Forever chasing a big following

Up until a couple of years ago I was still worried thinking I needed a big following on social media (particularly on Instagram). That’s the world we live in right now, isn’t it? You need followers on Instagram, or something like that.

Even if we hate the whole idea, we are out there chasing likes, trying to have a bigger “audience” or “social media presence”. We’re reading about how to beat an ever changing algorithm (funny because before social media most people didn’t know what algorithm means) to see if we can make it to the top with hundreds of thousand or millions of followers loving our work and saying how great we are.

And there I was, posting consistently (I still do, but not for those reasons) because some “expert” said I had to if I wanted to grow my following; hoping that each new post would bring more people to my page and they would like my work enough to hit the follow button; getting frustrated when a photo wasn’t as popular as I thought it would be.

Then last year I had a thought: I knew a lot about the “algorithm” so how could I have a bit over 3,000 followers and only get 50 likes on my posts?

PS: I’ll post a few of my photos here just so you don’t get tired of so much text ;P

My work is not popular

Then I realised – this was about the time I was changing my style, going away from the “popular” styles and trying to find my own – my work is not popular anymore. I was following an advice I received a while back telling me to “stop doing what’s popular and trendy, everyone is doing that. Go find your own thing and some people will love it, some people will hate it. And that’s how it goes with art”!

Now, when people ask me about my “artistic” choices, “artistic” this or that, how did I become an “artist”, my first answer is always “I’m not an artist”.

I don’t consider myself an artist. But that’s a subject for another time, or probably better discussed over a pint of Guinness.

So there I was, trying to grow a following and have better engagement from my followers, with work that’s not popular or trendy.

Should I stay or should I go?

The way I saw it, I had two choices: go back to creating popular/trendy content or stop caring altogether! And I chose the latter.

Yes I still try to post every day, I do have enough content to keep going even if I stop shooting, but I stopped caring about how my posts are received by people. Maybe you like it, maybe you don’t. I’m not gonna be sad or angry if you don’t, trust me!

But this is just an introduction, not the reason I started removing/blocking followers, although to an extent, it is related.

So why do I do it?

One day last year, I thought about the engagement thing again, probably after reading an article in some photography website.

I had a lot of free time in my hands so I went to check who my followers were. Just a bit over 3,000, it should be easy to check one by one. After looking at about 500 followers I realised how many of them were just people who would never engage with my content. If you follow 5,000 people, how can you engage with anyone???

But not only that, there were lots of MEN who had nothing to do with photography, fashion, acting, advertising… in other words, not the people I need following me.

Why would I want Jack, male and single, who loves to ride motorcycles to follow me? I have nothing against Jack and his choices, but what can Jack bring to my business? He follows 10,000 accounts, most of them are beautiful girls. Good on him, searching for true love. But sorry mate, you don’t belong here.

And then I realised I was being followed by all these men looking for pretty girls. You might thing that is not a big deal and I shouldn’t care, but remember there are two things I advocate for: I want women to see their real beauty in a world of skin retouching and filters; and I want all young models I coach to be safe – I’m not saying they need my protection, not at all, most women I know are incredibly strong, intelligent and can take of themselves.

No, thank you

And so it begins.

With all that free time, I went through my 3,000+ followers, one by one, removing some and blocking others. If you’re a single guy living the life, good on you, but you’re gone; if you don’t have anything to do with photography, modelling, fashion, advertising, etc, and you’re not family or a real friend, sorry but no thanks.

After three days, I had 1,400 followers.

And guess what? The number of people liking or commenting on my photos stayed the same. Then I went further and stopped following accounts. I was following over 1,000 accounts and couldn’t keep up with my feed! But that’s another story.

Now, after about a year, I have around 2,400 followers, and every single one of the new 1,000 were checked, plus the other 5,000 that were checked, and removed. It may sound like a lot of work, and it is at first when you want to get rid of the ones already there, but after that, it’s pretty easy. Every time you get new followers, you check them and decide who gets to stay and who has to go.

And you might be asking: why not just make your profile private and decline the requests you don’t want to follow you? I’m a photographer, my Instagram is part of my portfolio and marketing efforts. If my profile was private, I could be missing out on art buyers or other potential clients seeing my work. That’s why.

Then what?

Now I keep on top of it.

Every new follower I get, gets checked. If you are part of the industry I’m in, if you’re not family, a friend, a potential client or collaborator, I’m sorry, I’ll remove you.

If you stay on top of it, it’s pretty easy. It’s overwhelming having to go through thousands of accounts, but if you check every new one… easy!

And if I think you’re just chasing girls (like the examples below), I’ll not remove you, but block you.

Don’t take it personally – or do – I do this because my Instagram is a place for me to network with other creatives and a way to show my work to potential clients, not for people to find pretty girls.

PS: I have nothing against retouchers, but I know they are useless as followers and every time one follows me, there’s a message request offering their services, so they get removed. They don’t even bother checking what I stand for!!!