How to Win on Instagram: Be Authentic

I’ve been noticing a trend on Instagram recently—it’s always been there—that has become a real turnoff for me. It revolves around living life through a filter, but it goes far beyond just trying to make the mundane seem magical (something that should totally be encouraged, because, why not look for the beauty in every day life?).

Note that this article (rant?) won’t so much apply to a brand or retail store necessarily, but if you’re a jewelry designer (or simply an Instagram user) who seeks to connect with your followers, not only through product but through the human experience, then this is for you. (Just as consumers are demanding more artisan goods, they wouldn’t mind knowing the people behind those goods, too.)

It’s something that I first started noticing with many of the travel-related accounts I follow—or, I should say, used to follow. They’re insanely popular—hundreds of thousands of followers, if not more—with timelines that are impossibly inconsistent. One moment they’re in Turkey, the next, Japan, and the next, Niagara Falls, N.Y. I don’t care how many airline miles you have, that’s just not possible. I don’t want a random snap from each of your trips that have happened over the last 10 years. I want to follow your journey with you. I want you to talk to me, tell me about where you are currently, what you’re eating, how the weather is. If you’re exploring London, post some photos from London. Post 100, I don’t care (okay, not all at once). But don’t pretend you’re hopping all over the globe like you’ve discovered how to bend time and space. It’s not realistic, even if your photos and experiences are.

Then there’s the constant illusion that life is always glamorous. For some, it may be, but for most, that’s not the case. I know that many influencers feel the need to keep a certain image alive—their followers perhaps expect it—but is it necessary to post photos of yourself from a party two weeks ago if you’re really spending the night in sweats cleaning the bathtub? Yes, share photos from that swanky party from two weeks ago, but in a timely manner. Even if you’re one of the most glamorous human beings on the platform (or at least, strive to obtain that image)—you’re still human. Remind us of that.

At the same time that Instagram has an authenticity problem—so many curated accounts are starting to look the same, aren’t they?—it’s also experiencing the exact opposite: a rebellion against inauthenticity (this article from A Beautiful Mess’ Elsie Larson sums it up quite well). There are a number of high-profile accounts that are enjoyable to follow because, despite the fact that yes, they do have very fashionable, aspirational lives, there’s a palpable realness to them, too. Visit any of their feeds, and sure, you’ll find pretty filters and photos cropped so that you can’t see the mess of toys or pile of clothes in the corner, but that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with putting an Instagram filter on life, it’s just more relatable if it’s real life. It’s when your epic nights of wearing amazing designer clothes to an exclusive event or a beautiful, week-long island vacation where you took the most breathtaking photos mix with Friday nights in eating pizza and hanging out with the cat. They strike a delicate balance that says, “My life might be more adventurous or glamorous than yours, but I sometimes struggle, too.” Stars, they’re just like us!

(Via @evachen212)

They share videos from the front row at NYFW, all while giving us a peek at their family lives at home (Eva Chen is brilliant at this). They take us through their journeys with illness, infertility, and pregnancy (Leandra Medine Cohen, a brand in her own right, has done this beautifully and openly, as have Kimberly Lapides of @eatsleepwear and Chiara Ferragni, arguably one of the biggest social media stars in the world). Even full-blown celebs such as Chrissy Teigen, Kristen Bell, and Tracee Ellis Ross—people who some may find hard to relate to given their Hollywood status—impart an openness to their lives that brings them closer to their followers.

Elsie Larson Instagram

(Via @elsielarson)

“You sound awfully cranky, Britt, what’s the takeaway here for business owners?” First of all, you’re right—maybe I’m just reaching a point in my life where I feel that I don’t have time for bs. But who does, really?

As for advice: Above all, be authentic. Tell your story. Use your voice.

(Via @chrissyteigen)

You don’t have to bare your soul if you’re not comfortable with that (though there is always a welcome place for frank, honest discussion). You also shouldn’t shy away from filtered or edited photos if that’s your art—Instagram is still a place for the visually stimulating. Just don’t try to put one over on your audience—they’re smarter than you think.

That jewelry design you spent forever on is finally complete. Was it difficult to make? Did it require trial and error or take two years to find perfectly matched gemstones? Tell us about it. The challenges you overcame to realize this beautiful creation just makes it all the more special—surely to you, but to your audience as well. Sell it and shout it from the rooftops, but try to inject something personal, too, particularly if you want your followers and/or customers to connect with you as a designer and as a human (again, a strictly brand-only page plays by different rules).

I’m not saying that there aren’t perfect moments in life that shouldn’t be shared—not everything comes with a side of drama or defeat. I’ve simply come to realize that not all of life’s moments are like this, and we shouldn’t pretend that they are. In a world divided, people are looking for human connection more than ever and crave things that they can relate to. Maybe this is why it seems like more people are opening up via their Instagram photos and Stories (or maybe, I’ve just curated the people I follow to reflect this philosophy). Which brings me to this reminder: If you find that scrolling through your feed is making you feel blue (this study revealed that Instagram in particular is not so great for mental health), unfollow the accounts that don’t make you feel good. Why put yourself through the stress and anxiety of comparing yourself to others?

As we move into the second quarter of the year, try to follow this simple philosophy. Don’t overthink it, don’t post something if it’s just for the sake of showing off (or, to get the maximum amount of likes), and, above all, connect.

(Top photo via @womenirl)

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