“You have 15 minutes left today. Continue viewing?” I know I’m not the only person who sets time limits on their social media viewing—but, more often than not, I ignore my timer warning, especially when it comes to Instagram.
When I first joined the app almost six years ago, I shared highly-filtered, somewhat grainy photos (shoutout to that iPhone 5 camera!) of random baseball games and teen novels I was reading. Now, I post around once a month and love to share photos of myself with my friends and boyfriend. It’s fun to look back and see the maturation of not only my posting habits but also my “following” tendencies. For example, I’ve unfollowed acquaintances from high school and instead filled my feed with inspiring DIY interior designers and fearless Marie Kondo-driven organizers.
Living in a time where social media permeates almost every aspect of life, it’s important to check in with yourself about your online presence and consumption. Here are a few questions I find it helpful to ask myself whenever I open that enticing, multicolored app.
Whom am I doing this for?
Working in corporate communications, this is something I think about with every email, online post, or company-wide missive I write. Sometimes I yearn for those early years of Instagram where I wasn’t worried about how my skin looked in every photo, what I was wearing, or if my followers cared about how often I was posting. Although I don’t think it’s wrong to want to post pictures where my friends and I look put-together and are having fun, I do struggle with “who’s my audience?”
If I want to post something, I’ll sometimes look back at my previous posts. Not too long ago, I realized how many recent posts were photos of me—alone. Although they had more likes, this was the reality check I needed about why I was using Instagram. I was no longer posting photos to share and commemorate happy memories; I was posting them for the validations I received from the likes they garnered. But why care about all those likes anyway? When I looked back even further at my posts, it was apparent that the only people who consistently liked every post were the people I consider good friends offline who reacted to my photos because they know me and my life, not just because I posted a cute solo shot. And these are also the only people I really want to post for.
Once I reframed the intent in my mind and started ignoring the number of likes I was receiving, the less obsessed I was with refreshing my notifications to see if I was reaching a certain threshold of “hearts” on my photo.
When you go to post your next picture or story, identify who your audience is—are you doing this for you, or are you doing this because you want specific people to see your content? If you’re using it as a means of digital scrapbooking to look back on, that’s great! However, if you’re posting to grab the attention of a guy you like, or subtly including your latest expensive purchase in your photo, it might be time to re-evaluate.
Does this spark joy for me outside of Instagram?
After you’ve identified your audience, I recommend asking the timeless Marie Kondo question, “Does this spark joy?” Just like the real-life clutter in our lives, our feeds can become overrun with superfluous content. When I’m looking at my own posts, this question takes a slightly different form: “Is this authentic to me outside of Instagram?”
I’ve gotten more comfortable with the latter question the longer I’ve had an account. Now, I will share posts from some of my favorite religious accounts, Verily quotes of the day, and songs I’m listening to on my story. Instagram can be a great place to discover beautiful things, and anything I reshare is a public reflection of me. Maybe it’s aspirational, but beauty attracts beauty, and I’m no longer afraid to make public the things I hold important—even if they spark conversation.
For example, I’ve never been one to use my social media as a political or social justice platform; I’ve always preferred having those types of sensitive conversations in person. This year, however, I realized I could no longer stay silent on the abortion conversation, especially when it popped up in so many forms on Instagram. This is a big part of my life—from the pro-life dialogue work I did in college to my ongoing support of local pregnancy resource centers—and it felt inauthentic to hide a part of me I’m so open about offline. I began sharing photos, statistics, and other posts that I believe empathetically take on the hurt, anger, and frustration that usually accompany abortion messages online. Even if some followers disagreed, I was surprised at the number of positive interactions friends and even coworkers had with the very same content I’d been too scared to share for years.
Just like considering your audience, consider your content. For years, I felt like I couldn’t share a deep-held belief on social media because it might stir up controversy—but then I realized I wasn’t being true to myself and was worried too much about how other people would view me. Sharing my opinions gave me so much more peace, especially because I felt confident having the conversations that my posts might spark. Feeling joyful, rather than critical or anxious, when looking at your own content is half the battle.
Let’s turn from the inward to the outward. It’s easy to find anyone, anything, and any brand on Instagram with only a few keywords. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve gone down a rabbit hole and clicked a tag in a celebrity’s photo only to find myself on some indie photographer’s personal account a few taps later. Just like finding the joy within your own content, find what sparks joy in your feed—and clean out what doesn’t.
For me, I know my Instagram temptations—if I follow certain clothing brands, I’m more likely to click their links and suddenly end up with five things in my shopping basket. Much like unsubscribing from emails, unfollowing accounts that you know affect you in a negative way is important. That could mean something different for every woman—whether it’s clothing, celebrities, or fitness accounts—but if there’s content in your feed that sends you down a spiral, it’s not worth it.
I always remind myself when I unfollow an account that I can always refollow them later; also, most large brands and public figures are public accounts anyway, so you can always look them up and see posts without seeing their content in your feed. If you’re not ready to unfollow completely, you can also mute posts and stories by going to the profile, clicking on the “following” dropdown, and choosing “mute.”
Same profile, new me!
When spring cleaning my online presence, I also ask myself the following: “Do the people and companies I follow reflect my values and goals?” Instagram can be a time sucker, true, but it can also be a great resource. When I started following more women of faith and credentialed news accounts, rather than CW celebrities, I felt more at ease when scrolling through the app.
What do you want to learn? I’ve seen people make beautiful embroidery and paintings, women sharing parenting tips, and people my age sharing the reality of running their own businesses and balancing their new marriages. If there’s something you want to learn more about—you can find it! Instagram has inspired me to pick up passions I had let collect dust.
If there’s one takeaway from all the questions I’ve posed, I’ll sum it up in one of my grandmother’s favorite quotes, “Put garbage in, get garbage out.” Spending a little more time being intentional about both the content you post and follow on Instagram will, I hope, foster more joy and liveliness (and minimize the pressure) when it comes to using “the gram” each day.