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Creatives, It's Time to Leave Instagram

Megan Hill
&
Updated:
10
May
2022

12 years on...

Instagram has long reigned supreme as a hub for creative talent, established and emerging alike. Art is auctioned in DMs, bedroom stylists land editorial shoots and small-time designers are able to launch independent labels.

And yet it is increasingly clear that Instagram's swipe-and-scroll architecture is struggling, or even refusing, to support increasingly innovative thinkers and multi-dimensional creative ideas.

In recent years the addition of "reels" and shopping features to Instagram's infrastructure has transformed a once humble gallery into a multi-complex mall. The future of the platform is hinged on increased e-commerce and short-burst entertainment—great for the budding influencer, but an unnerving landscape for small-scale creatives.

Battling the algorithm

The now infamous Insta-algorithm has been the cause of widespread frustration amongst creatives using the app to showcase their work.

Photographers, artists and designers alike have reluctantly sacrificed their artistic integrity to grovel at the feet of the mighty algorithm. They have chosen to post 'safe' content in an attempt to ensure their profile is exposed to, at a minimum, their followers, and—if they're lucky enough—new audiences.

Creatives are quite literally boxed in! Their ideas are condensed into uniform, 1080-pixel panels—in an attempt to be safely received and well 'rewarded' with likes and comments. Instagram has made it dangerous to experiment, discouraging the very driving force of creativity.

Whilst those who arrived early in the game have mastered the 'art of the algorithm', the late(r) arrivals in the final quarter are finding it harder to land their shots. These creatives have to consciously dress their content up—or down—to make it fit for Insta-consumption.

The Instagram exodus

But to log out of Instagram? Career suicide, surely?

500 million daily users make Instagram an undeniable powerhouse with a remarkable ability to surface new trends and be the hotbed for the next big cultural phenomenon. Though these are alluring assets, using Instagram as the sole building block for your platform/ presence in the creative community is unwise. As tempting as it may be to strive for Insta-fame, creatives may find greater rewards as big fish in smaller ponds.

Enter: oft-overlooked or previously dismissed 'fringe' platforms that are re-writing the rules of how creatives behave on social media. On these platforms, follower count is secondary to education, community and opportunities for growth. Case in point: Twitch, thought to be exclusively dominated by Fortnite, is now premiering luxury fashion collections and Discord, once shunned as a gamers-only club, has become an epicentre for creative collaborations.

If you're considering a migration from Instagram, take a fresh look at these tried-and-tested alternatives...

Reddit

Sign up...

For a fuss-free and unvarnished, yet authentic, connection with your community. Remember: Reddit is not a catalyst to fame and fortune, use it as your research lab.

Features of note

  • Upvotes/downvotes. Likes have a fickle reputation—historically likes have awarded the 'aesthetically pleasing' over the 'value adding'. Reddit's reward system acts on a sliding scale, your net position being dependent on how valuable the community deems your content. Up/downvotes are a good indicator as to what resonates with your community, a valuable tool to inform your work.
  • Redditors. A self-policing feature that the developers never had to programme! Redditors are keen to protect the authenticity of their community, which means exiling users they suspect are there for personal gain and not community enhancement. Information on Reddit is often refreshingly unpolished and comes from the heart, rather than being manufactured to receive a heart via a double tap!

When it's worked

Reddit is home to supportive communities that would struggle to exist in the superficial terrain of other social media landscapes. 'Subs' have naturally developed with a focus on self-improvement, not self-promotion and collaborative learning, not competition. One such sub is /r/ArtCrit—a space for users to share their work, or often work-in-progress, and receive feedback from other artists.

When tracking the post history of regular users, the progress between each submission is often evident. The feedback under each post is gratefully taken on board and artists are able to focus on developing their craft away from an often scathing public eye.

Twitch

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If you believe that the creative process is just as important as the end result.

Features of note

  • Live streaming. Instagram is often used to parade art that is complete and polished, but live streaming on Twitch invites followers to view the entire process, and that means revealing the imperfections and mishaps too! Many followers wish to learn for themselves—a walkthrough of the process is far more valuable to the audience than the end result alone. The creator also benefits from a live audience: where creating can often be a solitary process, streaming provides company. It also provides accountability—the presence of an audience forces creators to focus on the task at hand and resist the temptations of procrastination.
  • Ad revenue. All creatives know that turning passion into profit does not happen overnight. That remains true on Twitch, but for successful, consistent streamers there is the opportunity to monetise a channel with paid ads. Popular streamers with a highly engaged community are also known to receive donations and 'gifts' from subscribers.

When it's worked

Twitch is still largely dominated by gaming content, but interest in the platform from other industries is rapidly increasing. Some creators have already jumped on the train and are reaping the rewards. Vicky, the artist behind Squibble Design, started streaming in 2017.

I just wanted to give it a go and see what it was like.

By 2018, she was streaming for four and a half hours a day, four days a week and her audience is now 1.7k strong!  For Vicky, this community is everything: "I enjoy sharing my art with and explaining my process to people whilst I am working. I have met a lot of other artists from around the world and everyone is very supportive."

Glass

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For a modest photo-sharing experience, a reminder of what Instagram once was! Glass operates on a paid subscription, meaning the entire in-app community is invested (literally) in the growth and integrity of the platform.

Features of note

  • No public counts. Users can still show appreciation for others' work, but only the creator themselves are notified. The lack of public performance indicators tempers any obsession with popularity, and encourages the sharing of authentic content that is true to the creator not the public—or an algorithm.
  • Chronological feed. Unlike Instagram's feed, ruled by that pesky algorithm(although that may now, yet again, change), all posts on Glass are displayed chronologically. Instead of favouring bikini pics, Glass ensures exposure equality for all creatives and allows users to reclaim control over the content they consume.

When it's worked

Kwame Johnson is a freelance web developer based in Seattle. Instagram was his firm favourite, before "marketers and influencers got on it." The strong focus on community is what differentiates Glass for Kwame:

"I've gotten into some friendly conversations with folks, that wouldn't have happened had we just double-tapped to like."

As for the subscription fee? He's a fan of that too! "It makes it feel like the people who are on Glass truly care about photography and are not trying to be social media influencers."

Twitter

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To claim your soapbox! Engage in conversations within your industry and use your voice to influence important narratives.

Features of note

  • Character limit. Tweet formulation is a lesson in effective communication. Learn to say something captivating and relevant all in 280 characters, and odds are you'll become more eloquent and compelling offline too!
  • Lists. On Twitter you can create personalised 'lists' allowing you to group accounts by topic or interest. Lists can then be displayed in exclusive newsfeeds. Browsing content from a personalised list makes scrolling more intentional and creatives are more likely to come across the relevant/ inspiring content that they set out to find.

When it's worked

Twitter has earned a bit of a reputation as an elusive playground for the Silicon Valley elite and as such has perhaps been dismissed by creatives unfamiliar with the platform. But Pablo Stanley, CEO and cofounder at Blush and creator of Humaaans, has never underestimated the power of the tweet. He has earned a following of over 90,000 on Twitter and can be found actively engaging in NFT Twitter—whilst maintaining a quiet (or non-existent) public persona on other platforms. Pablo also puts his sizeable Twitter follower count to good use, by often using his platform to lift up others in his field and sharing their work.

Discord

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To find refuge from the influence of likes, votes and shares! On Discord you can talk uninhibited by the pressure of social media performance.

Features of note

  • Video calls. The ability to talk 'face-to-face' allows for deeper intra-community connection. Additional in-call features, such as screen sharing, encourages collaborative learning and eliminates any unsettling competitive underpinning.
  • Channels. On other social media sites, it can be very hard to find communities for very niche interests. In Discord, 'Channels' mean umbrella interests can be broken down and it is much easier to find like-minded individuals with whom you can explore your passions.

When it's worked

Muralist, Alice Lee, and software engineer, Amy Wibowo, were looking for a space where they could indulge in chatter about their various hobbies, from ceramics to sewing, hear about other creative projects whilst sharing their own and, above all, celebrate cuteness! When they couldn't find a space that did all that, they started their own: a Discord community aptly titled, Creative Cuties.

Prior to Discord, most of Alice's engagement with her community happened on Instagram. But she prefers the "semi-private, longer threaded conversations available on Discord that public social platforms aren't as well-suited for." Discord also boasts "a lot of nice integrations with community management and moderation apps—and as a platform, it has a lot of delightful touches that make it fun to be on."

Although moderation is made easy, Alice thinks the key to her communities success is the lack of interference.

Our Discord is a fun creative community, and less of a 'personal art brand extension'.

The pair have opted for a light approach to moderating, "we have a strict Code of Conduct but other than that, the conversations and interactions are mostly community-driven."

In fact it was one such collaborative conversation that helped decide the colour palette for this super sweet bomber jacket!

TLDR

Instagram remains a hub for creative talent, established and emerging alike. But for creatives who crave:

community > following

education > approval

freedom > algorithms

It's time to sign up elsewhere...