Despite the title of this post – I promise you the only politics I’ll be discussing are the ones that surround social media. Yesterday as I was taking the train to Manhattan and reading my new favorite book, I glanced up for a second to take in the chapter before moving on. A young man sat next to me, 27 years old at most, scrolling through his Spotify playlist. Across from him an elderly woman with her glasses on, peeled to her iPhone X Max screen. My eyes were shifting from corner to corner and I realized right there and there that every single person on the train was looking at their phone. Every. Single. One. For a second, I got mad at myself. I, too, spend a lot of time on my phone – in fact, during press trips (trips curated by hospitality brands) I average 7-8 hours of screen time. That is almost 33% of the entire 24 hour day and over 50% of the time I spend awake (on average from 7AM – 10PM). Holy Shit. That is bad.

Balance vs. Patience

Back to the train ride. Unfortunately, I stopped reading and started thinking about how detrimental all of this really is and how little we speak about it. In fact, we promote it. Most of us are marinating in the desire to experience fulfillment without any delays: we want information instantly from a simple Google search and packages that come overnight (overnight? same day!) And I struggle to figure out whether this pleasure principle on steroids is a blessing or a curse. Surely, there are a myriad of benefits to receiving information, experiences or products in a timely manner and I will never discount the incredible technological strides that have been made even in my lifetime alone. Lately I see the word “discipline” pop up. It’s easier for older generations (perhaps ending with my own) to find a balance between desires and a realistic sense of patience and timing. After all, technology didn’t fully enter my life until I was in my teens. Therefore I do recognize that it is, in fact, possible to enjoy parts of my life without it. But for younger generations, like my ten year old sister who got access to the family iPad at the age of 4, the idea of discipline when it comes to technology is like discipline during the first few hours of Halloween. Will she stop eating candy? Of course not.

In one corner we have our desires, in the other our patience. Is it a clean fight? Think about it and meet me at the bottom to hear my thoughts.

Enter my friend, Instagram. Instagram mastered the psychology of instant gratification: immediate feedback from our followers is the very fuel of our constant connectedness . The platform was built entirely on how quickly you receive feedback from your audience and every Instagram algorithm myth points to one thing: the faster and more people interact with your posts, the more likely it is to succeed. For many users who use the platform as a fun way to share their daily lives, this obviously may not mean much. But as creators, the desire for instant feedback becomes practically hardwired in our brains. The problem with Instagram is that there is no longer a proven formula for success. On virtually every other social portal, there are strategies that you can use to succeed while on Instagram it is a hit or miss with every single post.

Instagram is a space that you can’t leave if you want to succeed. Over the last two weeks, I’ve seen my engagement drop by nearly 30% for no apparent reason. I admit, I haven’t been posting my best but it certainly isn’t my worst. I did nothing out of the ordinary: I posted at my peak engagement times, I used similar hashtags that brought me thousands of views in the past, and I interacted with my followers. How can one mold together a strategy for growth and success when critical build blocks like quality content, consistency and interaction are simply not enough? Furthermore, brands that work with creators often ask for recent stats (ie. reach, impressions, and interactions over the last week-month). The latter stats are mainly impacted by how often you post – therefore, even taking a day off from posting can shift the numbers by thousands, consequently resulting in a lost deal. To deepen the matter, it is evident that not everyone is impacted in the same way. Many people experience random spikes in engagement (thousands of percentage worth) which can also be detrimental in the eyes of brands that may see it as numerical manipulation. Others continue to grow at exponential rates, only to have their morale shut down when the growth spurts swiftly come to an end. And, of course, one too many creators resort to participating in giveaways over and over to continue “growing” (I don’t see a problem with an occasional giveaway but lately, even my favorite accounts have been doing them on a weekly basis which is a clear manipulation of follower count).

It is difficult to avoid comparing yourself when the successes and failures of others are right in front of your screen. Likewise, it is impossible not to take it seriously especially for those that make a living from social media. So what can we do?

  1. Diversify –
    I will always have a love-hate relationship with Instagram. You guessed it, I love it when my posts do well and when I am able to have deep and meaningful conversations with my followers. I hate it when I put hours of time and effort into a photo, only to see it get lost in a sea of “viral-quality” photos that all look the same. As the old saying goes, “don’t put all your eggs into one basket.” Ask yourself, if Instagram shut down tomorrow how will it impact you? Your business? If the answer is “significantly” – you MUST consider other options. For example, there is a clear set of rules and gupidelines to building a successful blog. There are literally boxes you can check off to ensure that you are on track. Will it take time? Lots of it. But its a process that can’t fail. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Pinterest are all areas that you can tap into that will bring you a new set of eyes and a potential to succeed. If you are not diversifying your reach, you are setting yourself up for failure.
  2. Learn a new skill / perfect an old one –
    If Instagram fails, you can still be a tremendous asset to brands that are hiring visual creators. Photography, videography and visual storytelling are indispensable skills for any marketing campaign. There is a plethora of [free] tutorials online – perfect your skills and you can succeed in the space even as a freelancer!
  3. Support other creators –
    Take some time out of your day to acknowledge accounts that evidently put hard work into their content. Take more than a second to think about your comment. Don’t comment one word … answer a question if there is one, go into a little more detail and tell them why you like that particular image. Kind or meaningful words can truly make creators feel like their work matters and it can start a great relationship.
  4. Make friends & start a support team! –
    Last Halloween, three of my good friends (also creators) and I took a photo together in our costumes. Each one of us had a different take on the editing style and we decided to create a “Superhero Chain.” When we posted our photos, we asked our followers to click through on every other account to “follow the chain” until they saw all of our editing styles of the same photo. This idea brought thousands of new engaged users to each of our profiles and many other accounts followed our lead and did similar kinds of chains! Support is the best thing you can offer – especially to people who are dealing with similar struggles.

5. Educate brands –
If you are a creator faced with the challenge of constantly keeping your stats leveled, take that as an opportunity to educate brands on what numbers they should be looking at. Social media marketing is still in its infancy and many brands are simply not equipped to have all the answers. Recently I started posting less on social media and my stats took a hit. When brands ask me for weekly or monthly numbers, I am braced with information on why there were dips in the numbers and I also show previous months data to further support my argument. The point is that you shouldn’t stop yourself from taking time off the portal in fear of losing “critical value” through your insights. In any case, a brand that only cares about numbers is not a brand worth working with.

6. Limit your time on social media –
Did you know that on average it takes roughly 90 minutes to finish a 100 page book? If we look back at my screen time from the start of the article (7-8 hours) by that logic I can read over 500 pages in the same amount of time that I spend on my phone throughout the day. Of course, 7-8 hours of screen time only happens in extraneous circumstances while I am working … and 7-8 hours of reading straight is unlikely on a regular day … but you get my point. Even taking 25% of the time you spend on your phone and investing it into a book about starting a business or a self help guide can get you jump-started on living a fulfilling life outside the screen of your phone. If you don’t enjoy reading, spend that time watching online tutorials or working out or doing a task that you enjoy

7. Divide and Conquer –
Another way to limit the time you spend glued to your phone, is to divide your day into tasks. Allow yourself a dedicated amount of time to spend answering emails, interacting on social media, reading, working out, etc. This is not an easy task but once you get into the habit of disciplining yourself, you’ll come out of it with a clearer head and a lot more time to do the things you love. The latter will help you easily prioritize the things that are most important and most beneficial to you. To help you get started, add some positive reinforcement to your daily tasks! For example, if you spend the first two hours of your day without your phone and completing other important tasks – treat yourself to your favorite dessert, or a glass of wine or a small purchase.

8. Keep Having Fun –

Instagram was always meant to be a place where you share things simply because you want to share them. It should’ve never turned into a space where everyone aims to create similar type of content because certain content is favored more other (think: girl running from the camera in a pretty outfit with a nice backdrop). Keep posting and stop dwelling on the outcome – quality work will always come out on top. If it doesn’t work out on Instagram, you should always keep a portfolio of everything that you created and it will certainly benefit you in another dimension!

There is a strong chance that social media and overall “screen time” is taking up a large chunk of your life. After all, you’re in front of a screen right now. I struggle with this every day and the more I come to my senses about the opportunity cost of being away from a computer or cell phone or social media – the more I want to advocate for the benefits that come with it. If your device gives you the option to see screen time (iOS devices have this in settings), take a look at the average amount of time you spend on your phone. This will be a good starting point for you to be honest with yourself. Time is the most precious commodity you have and at the end of the day you have a choice of how to use it: do you value deep and meaningful connections that happen in person or will you risk not making those connections at all because you’re too busy on your phone?