Today I want to talk about the practice of following and then unfollowing (F/UF) people en-masse and why it bothers me. The general disdain for this is widely and regularly covered online so I don’t want to go over old ground but I do want to possibly add some new thoughts.
Following a ton of social media accounts only looking for a follow in return is exploding in popularity and is happening across all corners of the social sphere. However, I think it’s safe to say that Instagram is the most commonly targeted platform and the culprits are usually pseudo photographers and influencers.
So why does it bother me?
I’m not writing this with my head in the sand. It’s 2018 and of course people benefit from a bigger presence on social media.
I’m not troubled if people want to grow their follower base. Using bots is a good example. Bots have long been the cause of ardent criticism from many people who rely on their social media presence as a means of finding business and making a living, so I understand why they would be upset when others use questionable tactics to grow. However, doing what it takes to gain an advantage in a competitive market is business as usual in many industries and whilst I have never used bots, I don’t think of the reasons for using bots as personal or disrespectful to others.
F/UF, on the other hand, is deeply personal and, what bothers me is the psychology behind it.
Circa 2010, Flickr was the apothesis of an interest based community coming of age in a digital era. Photographers across the world could join group discussions, share and give feedback on each other’s work, grow together, build friendships together and find inspiration from others who shared a common interest.
I was super active on Flickr. I shared a lot, learnt a lot and made friends. All of this was doable without needing a big following to go with it. Flickr is no longer what it used to be but that’s a topic for a different day.
Fast forward to Instagram in 2018 and this kind of online nirvana is almost fantasy. In it’s place is a notion of social media being nothing but a means to validate ones self worth. At all costs.
That, is following and unfollwing defined.
I don’t care about you. I don’t care what your interests are or what you post and share. All I care about is how I can make you become another digit in the measurement of why I’m important. Another notch in my stats.
If I can be bothered to take the time, I’ll watch between 15 – 150 people per day follow me and unfollow me again within hours. They’re not following me because they like what I share or what I do and they’re not unfollowing me because of those reasons either.
Here’s a case in point. Example person 1 describes themself as a ‘Professional Photographer and Traveller” with an Instagram following of 13.3K.
A few days ago they followed me. I clicked on their account and watched their ‘following’ roll from 950ish to around 1100ish within a few minutes. Shortly later they were following almost 1400.
That night I returned to their account and they were following 700ish people, I was of-course, not one.
Last night I happened to see them follow me again. This time, I returned to their page and followed them back. I went through their feed and left conversational comments on a handfull of their photos with genuine feedback and questions. This morning, I checked again and they had unfollowed me (cue my decision to write this blog)
And this is what bothers me. This evolving mind-set that everyone else is a stock item, a vendible asset and leveraging them in the interests of your own measurement of worth is completely normal and a-ok.
So where does this leave us?
[A 2016 article in the Huffington Post] gave some thought provoking evidence as to how social media is changing how we govern and are governed as a society and the relevance of social media spreads much further. From business, to healthcare, to human rights, equality and even disaster response. Social media matters and it’s an indisputable fact that blisful ignorance is short lived, you will, to some degree, be left behind.
…and that’s why I care. Because, whether we like it or not, this is a defining part of our lives. The reason I care is BECAUSE I care. I care about how these worlds are converging and how the prevelence of this selfish and narcissistic trend is shifting the baseline of normal.
I wish it wasn’t all about followers but, to my earlier point, im not ignorant to reality. I know the hustle will continue but can’t we hustle with a little respect for others and what they do?
I’m not trying to moonlight as a social media expert but I do know that people don’t want to follow you because you want them to follow you. The whole principle of F/UF is a means of having others discover your work. So if you want to grow, why not start there and create killer content? I see so many people follow and unfollow me with an account full of poorly shot phone selfies. “Follow me bro”.
F/UF isn’t the only way that people can discover your work. Try actually engaging. Find popular hashtags that are related to your work and interests and get amongst it. Everyone appreciates others taking the time to like what they do and commenting on other peoples work not only makes them feel good, it is also respectful and a positive way for them to discover you.
So that’s my rant.
What do you think? In the words of my friend above, am I taking this too seriously or can we stop the F/UF nonsense and start valuing each other more than we value our numbers?