I noticed I got quite a few new random follows, and I assume they found me via my hashtags. Still, it felt false. Are they really enjoying my content or are they just trying to build their own followers?
This week, I watched one of the course's bonus modules. It introduced me to an app that is meant to increase social proof. Social proof, when applied to instagram, is the credibility you get from having a high number of likes, comments, and follows. If other people like it, then I'll probably like it, too, right? While I understand the concept and the importance of it in marketing, it brings to mind the peer pressure and social cliques of my teenage years. Still, even though I don't like it, I get it. Anyway, the app in the module is called "Magic Likes Meter." Here's the gist: You sign into the app under your instagram account. Then, you can either buy or earn stars. To earn stars, you are taken to a stream of photos from other instagrammers and you proceed to "like" those pictures as they come at you in random order and completely out of context. 1 like = 1 star. What do the stars get you? You guessed it..."magic likes" from other app users. Tada! You now have 30 likes on your post and therefore instant social proof.
Gag me with a spoon. Seriously...YUCK! This is so false and icky to me that I wish I didn't even know it existed. Perhaps I am overreacting, but as a life coach who stresses the importance of authenticity, this totally revolted me. And it started me questioning instagram as a tool for my business. I am a small, community-oriented business with mostly local clients. My non-local clients have found me through common connections...so organically and authentically. While my growth has been small and slow, I am proud of it.
I do not hate instagram. In fact, I love the visual aspect of it and the small doses of entertainment and inspiration it provides. But I don't want to spend my valuable marketing time mindlessly liking pictures and trying to game instagram for a few more followers. This exercise is making me consider my own journey and what it means to be authentic as I grow my business. Yes, I want social proof, but I don't want to buy it or scam it. I want it to mean something. And a bunch of faceless yahoos using a silly misleading app and liking my pictures to earn their own stars doesn't mean anything. It's not REAL social proof. I guess that's what bothers me most. Like fake news, fake social proof looks a lot like the real thing. It's not real, though, and to me it wouldn't feel real, and I'm not okay with that.
On the flip side, this has made me rethink marketing and how I want to proceed. I'll keep my instagram account, but that isn't going to be my focus. I want to remain small and authentic. I want to be a positive force in my community. I want to help people live their best lives. As I focus on those goals, I start to see creative and meaningful ways to reach out. Stay tuned.