Like many others, I agonize over the lighting, composition and captions on my instagram posts.
I count how many likes I get, who watches my stories, and how many followers I gain (or lose) after posting certain content.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the way social media turned into a popularity contest where people began putting more weight on follower counts than on content.
But lately I’ve been asking myself — why do I care? Why does it matter?
Here’s the short answer: it doesn’t.
I couldn’t help but wonder how many other people were feeling this way, so I put the question out on Instagram to see if anyone else resonated with this feeling of anxiety. I was shocked at how many answers I got back.
But what do the metrics say?
After working in marketing related roles for 8+ years — particularly in the community and social media advertising space— has played a big role in how I view these platforms.
Every metric is trackable, so every metric is a KPI.
When I load up instagram, I find myself analyzing the strategy of each piece of content I see. I’m hyper aware of the ads, and try to reverse-engineer what websites I visited to flag those specific ad accounts from targeting me.
While working for tech startups like Unbounce and Clearly.ca, we meticulously tracked our engagement metrics (or ‘vanity metrics’) daily. If engagement dipped, we needed to know why and strategize a plan to fix it.
And because I saw everything through the lens of metrics and numbers, that’s what I primarily payed attention to — the measurement, not the context.
Questioning myself constantly.
Don’t get me wrong — if you’re a business, you need to be tracking your metrics. Views, click-through rates, engagement, conversions… these are all crucial to figuring out which areas to invest time into, and which to abandon.
But my personal social media accounts are for me, not my business.
Even so, I was still hyper aware about the content I was posting. Here are some thoughts that run through my head each time I post content:
- Is this content relevant?
- Who is going to see this?
- What are they going to think?
- How much traction will this get?
- Will this help or hurt my account?
- Will this look good in my feed?
- Does it match my style?
- Will I have to delete this later on?
Everything needs to be just perfect, which means that I have thousands (yes, really) of photos and videos sitting on my hard drive collecting virtual dust, all because I’m afraid of what others might think of them. It’s sad, and toxic.
It got better (and worse) when I started posting video content.
When I bought my Sony A7III, I dedicated some time to exploring the built-in video functionality with the idea that I would film random stuff, edit it together with music, and see what it looked like.
But to my surprise, each time I posted a new video, I would get a flood of new inbox messages from people and local businesses asking me about it.
My content ended up getting regrammed by a few large instagram accounts, and all of a sudden I was getting messages from brands and talent agencies about collaboration opportunities and paid video sponsorships.
In the beginning, I didn’t even think of using licensed music from websites like EpidemicSound or Artlist.io, and instead just used random tracks from my favourite Spotify playlist. I thought for sure that if the artists saw I was using their music, I’d get hit with a cease and desist… but instead, I got DM’s from them with praise for my work. From all of this, I realized two things.
- I enjoy video production so much that I started a business venture called BrandStories™ which aims to create high-converting, mobile-first video content for small to medium sized businesses.
- At any given time, brands and potential clients could be looking at my Instagram feed and judging whether or not they want to work with me. If I didn’t feel like I was under a microscope before, I sure did now.
A step in the right direction
While I was at F8 this year (Facebook’s Developers Conference), Instagram announced they were rolling out a test in Canada which would remove the like counter from posts. You could still see how many likes you received, but you couldn’t see how many likes someone else received.
The goal is to reduce the pressure people feel to gain likes/followers, and to instead just focus on sharing content that is true to them. The initial results seem positive, as they’re starting to roll this out to even more countries.
This idea is far from new. Twitter’s own Jack Dorsey expressed similar concerns in the past, as have many online moguls like Kanye West. I don’t know what the next step is to curb perfectionism, social media related depression and anxiety, but I’m glad we’re trying to find an answer.
But here’s the thing… It doesn’t really matter.
People don’t care nearly as much about your content, or the number of likes or followers you have, as you think they do. Most people are too busy worrying about their own lives (or their own follower count) to even consider yours.
I do, however, think it’s important to share your authentic message with the world — whatever that may be. While social media can often be toxic and addicting, it can also be an incredible platform for growth.
People like Casey Neistat, Bryce Langston and Peter McKinnon have built entire careers around educating people and promoting positivity. For the first time in history, people now have a free, accessible outlet to share their message with the world and connect with people all over the planet.
For me, if a brand or business saw a random piece of creative content on my personal feed and decided they didn’t want to work with me because of it, it’s their loss. I’d rather work with brands that align with my values anyways.
Doing things imperfectly is how you grow and evolve.
When I first started off in my career, I had no f*cking clue what I was doing. Ditto for photography, and even more so for video. In fact, I f*cked up so many times in my career that I lost count. But through those f*ckups I learned valuable lessons and eventually got better.
To get better at anything, you need to practice, and you need to f*ckup.
Cathy Heller, the host of the hit podcast Don’t Keep Your Day Job, preaches this constantly. Do it rough. Do it imperfectly. Just do it. Yes, there’s a chance that anything you try could fail — but that’s a part of the growth process.
So instead of obsessing for perfection, just focus on doing it period. Learn from your mistakes, course-correct, and eventually you’ll learn to do it better.
So here’s what I’m doing about it.
A few weeks ago, I took a gig filming vacation properties in Tulum. On the flight back, my friend Jay who helped film properties talked about having similar feelings around anxiety and the need to ‘make it perfect’.
We’re both creatives, so we both love the idea of using social media as creative outlets, but our drive for perfectionism always stops us.
That’s why we’re saying “f*ck it” this month.
For the month of August, we’re both going to post our work online every single day. We’re not concerned with the likes or followers this month. We’re posting for us, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
This includes all forms of creative work — photos, videos, graphics, blog posts… whatever form of creative expression we feel. This includes posting on Instagram, Medium, YouTube, Facebook… whatever platform works best.
We’re also going to make it rough.
None of this is going to be ‘perfect’. We will post rough drafts, unfinished clips/images, VFX tests, interesting ideas and creative styles that deviate from our usual aesthetic. The goal isn’t perfection — it’s consistency.
Lastly, to keep our sanity, we’re not going to track our engagement until the end of the month. I have a hypothesis of what might happen though:
- My ‘engagement’ per-post will likely go down (friends/family will probably get fatigued seeing my content each day)
- My ‘follower count’ might go up. The instagram algorithm could flag me as a ‘creator’ and prioritize showing my content to more people.
- We (hopefully) stop caring about the metrics all together.
If you want to use social media as your creative outlet, don’t let perfectionism stop you. Want some motivation? Feel free to join us and we can all hold each accountable for sharing our creative work online this month.
This post was originally picked up and published by The Startup - the largest publication on Medium. It's been syndicated with permission.