Around 37% of the world’s population is actively using social media. So, I get it, it’s kind of a big deal. And with 600m active users worldwide, Instagram is a particularly big deal. But what if you’re just not that bothered about being Instagram famous? What if Crema is just something you put in your coffee? Is there a hole in my life that only a Lark filter can fill? I decided to find out.
How hard can it really be?
“Why don’t I see if I can get Instagram famous in one week?” I – with a mere 280 followers – said to my Editor in our features meeting, the pang of regret hitting me before I’d even got the word ‘famous’ out. “I’ll just do all the weird stuff people do on Instagram to get likes”, I said, as the room started to erupt into laughter at the idea of me looking coyly at the camera with this season’s must-have highlighter plastered across my definition-less face.
Why did my colleagues find the whole thing so hilarious? Well, as you can see from the state of my Instagram grid (I’d literally never used the word “grid” before this experiment started), Instagram wasn’t exactly a priority in my life, barely even a hobby. Just look at this badly-lit photo of a box of hot dogs I found on the way home from the pub one night, for example. I didn’t even use the hot dog emoji. The shame.
But as I was given the green light to proceed with the experiment, a little piece of me started to panic. Okay, a pretty big piece. You see, I’ve only ever used social media for jokes. That’s all I’ve got. So, the realisation that I’d have to drop the IDGAF social media persona and actually show visible effort, and worse, visible effort that I wanted approval via likes, was actually kind of terrifying. And here was my first mistake: thinking “the weird stuff people do on Instagram” would be easy.
First things first… change my bio
After some research, I realised an emoji-free bio just wouldn’t cut it if I wanted to be an Instagram star.
So I went from this…
I mean, “Classic Capricorn”? I cannot describe how far from my natural lexicon this phrase falls.
Day One: Outfit of the Day, or #OOTD
I decided to ask our Fashion & Beauty writer (now to be referred to as my own personal Art Director) for help. One look at her 1700 followers told me she knew what she was doing.
She suggested the first photo should be an OOTD. But, taking one look at my all-black ensemble of tights, denim dress and denim jacket (Brokeback Mountain: eat your heart out), and giving me a look that screamed, “This is just not an Instagrammable get-up”, she came up with a new concept: me, looking coyly into the distance, in front of a photogenic doorway. I would, of course, have sunglasses on and have my hand running through my hair in a carefree fashion. Oh, and I’d be carrying a bouquet of flowers, for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
As I took my place in front of the big door, expecting someone to barge out and yell at me to get off their land at any moment, I felt an incredible rush of embarrassment. I cannot stand having my photo taken in front of other people. I’m not crazy about having my photo taken in general, but knowing strangers are looking at me sends me over the edge – it always has done. In my head, I imagine they’re thinking, “What makes you think you’re important enough to have your photo taken?” I wanted this over and done with sharpish. So of course the whole thing took about half an hour.
First, my leg “looked weird”. Then, my hand was the problem – not carefree enough apparently. And finally, the angle of the flowers was all wrong. But eventually,13 photos deep, I was posed in an awkward-enough position to achieve the carefree aesthetic.
But we were only half way there. The secret to any great Instagram is, after all, the caption. Or so I learnt.
I was told it would have to include “tap for outfit details,” so that I could tag where my clothes were from. Would people really care that I got my dress from New Look? And did everyone really have to know that I was wearing Ray Bans? [Side Note: They aren’t even real Rays Bans – I bought them from a festival four years ago. But could I really tag ‘cheapo stall at V festival’ in my picture? The old me would have, but I was a new woman now. I was @annaalfreda V2.]
61 likes. Plus, two strangers commented that they liked what they saw. I still haven’t got the heart to tell my new fans that those glasses cost me £7…
Day Two: The Inspirational Quote
I knew at some point during this experiment that I wanted to include an inspirational quote because, as a naturally cynical person, inspiration isn’t really my jam. So I consulted our Social Media Manager, and seeing as it was Friday, we thought it should probably include something booze-related. She nailed it.
It was shared on Cosmopolitan’s Instagram account, so I was convinced I’d get a truck-load of new followers.
I got seven. I needed to up my game.
Day Three: The Green Juice
After trying my hardest to take a creative photo of the green sludge against a pretty background, and failing miserably (“You can’t post that – there’s an overflowing bin in the background”), I finally found a wall that met my increasingly high standards (even though, now I'm looking back at it, it is kinda reminiscent of a Wetherspoons carpet...). But as I proceeded to place the green slime back in my Sainsbury’s bag-for-life, I was asked how many photos I’d taken. “One,” I said. My unofficial Art Director couldn’t believe it. “You have to take a whole load of them so you can pick the best one.” So I got back in position and took another five IDENTICAL photos.
When it came to posting it, I suddenly panicked – it was Saturday. There was no-one here to help with my caption. And what filter was I supposed to use? I pulled myself together and whispered, “You got this, Anna. You got this.”
I came up with my own caption and emojis (progress), before carefully copying and pasting as many suitable hashtags as I could manage without giving myself finger-cramp. I screengrabbed my proposed post and WhatsApped it over to the almighty Instagram experts in my office. It was given the thumbs up.
While in the throes of social media glory, I decided I’d try upping my followers by searching for accounts using #FollowForFollow. I followed around 30 people, but did I get 30 follows back? Did I fuck. This really wasn’t as easy as I’d thought.
Day Four: The Sunday Morning #Goals
Taken on a Wednesday. In our office studio, I might add.
The highlight of any true Instagrammer’s weekend is the nonchalantly stylish shot of their bed. It can’t be that hard, can it? Well, yes actually, it can be quite hard when you don’t have a bed to hand; you just have a cardboard box and a white sheet.
Anyway, I powered through with my Art Director at my side. There was a Lush facemask, a scented candle, a fancy-looking notebook and pen, a pot of something posh (genuinely have no memory of what that was, or what the hell I’d be doing with it in my bed on Sunday morning…), a (cold) coffee, and of course, a copy of my favourite magazine.
But wait… all the girls in the photos I’d seen on Instagram had their cute little pyjama shorts on, meaning a little leg was on show. Only problem was, I was wearing jeans, and I wasn’t expecting to be taking them off during working hours, so I hadn’t shaved my legs for about eight days.
I stripped my jeans off, apologised for my hairy legs (“Don’t worry, we can filter that out”), wrapped a blanket around myself to protect my modesty, and crawled into position. But every single position I tried was a little off, and my legs were starting to cramp. This Insta life was getting harder by the day.
I sent the final product to our work WhatsApp group, but instead of an overwhelming round of emoji applause – our efforts were met with, “Where are your trousers?” A fair question for a Wednesday afternoon at work.
Four days later, the photo was uploaded to Instagram from my old brown sofa, as I ate a sausage sandwich and watched last night’s Take Me Out.
Day Five: The Flat Lay
I only have two points to make about day five’s efforts:
1. I have never used a single one of those products.
2. My public were on to me. “Are you checking out how rewarding it is to be a basic bitch?”
Day Six: Florals
I’d noticed that people on Instagram seemed to be obsessed with flowers, so when I was walking back to the office after lunch, I came across this little beauty. No idea what it was or why it was there, but I knew with a little/a lot of filtering and the right caption, this would be Instagram gold. Plus, I was pretty keen to use #SpringHasSprung at some point…
Day Seven: Beauty Blogging
At last – the final day of the experiment. Or not…
I suddenly realised that if I called it a day on my seventh post, my grid would be off. I’d need two more posts to give me 3x3 #GridGoals.
God. Who even am I anymore?
Today’s mission was to post another photo of myself, as I’d noticed my biggest hit so far was the first picture; the one of me loitering outside someone’s office holding a bunch of flowers in the most awkward way known to womankind. I’d also read somewhere that people in general prefer photos of humans as opposed to objects.
I asked the beauty team for something that would give my followers what they wanted, and they delivered: a rainbow makeup brush that had, from what I could see, no actual function. It’s too big to actually apply makeup with, so what was its purpose? To turn me into an Instagram star, that’s what! And it did (sort of), adding 66 likes! It was almost worth the 32 photos that didn’t make the grade (You try “looking a touch more coy and much less creepy”. It’s not that easy, you know.)
Day Eight: #TBT
To Someone Else’s My Hot Dog Legs
Another day, another lie. These aren’t my legs – they never have been and they never will be. But no-one seemed to notice that the girl in the photo is approximately three dress sizes smaller than me, and a good seven inches shorter…
But if I will insist on never taking photos of anything other than weird flavours of crisps when I go on holiday, then I must suffer the consequences: having to ask a friend if I can use her holiday photo and pass it off as my own.
Day Nine: “It Would Be Rude Not To”
This was it. The final day of the experiment, and I wanted to go out on a high. I desperately wanted to use the caption, “It would be rude not to”. It’s always been a pet-peeve of mine, so I knew I had to push myself out of my comfort zone one last time.
Now, taking a photo of me having a drink should have been easy, but as the outtakes demonstrate, this was very much NOT the case…
Eventually, we (there were FOUR of us involved in this particular shoot) got there. By this point the stress had led me to actually drink the prop I’d been using, so we had to improvise with this pink lemonade. That’s right – this isn’t a cocktail, it’s just a martini glass of lies.
But I’d finally finished my experiment. #Friyay indeed.
So, did I manage it? Did I get Instagram famous?
No. I gained 24 new followers.
But what I did gain, was a new-found respect for Instagrammers. (That and the desire not to go near social media for a while.) I spent an embarrassingly high percentage of my time thinking about my next post. And that’s before you even get into filters, captions, hashtags, and post-timings. When is going to be the optimal post time to secure maximum engagement? It was exhausting. I am living proof that it really isn’t easy to become an overnight social media star. Unless you want to do something obscene in the news and quite frankly, that was too far, even for me.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably explain that while my ever-neglected personal account is where Instagram pictures go to die, I do run a reasonably successful food account. I started it about two years ago, I currently have a round 7000 followers, but I never intended that to happen, tbh.
So, aside from the fact real Instagram fame is hard to find, I’ve learnt that it isn’t fake or hollow as some of us would like to think. Don’t underestimate the power of authenticity and passion for what you’re posting about, whether that be a new beauty blender or a Boots Meal Deal. Yes, there are some who cheat the system, but when it comes to actual engagement and loyal followers, being yourself is still the best route. And I tell you what - getting 12 genuine likes feels a hell of a lot better than 66 ones on a photo of me ‘using’ a makeup brush that would be better suited to chimney-sweeping.
Follow Anna on Instagram for more photos of badly-lit hot dogs.
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