Why is Instagram so Addictive?

Lavender photo
"Sometimes I string up some lavender as a warning to the other lavender."

So I have this new computer game. It’s called Instagram. Bear with me here.
Every strategic decision and follower or like notification is a dopamine hit that feels remarkably computer game-like. Here’s how the game works, my tactics, the scaling difficulty as I have loftier follower goals, and the intermittent rewards so far:

  • I have an account for my garden, a lifelong dream project in itself. instagram.com/seattlefoodgardener. 57 posts and 360 followers so far. I have good, niche content I make lots of strategic decisions for. From staging the subject, through taking a dozen photos, choosing the best, editing the photo, writing the description, selecting the hashtags, engaging with others online. I find some aspects more rewarding/of a chore than others.
  • Launching: I didn’t start with one post. I started with 6. Like all good p̶y̶r̶a̶m̶i̶d̶  multi-level marketing schemes, my first followers were my friends.
  • Identity/Anonymous: I made the conscious decision to be anonymous. Maybe mystery, or people projecting their own attributes will get me more followers. When creating the account I even chose the gender “Sporophyte” which unfortunately is not shown on my profile. Initially I chose “self pollinating”, but sounds like identifying as a wanker.
  • Going Viral: I posted an image with a witty comment to the gardening subreddit, with over 2 million subscribers. My post received almost 6000 upvotes and 181 comments, making it #6 top post for the week, and #31 for the month.
    However, I had to upload the image directly to get the most exposure, so the title didn’t link to my IG. I forgot to put the IG in the title so I only got a few followers. Oops.

The title was: “Sometimes I string up some lavender as a warning to the other lavender.

Lavender photo
Not shown: the dozen shots I took before I took one that was juuuust right. The obsession for taking the perfect shot is real.
  • My following Reddit post (experiment) DID include the IG, but with under 180 upvotes, it failed to go viral, and once again I only got a few new followers.
    The title was the equally grim: “After decapitating my lavender, I put the severed heads in bags and give them to my friends. (IG: SeattleFoodGardener)
  • Followers: My initial main source of new followers was following other accounts with similar food growing content, and some of them started following me back and liking my posts. I have two tactics:
    • Look at similar IG accounts and follow their followers and who they follow
    • Use the suggestions in IG for who to follow
  • I’d like to be following no more than double the amount of followers I have. This ratio was personally set. At writing, I have 360 followers, and I am following 689.
    If I have more than a 1:2 follwer:following ratio, then I think I am not being selective enough in who I follow, and this tactic to having followers, rather than having interesting content becomes obvious. To achieve this efficiency, there is no point in following musicians or car enthusiasts. For my niche, the best indicator is their IG including one of the following:

    • patch / plot / allotment
    • food / veggie / herb
    • garden / gardener
    • edible / eat
    • grow / grown
    • organic / natural
    • soil
    • seed
    • kitchen
    • farm
  • The actual proper way to organically (yes, that’s the technical term) get followers is to engage with others by using hashtags, commenting on and liking others’ similar content.
  • Improving images: After that, I upped my game by adding in-photo captions using Photoshop Express on my phone, getting even more likes, and looking more pro. I also frequently reduce shadow levels and increase contrast in the Android Photos app.

    Vertical Cucumber Success!
    In-image captions have a hook & get more attention.
  • More Research: Next up, I looked at the very popular gardening accounts (kind of like the high score leaders boards) and started looking at what they do, and setting my goals based on these.
    • I learned the norm is to state your gardening zone (prompting me to do this), and many people choose to include themselves, including photos of themselves. This isn’t essential, and I have chosen to be anonymous.
    • One specific random example is @familylifeatplot39 has 207 posts, 1186 followers and 1733 they are following. I looked at what hashtags they use, the type of content they have, the photography techniques, how much touching up they do (seemingly little?), and set my follower goal based on their number.
  • Should I cross post on other platforms? @freckledcalifornian has 1082 posts and 32,000 followers. Her Pinterest has 5,700 monthly viewers.  Mind you, she also has a full website with lots of gardening guide articles and recipes, a journal/blog. I am winging the garden – I do not have the skills or knowledge to teach.
  • Monetization:
    • Becoming an influencer: make money or get free products once I hit 1000 (?) followers.
      • Might be hard as most gardening brands are national, and products are only nationally distributed. I do use imported Japanese secateurs though. Also, most followers will probably be in the US like me.
    • Affiliate store: @freckledcalifornian has an Amazon affiliate shop with the simple URL amazon.com/shop/freckledcalifornian.
  • Will I ever make a return on my investment? Probably not. But I think this is more beneficial to both my physical/mental health, diet, career and reputation than computer games.


Other takeaways:

  • Remember, the single most important thing for garnering any sort of following as accurately predicted by Seth Godin in his book Permission Marketing is having interesting content that people get things out of. Find out what that is.
  • Collaborations with other accounts/influencers are a great way to get more followers.
  • Getting featured on a bigger account can be huge.
  • Daily stories drive further engagement. I’ve pinned one #oddlysatisfying video on my account.

What do you think?

Written by David Frank

David Frank is a Seattle-based marketer, writer (co-founder of Good/Bad Marketing) and public speaker. Originally from Perth, Western Australia, he has also lived in the UK, Japan and Vietnam. He has a Master of Science in Marketing degree from Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland.

He tours talks on marketing for the general public. His current talks are:
- Dangerous Products: The History and Present of Products NOT Safe to Consume
- Sensory Marketing and the Subtle Science of Packaging
- Sex, Love & Marketing: How To Market Yourself On Online Dating Sites​
- How to Market Tobacco (Despite Those Pesky Advertising Bans)
Learn more at http://www.thedavidfrank.com/talks.html

In his spare time, David is an avid gardener. https://instagram.com/seattlefoodgardener

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