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Sensi Magazine

Insta-Grams

Mar 14, 2019 05:36PM ● By Robyn Lawrence
This year Facebook, the social media elder, turns 15. A ripe old age in digital years and has officially been taken over by baby boomers, who have quickly stepped in to fill the void as gen zs and gen zs (along with millennials, to an extent) ditch their parents’ platform for fresher, brighter realms like Instagram and Snapchat. The over-55 users posting grandkid pics and ranting about trump are Facebook’s second-largest, fastest-growing demographic.

Facebook stopped being cool as soon as Mom and Grandma could and did comment on your posts and friend request your friends. Worse, they turned it political, which means sour, and those negative vibes aren’t what millennials like 29 year old Caitlin Moakley want to see on their phones.

“I don’t find hope on Facebook,” Moakley says. “I find that’s where thoughts go to die. Facebook is kind of like the retirement home for social media.

”Instagram, on the other hand the no-longer-upstart platform which Facebook bought when it was a year old in 2012, let’s not forget grew from 500 million to 1 billion active monthly users last year (one user for every dollar Mark Zuckerberg spent to acquire it). That’s still less than half the number of Facebook users, but here’s the big difference: 90 percent of Instagram users are younger than 35, according to Brandwatch. Half of these young consumers follow brands on Instagram, where engagement, as measured by likes, shares, and comments, is 10 times higher than Facebook, according to Forrester. More than 25 million companies are already building (or attempting to build) loyal followings on the platform.

“When you talk about millennials, you are talking about Instagram by default. If you want to reach a young audience, you have to be on Instagram,” says 54-year-old Zoe Helene, founder of educational advocacy group Cosmic Sister (COSMICSISTER.COM). Helene contracted Moakley’s company Soil and Spirit (SOILANDSPIRIT.NET), which helps small businesses in the natural products, cannabis, and psychedelic communities create digital content, to help build an Instagram presence for Cosmic Sister and one of its major campaigns, #psychedelicfeminism.

Helene is at the bottom of the wide boomer arc that tops out at 67 and 68 year old, and she’s among a first wave to see Instagram’s potential for connection, promotion, and community building. The last couple years have seen the debut of what the New York Times calls the “glamorous grandmas of Instagram,” stylish elders who are asserting their presence in part to subvert “shopworn notions of what ‘old’ looks and feels like.”

These women are hip, irreverent, and not afraid to say what’s on their minds. They’re strutting it, winning big, and projecting confidence in aging well. Their attitude could perhaps be best summed up by 71-year-old Australian knitwear designer Jenny Kee, @JennyKeeoz, who told the Times, “If we are going to be in a nursing home, we’ll be there with our marijuana, our health foods, and our great sense of style.”

Big Sista Insta’s Always Watching You
Helene hired Soil and Spirit because she believes that “for older women to work properly on Instagram, they need to work with younger women.” She continues to set overall strategy and vision for her feed, but needed someone with innate Instagram sensibility and experienced thumbs. “My millennial thumbs haven’t downloaded yet,” she says.

Helene often gets into conversations with fellow boomers about their fear of this youth-oriented platform. “You can’t ignore it,” she tells them. “That’s a surefire way of being perceived as irrelevant.” If they’re feeling intimidated, she advises, “hire a wicked smart millennial, pay them, respect them, and respect their knowledge.”

Moakley, who has been using social media since she was in high school and Instagram since college, knows the platform like her thumbs know the phone in her hand. She finds it intuitive and user-friendly, but she empathizes with older people who haven’t grown up as digital natives. “I mean, cutting and pasting, spacing out your lines,” she says. “Who would have known this stuff? It’s not just laid out for you.”

Aside from the technicalities of posting, hashtagging, building audience, knowing who to follow, and creating stories and videos, there’s etiquette to Instagram that boomers who cut their teeth in the militant, factional Facebook trenches might not get. Following someone but never liking or commenting on their posts makes you a “ghost follower.” After you post, you’re expected to reply to people’s comments within the hour and Instagram will show it to more followers if you do (creepy).

Apparently, Big Sista Insta (the no-less-powerful younger sibling of Big Brother Facebook) is always watching. You can make her happy by making use of all she has to offer, creating content for IGTV (an app for watching long-form, vertical video), carefully curating your favorite stories, and engaging your followers via story polls. She doesn’t like it when you edit your post’s caption or location tag in the first 24 hours (no one can say why).

In return, she’ll give you data like you’ve never had it before. For Helene, who sold digital insight tools like the ones available for free with an Instagram business account to Fortune 100 companies for hundreds of thousands of dollars back in the early 1990s, this is nothing short of miraculous. “Instantaneously, I know I have by far the most followers in New York and LA and that 46 percent of them are aged 25 to 34,” she says. “I have a pie chart here that’s changing in real time. When I post a ton of goddess-y stuff, my male percentage goes down and I’m fine with that. Our #MaleAllies are welcome, but I suspect some of those followers were probably there to pick up chicks anyway.”

Embrace and Heal Your Inner Dork
Instagram is about images and image, curated and filtered, elegantly presented. It’s one reason we take more pictures every two minutes than we took during the entire nineteenth century (according to fStoppers) and why we’re willing to fork over four figures for a superior camera in our phones. Creating an Insta avatar who stays on brand, only wins, and spreads love to her band of followers is tempting #goals.

Image through collaboration and community very precisely chosen and developed community is everything here. It’s not about mutual “friendships” like Facebook. You can follow and unfollow anyone you like (as long as they have a public account), and no one has to follow anyone back. You will be judged by how many followers you have and how many you follow and who they are. They’re as much a part of the image you’re building as the content you post. If it sounds a lot like a junior high popularity contest, well…you might have to embrace and heal your inner dork if you want to play big on Instagram.

You build community with hashtags, which were introduced by Twitter but came into their own on Instagram. You can figure out what matters to your audience by checking out what hashtags they use and follow, and you can start interacting with the top hashtags in your niche to get noticed. Instagram lets you have 30 hashtags on a post and 10 on a story, and you can experiment with using a lot or a few, broad or narrow. As Helene is quick to point out, “It’s all a game.”

“You’re putting forth the highlight reel of your life, and when you tap through your Instagram story or scroll through your Facebook profile at the end of the day, you’re reliving the best moments of it,” Keith Campbell, PhD, author of The Narcissism Epidemic, told Marie Claire. “The stress is stripped down, you’re looking at yourself in the way you want other people to see you, and your brain says, ‘Hey, I had a good day, and I’m a decent person.’”

This isn’t narcissism, says the author of the book on narcissism, but a basic need to find validation to feel good about ourselves. “We’re all existing in a culture that has turned self-worth into a competitive, measurable unit that gets displayed to the world,” Campbell said. “To be successful today, you often have to have your own brand and a network of connections and followers, so of course you’re going to be invested in yourself; of course, you’re going to do what you can for the likes and comments and followers, even if that means having a persona.”

And yet. Campbell and fellow academic Jean Twenge found that narcissistic personality traits have risen as fast as obesity since the 1980s, with a particularly marked spike in women and a rapid uptick since the turn of the century, according to the Guardian. In 2017, a LendEDU study crunched the data and declared Instagram users narcissistic attention seekers in need of constant validation and ego boosts.

Just as you can’t blame the substance for substance abuse, Instagram is not the culprit in our increasingly self-absorbed culture. It is simply a reflection. We’ve been given this mirror to tweak our images and put our best faces forward, but we’ll inevitably fail if we try to be something we’re not.

“If you’re going to be on Instagram, the most important thing is that you be authentic,” Moakley says. “So much out there is not very authentic right now.”

Authentic, but preferably with sunsets, surfboards, and silhouettes of lithe bodies in bikinis, if you follow the stats on what gets the most likes. If that doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, you’re probably over 50.

“I don’t find hope on Facebook. I find that’s where thoughts go to die. Facebook is kind of like the retirement home for social media.”

—Caitlin Moakley


 

New Rules
It’s hard to win if you don’t know how to play. Here are a few things no one tells you about Instagram.

You better be present. One in three Instagram users will go to a competitor if they’re ignored, Sprout Social found. Quality matters. Save text images, jokes, and random screenshots for Facebook. Your followers expect thoughtful posts. It’s easy to stop following if you waste their time.

Pace yourself. Experts recommend not posting more than every six hours, and most agree the sweet spot is about one or two posts per day.

Tone down the hard sell. Sprout Social found that 57 percent of users unfollow overly promotional brands.

Refresh your bio. It’s the only place you can post a live link; don’t let it get stale. Change it to reflect your current status. Engage your followers. Offer clickable incentives like discounts and prizes.

Get good at video. Social video generates 1,200 percent more shares than text and images combines, according to Wordstream. Video is more effective and encourage more interaction and engagement than any other content.

There are apps for that. There’s no shortage of apps to help you navigate Instagram efficiently. Hootsuite and Buffer let you schedule and distribute content, Pic Stitch edits photos, and Captiona makes great captions. And of course, there are plenty of programs that promise to grow your following.