Forget The Algorithm: How To Use Instagram To Make Meaningful Connections

Instagram. Oh, Instagram. We've had a bit of a love/hate relationship over the years, but I've started to bring it back to love again. Let me show you how...

Instagram can be a time-sucking black hole of comparison, procrastination, and structured reality. With themes, flat lays, and almost-too-perfect-to-be-real holiday snaps, it’s hard to take a step back and asses the actual benefits of Instagram as a platform for your blog or business.

It’s hard to keep up with - I think we can ALL agree to that 💁🏻 I used to spend more time trying to figure out strategies and understanding the algorithm changes than I did actually posting new content.

"Should I switch to a business account? How many hashtags should I use? Why did this photo I took 30 minutes editing get 40 likes but this spontaneous selfie get 120 likes? What is life?"

These are all questions that I’d not only ask myself, but questions that members of my community would ask me on a regular basis. As a social media strategist at the time, it took a lot of guts to say “I honestly don’t know.”

I can only teach what has worked for me but I don’t work at Instagram or Facebook. I can’t tell you exactly what the algorithm favours; I don’t know for sure if being a business account is the best move; I sure as heck can’t tell you if ‘shadowbanning’ is real or not 😂

I can tell you one thing though and that is: Instagram is exactly what you make of it. (Tweet this!)

If you want to be surrounded by perfectly curated feeds, do it. If you want to push through all the changes and use Instagram as your primary sales platform, then do it. If you want to use Instagram to make meaningful connections and grow a community, You 👏 Can 👏 Do 👏 It!

I’m going to walk you through how I shifted my focus away from the aesthetic and vanity metrics of Instagram, and towards a focus on building a community and making connections. Keep reading to learn more!

How To Use Instagram To Make Meaningful Connections | From themes to hashtags to strategies, it took me a while to realise that Instagram is exactly what you make of it. I wanted to use Instagram as a platform for connecting with my audience and building a community. Here's how I shifted my Instagram mindset to start enjoying this social media platform again!

A mindset shift

When I first started my business, Instagram was my #1 priority - aside from getting clients, of course 😉

I knew I wanted to focus my marketing efforts on one platform and, for some reason, I chose Instagram. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t getting much traffic from it and it wasn’t until I really focused on hashtags that I started to see my engagement increase.

I was spending a lot of time creating and planning out original content but I wasn’t seeing a return on investment.Sure, I'd had a few clients book through Instagram and I knew the strategies that really worked but I just didn't have the time to implement them or the money to hire someone else to.

After going from theme to theme, creating two free email courses, and a paid online course about Instagram, I felt super burnt out just thinking about what to post on my feed. I was LOVING Instagram Stories and posting on there pretty much every day but I wasn’t enjoying the content creation side anymore.

Everything felt forced and I would stress about what to post - what could I photograph? What do people want to see? Why can’t I just stay on Stories forever? 

One day, I had a sudden mindset shift.

I could post whatever I frickin’ well wanted onto Instagram.

I’d already spent time and effort growing a creative community over the years. But no one was badgering me to post my next photo. No one was complaining that I was only ever using Stories.

In fact, I was connecting with more and more people through Instagram Stories than I ever was through the content in my feed.

I'm not sure what was holding me back before this realisation but I suddenly felt free to make my Instagram feed my own. It didn’t make sense that I was curating a collection of content that didn’t accurately reflect my life and the authenticity in my brand.

Once I started to truly embrace Instagram as a connection-based platform (instead of a visually perfect one), I actually started to enjoy it again. (Tweet this!)

Focus on instagram Stories

So, this is a totally personal opinion and you might not be a huge fan of using Stories but guess who is? THIS GIRL 🙋

I make sure to post on Stories every day if I can. In fact, I’m kinda using Stories as a platform-within-Instagram to connect more directly with my peeps!

Watch more Stories

I love watching stories! It's so easy to get lost in other people's daily lives. I feel like I can truly connect with people by replying Stories that resonate with me - whether they’re funny, relatable, or moving in some way. A direct message feels so much more personal than a comment - do you feel that too?

The more I watch other people’s Stories the more I feel like I’m really getting to know them - and they must feel the same about me! They'll feel the same about you if you post to Stories more and more often.

Post more Stories

Let me say it again for those of you in the back... Post 👏 More 👏 Stories 👏

And I don't just mean text on top of a photo. Share videos. Use polls. Use hashtags in Stories. Place stickers. Add GIFS!

Stories can be a way to share your experiences, a place to survey your audience, a powerhouse of creative expression, or all of the above!

Instagram Stories are the stepping stone towards virtual coffee chats and in-person meetings. Video is powerful and Stories are a great way for our online communities to get to know us as individuals, as well as brands!

If you’re avoiding Stories…

I know SO many people who avoid using Stories because they’re nervous about getting on video. Dear friend, what’s the worst that could happen? 💁🏻

If you don’t want certain people watching your Stories, you can just block them. I made my Stories feel like a safe place by blocking a lot of old work friends and uni mates. I didn’t want them popping up in my live videos and making me feel super awkward!

By not appearing in your Stories, you’re only holding yourself back from making deeper connections with your community. It’s no one’s loss but your own.

Create highlights

When you share a Story that is particularly useful to you audience, don’t forget to save it as a highlight! People eat that shit up.

There’s a trend at the moment to create pretty ‘covers’ for your highlights. Unless you're literally a brand designer or your brand is all about the aesthetics, I really wouldn’t bother with this. It’s just another thing to add to your to-do list and it probably won't bring you any more clicks/views than usual. Keep it simple! 

Get real in your captions

If you’re like me and you have a very niche blog but you crave a place to write about personal issues, Instagram captions are THE way to go.

I’ve been using captions as a place to share my thoughts and feelings as well as connecting with my community on a personal level. The more personal I get, the more engagement I tend to get. Your audience want to connect with you and get to know you so let them in every once in a while!

So, there's not really much else to say on this as you know what you want to write about. Just don't hold back, 'kay? 😌

Ask questions

I always try to ask a question in my caption to encourage conversation and to get to know my audience better. The more you connect with your followers, the more likely your photos will show up in their feed - or not. Honestly, who knows what the algorithm is up to? 😅

reply to comments

If you want to connect with your community, you need to be replying to pretty much every comment you get. Heck, sometimes I even reply to spam comments - engagement is engagement, right? 😂

I always try to go back and reply to new comments on a post. Especially if they've asked me a question or if they're sharing a personal thought of their own!

Some people skimp out on this but I feel like it's the equivalent of asking someone a question and then walking away when they start to respond - and, oh goodness, if I had £1 for every time this has happened to me.  Don't be that person!

be imperfect + lift the pressure

Instagram is a visual platform but, unless you been touched by the ISO angels, you may not be the best at photography. And that's totally fine! 😄

I’m *okay* at it but it doesn’t come naturally to me. It used to take me a lot of time and energy to arrange, shoot, and edit content for my Instagram feed.

In fact, it would take me so much time that I just stopped doing it altogether. I had a phase in my Instagram feed where I solely regrammed other people’s content and focused my efforts on the captions. It was super lazy but it worked for me at the time so I kept doing it.

I started to realise that I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching. I was teaching people how to find their theme on Instagram yet I was just sharing other people’s content.

I would look back on all the content I created when I first started and feel a sense of nostalgia and pride - I knew I could do it! And, so I did it again. If you look back through my account, you’ll see where I really started trying again, but, even then, I had to trickle a few stock photos in here and there.

(FYI: My go-to stock photo resource for my blog and website is Haute Stock! Watch my review here.)

It was a vicious circle of feeling pressured to create original content and then feeling burnt out by the whole thing. 😣

It wasn’t until I went on holiday in June 2017 that I really started to post without any expectations. I wanted to share a few holiday snaps but they SO didn’t match the theme I had going at the time. I realised it was MY account and MY space online to do what I wanted with - so those photos were going up whether they fit in or not! 

From then on, I started to gradually post photos as and when I wanted to and a huge weight was lifted from my virtual shoulders.

Your turn...

You know how I shifted my mindset with Instagram to actually start enjoying it again - are you going to do the same? Here are my key takeaways from this blog post:

  • Instagram is exactly what you make of it
  • See Stories as a mini-platform within Instagram
  • Don’t let video hold you back - get on Instagram Stories today!
  • Captions are a great place to get personal and write freely
  • Your profile is YOUR space to do what you want with

How are you shifting your mindset with social media?