Instagram Followers, Influence, Talent: Will We Look Back on This Time as Misguided of the Measure of Substance?

Stefanos Bournias

Stefanos Bournias is a content marketing consultant that specializes in SaaS businesses. He's worked with start-up founders, content managers, and inbound marketers to deliver quality content that increases brand awareness, traffic, and qualified leads.

Much like Instagram has given birth to a new breed of influencer, it has also birthed a new breed of creative, most notably; content creators, Instagram poets and Instagram models. 

It’s created huge opportunities for creatives by providing a platform where they can share and monetize their art at a scale that was previously unheard of. 

But as in life, everything that has huge upside inevitably has its downside. And as in investing, minimizing and mitigating the downside is more important than maximizing the upside. 

Is it our obligation as individual users of this inter-connected network to make a collective decision to minimize the downside? And if so, what can we do?

The birth of the Instagram creative

In the Western world, not too long ago, you were born into a community and had to find your individuality. Nowadays, you’re born an individual and have to find your community. 

In an increasingly noisy world where societal pressures, standards and projections have been exacerbated by social media on a massive scale, it’s becoming more and more difficult for individuals to develop individual personal identity. According to Jungian psychology, this process is known individuation, and it involves the unification of the subconscious and conscious mind. 

How do you develop your own thoughts and carve out your own path when you’re constantly bombarded by the thoughts of others and an overwhelming influx of information? 

Much like the Instagram Influencer has become a parodied meme, the Instagram creative and the various sub-sets of vague, self-professed titles that have been created: content strategist, content manager, and my personal favourite, content provider (what even is a content provider?) are being parodied in a similar light.

Everyone wants to be something. Even if it’s just to have a title to put in their Instagram bio. In a time when so many people call themselves “content creators,” who are the true creatives?

Instagram followers don’t equate to talent

Some of the most talented, creative and competent people I’ve met have little to no presence or followers on Instagram. On the flip side, there are many talented people who have a large Instagram following.

What this has created is a distortion of reality. People believe that a large follower count equates to talent or worth. But what we’re seeing is a representation of reality, not reality itself. And the fact that this has real life implications is scary. 

Beyond the obvious impact that this has on people’s self-image and self-worth is the real impact it can have on someone’s livelihood.

More and more, I’m hearing from people that have been turned down for a job or project because businesses favour people who have a larger number of Instagram followers. People are being selected not on the basis of their credentials, but on the basis of an arbitrary number of followers. 

There are countless scandals including creative entrepreneurs who have received investments for businesses or festivals that were essentially made up, bands with huge followings that have been hired for venues that ended up being empty, and people with huge followings not being able to deliver the proposed quality or impact with their work.

The business perspective

For businesses looking to scout or hire people for projects, this is tricky terrain to navigate. From a business standpoint, it makes sense to work with someone that has a large following for obvious reasons; most notably, greater exposure. 

But is exposure worth potentially compromising quality? And what can businesses do to balance exposure and work with the right people going forwards?

The first thing to note is that equating followers with competence or talent can be extremely misleading. In order to get a more wholesome picture of the individual’s work, go through their portfolio, have an actual discussion about previous projects they’ve worked on, ask them why they think their work is relevant to your project and what they can bring to the table.

The individual perspective

I often hear that if you’re extremely good at your craft, people will naturally be drawn to your work. This has some truth to it. Someone with clout in your industry might eventually find your work and shout you out or put you on. But why not learn how to put your work out in a strategic way and market yourself without compromising your work?

Pablo Picasso was a genius, avant-garde artist, but besides that he was a genius at marketing himself and a shrewd businessman. He understood and employed key luxury marketing fundamentals like:

  • Exclusive distribution (at one specific art gallery)
  • Differentiation (leveraging African art styles)
  • Cultivation of critics and collectors (he did portraits of them)
  • Emotional affiliation

This is why his art commanded premium prices versus some of his contemporaries over an extended period of time. 

However, it’s important to note that Picasso never compromised his art to appeal to a certain “target audience.” He was authentic and painted whatever came to him naturally. 

Learning to market yourself isn’t about pleasing a specific audience. It’s about learning how to communicate the value of your craft.

If you view Instagram as your online portfolio, it’s only natural that you need to build an audience. Growing your Instagram followers isn’t selling out. It’s growing your business.

And as a freelance creative of any sort, you need to treat yourself like a business because that is essentially what you are. 

Successful businesses are successful because they can communicate what value they can add or what problem they can solve. 

You may find Part One of the article by clicking on this link:

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