How A Fresh Start On Instagram Redefined My Social Media Experience
Starting over on Instagram was a daunting but ultimately super rewarding decision for me. Here’s why I did it, and why you might consider it too.
Before I begin, a very important disclaimer. Instagram engagement is by no means important to everyone. If your main focus is to connect with friends and family, watch fun videos and scroll through memes to unwind, this post is probably of no interest to you — and that’s beyond okay.
There’s enough stress out there in the world without adding unwanted pressure into the mix. Social media is a multifunctional tool, and no two people have the same approach. What works for me might be the last thing you want to do — and that’s okay. But if you want to use Instagram as a tool to showcase your work, share content and build a community, I hope this helps shed light on how I go about it.
With that in mind, let’s chat starting fresh on Insta.
Do any of these sound like you?
You feel disconnected from your content, feed, or past posts. Your content doesn’t reflect the real you, and you don’t even feel like the person you were when you first started. Sure, you could just archive the photos, but sometimes you wonder if it would be easier to start fresh.
Your Instagram engagement levels have a negative effect on your wellbeing. You’re feeling the pressure to perform. While you know likes don’t mean everything, you’re bummed that the quality content you work on is underperforming. You know that there are people out there who would enjoy it — you just need to find a way to reach them.
You want to enjoy social media again, but feel like you need a fresh start to do so. Starting over on Instagram would offer control over who you follow, and the kind of content you most want to see.
The majority of the accounts you follow almost never inspire you, and you only scroll through your feed out of boredom. You don’t recognise most of the people in the pictures and don’t remember following them. Now, you want to find and curate a community of inspiring people whose content provides value to your life.
You have a new vision for a business, a personal brand, or a project you’ve been excited about, and want to use social media to promote it. Giving it a platform of its own would allow you to make it stand out as a new chapter and a new venture in your life.
If any of the above ring true, starting over from scratch — or at least rethinking your mindset around social media — might be an option to consider. Here’s why I did it, and the changes I’ve seen in my approach to social media over the last year.
A post shared by natalia (@whatnownat) on Apr 17, 2020 at 8:28am PDT
The ghost of Instagram feeds past
Like many of us, I’ve had an Instagram account since around 2012. My formative years, from teenager to student to member of the workforce, have been framed by ever-changing feed themes, usernames, and colour schemes.
Just like my 2012 feed, Instagram is entirely unrecognisable now from what it used to be. With constant update rollouts and the rise of social media influencers, the look, feel, and function of the app has completely changed and expanded. In this time, Instagram has gone from 40 million monthly users to a whopping one billion.
When I first joined, there were no stories or direct messages, and every photo posted had to be square. The feed was still chronological. Every Valencia or X-Pro-II filtered snapshot came with a mysterious moody caption and a million unironic hashtags. (Anyone else remember the days of the unironic #nofilter selfie?) These days, the setup is a little more sophisticated but also more competitive. Most people steer clear of the in-app filters and focus more on candid stories than curated feed posts.
The ups and the downs
My first Instagram account peaked in 2015, when every carefully edited picture brought in around 1300 likes. By today’s standards, this might not seem like much, but I was pretty chuffed. When I reached 10,000 followers, I couldn’t fathom it. How could so many people be invested in what I had to say, even in the smallest way?
The constant engagement provided my high school self with the dopamine kicks I needed to feel good about myself. It made me feel more social, more accomplished, and better understood by my peers. Of course, this was all mostly an illusion, but it was effective enough to raise my confidence when I needed it.
Instagram provided a creative outlet I was otherwise missing in my life. Taking photos of flower stalls, Starbucks cups and street art made me realise that I love photography, and have a thing for pretty colours and layout designs. It also exposed me to inspiring people who were sharing their art, poetry, and style on the platform. Seeing all these creatives living and sharing their life and passions made me feel like I could do all of those things too.
So I spent hours meticulously planning my feed and watched the pressure rise.
When I started college, the bubble popped. Not only was my schedule too busy, but I also had two phones stolen in my first year. I was completely shaken. Months went by without a single feed post, and my engagement halved, then quartered.
With no community left, social media no longer felt social at all.
And although I worked hard to improve my photography throughout college, my heart just wasn’t in it. Everything I posted left a sour taste, and I felt like I had to perform better — the way I had done before.
The reasons why I started fresh on Instagram
Virtually no business can thrive these days without a robust social media presence. When I started thinking about putting my thoughts online and creating a website, I knew I was going to use social media. I also knew I wanted my primary social media presence to be on Instagram, where visual content is king.
The more I got to thinking about the goals I wanted to reach with What Now, Nat?, the more obvious it became that I could never reach them with the engagement I was getting. How could I ever reach an interested audience when I never got comments on my posts anymore? How could I form a community of like-minded people when the vast majority of my followers were ghosts?
If I was going to create something valuable, I knew I needed to start over. Social media engagement may sound silly to a lot of people, but the truth is, it’s the only way for small businesses to reach their audience and get their feet off the ground. I knew this, but still, the thought of starting over from scratch terrified me. How could I find community when I was starting from zero? How credible would I look as a blogger with no followers or engagement?
One day, I ripped off the band-aid and just went for it. And little did I know that this would be the best decision I would make for my business, and for my entire approach to social media.
From metrics to community: the biggest mindset shift
When I started over on Instagram with a fresh account almost a year ago, I felt liberated. None of the metrics I had tried to live up to — followers, likes, comments — mattered anymore. I was new, right? And because metrics didn’t matter, my focus went right back to my content. And that creative outlet was what made me love Instagram in the first place!
Instead of seeking validation and trying to fit into a mould, I started making connections with like-minded people. I followed creators of positive content that made me feel inspired and motivated every time I scrolled through my feed. I also made a point of not following accounts that made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, prioritising authenticity and value.
Building a community became my main focus. In stark contrast to the immature like-for-like interactions of my teenage gram, the main concern was not followers, but conversations. Building a real community on social media means listening and providing real value to your audience, showing up to support your peers, and seeking out the realness. This mindset change from quantity to quality has made the biggest difference to my entire outlook on social media.
Now, for the first time in years, Instagram feels like a positive space again.
Don’t get me wrong: I still feel pressure to create better content or compare my account to others. I don’t think that comparison trap ever really goes away. And sure, I get a dopamine boost when one of my posts ends up on the Explore page. Equally, I feel bummed when a post flops. But I don’t obsessively judge my own worth based on those numbers anymore.
By starting from zero, I’ve had a chance to build new, strong foundations for my approach to social media.
A post shared by natalia (@whatnownat) on Apr 9, 2020 at 10:07am PDT
Have you been considering starting over on Instagram?
If you feel that most of your followers are not seeing your posts in their feeds anymore and you’ve suffered low and decreasing engagement no matter how hard you try, you might have already thought about starting over on Instagram. This is especially true if these stats have been negatively affecting your mental health and wellbeing.
Of course, it’s possible to revive your account and get back on your audience’s radar. The algorithm has changed over the years, prioritising content that people have been regularly engaging with. That puts many older accounts at a disadvantage — but by no means a fatal one. Through regular engagement with your audience and efforts to connect with other accounts outside of that audience, you can still grow and build a community.
But for me, the ‘blank page’ mindset of starting from scratch was too appealing to pass up. I decided to focus my energy on rebuilding from the ground up. Less than a year later, I’ve ended up with a more positive approach to social media, a place to connect with people who genuinely enjoy engaging with my content, and a solid feeling of community.
That’s why, at least to me, starting over on Instagram was worth the effort.
A year later: how my mindset has changed
After almost a year as @whatnownat on Instagram, I couldn’t be happier that I chose to start over.
While building up an audience from scratch wasn’t easy, trying to revive my flailing old account would have taken far more effort and negative self-talk. No doubt I would have been stuck in comparison mode.
Now, the pressure is almost completely off. Instead of worrying about the engagement of my photos, I have been able to focus on creating a community. I now choose the accounts I follow based on my interests, my visions for What Now Nat, and also simply what feels right. This means that I only view content that inspires me, directs me toward other interesting material, or makes me think.
I also put more thought into the content I publish. I took Skillshare classes to learn how to use Adobe Lightroom and create presets for my photos. I make an effort to create a cohesive and visually appealing feed. I think about the captions I share. (And by the way: if you’re interested in taking these classes for free, you can get a free 2 week trial on all Premium Skillshare classes with my link!)
If my content is thought-provoking, high quality, and true to my vision, I know engagement will come along with it. It might take some time, but value and quality must come first. At this stage, this is a non-negotiable.
And if you are curious about the stats…
Well, they speak for themselves.
While my previous Instagram account hit 10,000 followers at its peak, my current one hovers around 2,000. At first glance, this seems like a loss — and I‘ve missed out on opportunities to collaborate with certain brands based on this figure alone. But behind the scenes, the value of this change is obvious.
According to the Phlanx Instagram engagement calculator, my engagement rate has increased from 3.5% on my previous account to around 20% today. My average likes have doubled. I’ve gone from virtually no comments to having conversations with around 20 people every day. Each week, my posts reach around 8,000 people and 25,000 impressions.
I won’t lie and say these numbers don’t matter — they do. In fact, they’ve even offered me the opportunity to collaborate with small businesses I love.
But while the stats validate my efforts, the most positive change I’ve seen is in my approach to them. By starting from scratch, I broke the link between my own worth and the stats. I’ve gotten a chance to build new, strong foundations for my approach to social media.
My biggest tip: get your hashtags in order
My success after starting fresh on Insta is mainly due to a great hashtag strategy that gets my posts thousands of impressions from hashtags alone.
If you’re looking to build a hashtag strategy that grows your reach and connects you to your people, I recommend trying out a hashtag tool called Flick.
Flick allows you to research relevant hashtags in your niche and group them according to the type of posts you share. This means your hashtags are always relevant and accurate. Whether you’re sharing a flatlay or a travel shot, you’ll always capture the right people.
Was losing 10,000 followers and a bit of ego worth it?
Here’s the thing: I’ve found community and support where there once was silence. I’ve found positivity in a part of my day-to-day that was once a burden. I feel creatively inspired every day, and almost never feel like crap after scrolling. So if you ask me, it’s paid off more than I ever could have imagined.
Have you ever started over on Instagram, or have you considered it? I would love to hear your thoughts on the changes in the algorithm over the last few years and how they have affected you. Perhaps engagement just doesn’t phase you at all? Let me know in the comments below, or over on – yep, you guessed it – Instagram.
A huge thank you to all of you lovely people who have connected with me in my little corner of the internet — I am grateful every day to be able to engage with such a talented, caring and supportive group of people.
And while I have you here, why not have a browse around my recent posts!
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