Transform Your Instagram Feed Into a Community Bulletin Board
Instead of reminding you of what you don’t have, follow accounts that remind you of what you do.
You are likely aware of the myriad reasons to delete your Instagram account. It increases anxiety and feelings of inadequacy by using it’s algorithm to push emotionally charged material to the top of your feed. It guilts you into continuing to follow friends and family in order to deem the relationships “official”, while also holding you back from strengthening and maintaining that relationship in the real world, causing it to wither away until the “following” button is the only part remaining. (Is watching someone’s stories every day really an adequate alternative to meeting them for coffee once in a while?)
Over the past few months I’ve re-thought how I interact with Instagram, and (dare I say) feel like I’ve finally struck a healthy relationship with the platform famous for it’s toxicity.
First off, I’m an amateur photographer. So fully deleting my account, though certainly the most effective choice I could make in protest of the platform, was not a great option if I wanted eyes on my work. There just aren’t any alternatives that offer anything close to the same wide swath of users as Instagram.
Initially I thought maybe I could just post to Instagram, but not look at it or really engage with it outside of my own work. I found a wordpress plugin that allows me to syndicate to Instagram without even using the app. In fact- I have deleted the Instagram app (and all entertainment) from my phone and no longer take Instagram with me on the go, which in itself is fantastic method for protecting ones self from its intrusions.
But I still had the profile and I found myself periodically checking my feed in a browser window. Not carrying it with me everywhere and not getting any flow-interrupting notifications certainly cut down on my use-time and helped limit my exposure to it’s worst and most addictive parts. But viewing in a browser didn’t really cut down on the stresses induced. Scrolling in Chrome still didn’t feel healthy. I never really felt better after looking at it.
So I began to rethink my approach the platform. What does Instagram do better than than anywhere else? I considered that Instagram’s biggest downside is how it isolates its users by cutting them off from the real world. They claim to “connect” but the thing you’re connecting with isn’t real and doesn’t really care about you. Relationships on Instagram are superficial by design. Often users end up feeling more alone and less connected after using the app. So why not treat Instagram not as a way to “connect” unto itself, but as a means of staying updated in local news and real-world events I wouldn’t find out about otherwise? To employ its superficiality, instead of fighting it? It costs nothing to be on the platform and nearly every community group and local business has a presence there already. This is how I turned my Instagram into a community bulletin board.
Step One: Unfollowing
On paper it seems easy to simply unfollow everyone on your list and start fresh. But there is a surprisingly large emotional price to pay for every “unfollow” button you click. The apps make it feel like you’re cutting someone off from your life. Remind yourself that you’re cutting off a profile, not a person and that Instagram does not get to decide who you are officially friends with. It may be easier to simply create a new account and make that your default. Let the old account languish and wither. Don’t worry, nobody will even notice it’s gone. The algorithm will make sure of it.
The goal is to remove all of the people from your feed. Remember, they’re not real people, just profiles of people. And the profiles don’t know you or care about you individually. With the exception of a few local politicians who’s posts I find helpful, and a local “influencer” who’s posts are community-focused I’ve removed almost every account associated with a single person.
Types of profiles worth following:
1. Community pages and neighborhood blogs
You may be surprised at how many community blogs exist in your area. Most of them have some kind of social media presence. Are you going to get deep-dive longform journalism? No, this is ultimately still Instagram, land of the memes and quick takes. However you are more likely to hear about community events and see funny/uplifting stories from your immediate surrounding area. Even the sort of blogs that are mostly comprised of restaurant reviews are still worth following, if only to alert you to new places that have opened up and what they serve.
2. Local Restaurants and Businesses
It doesn’t even matter if you eat there regularly. I’ve discovered so many new and interesting local places simply by following them on Instagram first. Now when find myself in an area I’ll think “oh, that new cafe I saw on Instagram is over here, maybe I should check it out”. I learned that a local bookstore has a weekly game night, and that local bar has trivia Thursdays.
Have I been to trivia Thursdays? Not yet, and I may not ever. But the point is that in my mindless scrolling I’m seeing reminders that I live in a vibrant neighborhood full of interesting people, instead of reminders that a friend from high school got absurdly rich off of Bitcoin. There’s nothing wrong with that, …but I also don’t need the constant reminder.
3. Local politicians
Do you even know who your state senator is, or your city councilman? Find out, and follow them on Instagram. You don’t have to agree with all of their positions,and you might disagree with them strongly on some issues. But the reason to follow them is not political. It’s that they are probably very active in the community and aware of it’s goings-on. That construction by the interstate that doesn’t seem to end? The details with the new recycling program? Help with SNAP or other government assistance? It’s very likely your local representatives know about all of it.
4. Community nonprofits and charities
If you’d ever wanted to volunteer somewhere but were unsure about where or how, look no further than Instagram. You’ll be surprised by how many community groups are on the platform. You don’t even have to want to volunteer or any desire to participate. Just knowing the organizations operating in your local area is a great way to feel more connected to the community around you.
You may be thinking, “So what if Instagram makes me ‘feel’ more connected to my community? I might ‘feel’ more connected to my friends and family on the app, but it’s a shallow connection. Is feeling connected to my comunity the same as being connected?
In this case the answer is yes. Neighborhoods are defined by a collection of loosely-connected individuals occupying the same area. You don’t need to (and probably don’t care to) know intimate details of everyone’s lives the way you would with a loved one. The surprising thing is that Instagram’s superficiality actually lends itself quite well to this.
You may have noticed a theme here, instead of reminding you of what you don’t have, all of the recommended accounts remind you of what you DO have. Specifically what you have nearby, in the real world that exists apart from your apps and devices.
Rather than trying to be ever-vigilant, and regularly make a conscious choice to not compare yourself to others on Instagram (which can become exhausting over time), simply remove the opportunity to do so from your life. The obvious solution is to delete the app from your life entirely; but if you have the account anyway, curating in this fashion is an excellent way for turning the platform’s shortcomings into a positive.
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