Unpaid labor, lack of ad revenue, and rigged algorithms are obligatory in Instagram.

If you write a food blog like I do, then you’ve likely been told nonstop that having an Instagram account is essential to increasing your blog’s viewership. It’s a popular opinion that’s generally taken as fact. Entering the search query “Do I need Instagram to blog successfully?” will result in similar advice, with a litany of bloggers and internet marketing strategists promoting Instagram as a proven, low to no cost method of adding viewers and subscribers to your website. However, if you remove the many layers of subjective hyperbole and excessive positivity, and instead focus on actual web analytics data, you’ll find that for most bloggers, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Instagram is simply not effective at getting its users to read and subscribe to most blogs, particularly those with an emphasis on detailed writing. Instagram has been proven to perform poorly, yielding the worst blog viewership metrics out of any of the major social media platforms, yet people in the blogging community continue to sing its praises, mostly based on undeserved reputation. To bring about some objectivity, I’ve compiled several qualitative and quantitative reasons why your blog doesn’t need Instagram to be successful.

Instagrammers don't care about the taste, aroma, history, ingredients, or methodology that go into great food like this. They just want to see photos of it.
Instagrammers don’t care about the taste, aroma, history, ingredients, or methodology that go into great food like this. They just want to see photos of it.

Instagram Is a Photo Sharing Social Network, Not a Blog Sharing Social Network

Instagram was originally designed for photo sharing. Videos were soon added later. Instagram is not designed to disseminate large quantities of written content, whether that be for news, alerts, history, general information, literature, or simple reading pleasure (as is the case with most blogs, including mine). It’s there to disseminate short, visual media, in the form of photos and videos.

As a blogger, you have to understand that Instagram’s design favors visual media in the short form, and conversely punishes written media in the long form. Most blogs, at least most quality (i.e., non-clickbait) blogs, are written in long, detailed form, because this helps inform the reader in a way that can’t be found elsewhere, showing up in long-tail keyword searches (those more detailed searches that fall outside of the most commonly searched 20% of keywords).

A typical food blog like mine, while having some nice photos, relies most heavily on its detailed writing. Without such writing, it would simply just be a gallery of food photos, with little to differentiate itself from other blogs. Unlike more blog-friendly social media platforms, such as Pinterest, Instagram doesn’t allow for much written detail in its posts. Other than adding a bunch of hashtags, which just comes across as awkward and fake (and is essentially begging for follows and likes), there’s not really a way to intuitively provide much written detail.

Though you are allowed to comment, the comments section in most Instagram posts rarely gets more than a few one to two-word replies, if that. Most comments are often just emojis, with little legitimate interaction. This is a direct result of Instagram utilizing Pavlovian conditioning on its users, plus a few bots sprinkled in for good measure.

Written detail is the enemy of Instagram, because it stops viewers from mindlessly scrolling through visual media in short form. It could also potentially take those viewers offsite, outside of Instagram’s heavily fortified sandbox, which brings me to my next point.

Instagram Doesn’t Allow Most Accounts to Add Links to Posts

This is a non-starter for me. I’ve heard countless self-proclaimed Instagram “gurus” and “experts” try to rationalize this as a good thing (which it’s not), supposedly inspired by Instagram’s desire to keep things “pure” (a laughable notion, given Instagram’s track record). These same self-proclaimed “gurus” and “experts” also tend to offer tips (or hacks, if you want to speak in cringeworthy terms) on how to supposedly get around the inability to add a link to a post in Instagram.

Believe me, there’s not a real way around it that isn’t time consuming. In order to be able to add links to your posts, you have to either reach 10,000 or more followers, or be confirmed by Instagram as an account that “is the authentic presence of the public figure, celebrity or global brand it represents,” which is absurd. This essentially favors only the extremely wealthy and powerful: actors, pro athletes, musicians, Fortune 500 companies, political figures, and celebrities who became famous by other non-Instagram means. Your average blogger is definitely not one of these.

This leaves your average blogger having to copy and paste links to the comments section of posts. However, the links left in the comments section aren’t actually clickable links, and in fact need to be copied and pasted by Instagram viewers into another tab. Some bloggers resort to instructing viewers to click on the active website link in their Instagram bio (the only one Instagram allows). Yet others resort to creating videos with directions on how to get to their website. All of these methods are tacky, look unprofessional, and most importantly, are burdensome to the viewer, who’s not likely to follow these detailed instructions to get to a blogger’s website.

Not being able to advertise your blog’s website is a denial of your ability to attain viewership. Instagram knows this. They designed their social media platform to be a self-contained sandbox in which the viewer is content to stay all day long and never leave. Links to your blog, though great for you (especially if you have advertising revenue), are viewed as a threat by Instagram.

In most social media platforms, bloggers exchange some degree of privacy for the ability to refer followers to their blog’s website in posts via a live, clickable link. Since Instagram doesn’t offer the ability to add links to posts, you’re essentially giving up your privacy for nothing. Even in the case of a business account or a non-personal Instagram account, Instagram has still gathered some contact information from you, as well as metadata containing your contact list. Instagram is particularly invasive because unlike other social media platforms, users must download its phone app to have full functionality.

A simulated projection of my blog’s referral count versus followers, using statistical models.
A simulated projection of my blog’s referral count versus followers, using statistical models.

Instagram Followers and Likes Do Not Equate to Referrals to Your Website

Even if you get to 10,000 followers, there’s no guarantee that they’ll actually visit your website via Instagram. In fact, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the vast majority won’t. Many, if not most followers these days are bots or burner accounts that operate as ghost followers, providing no interaction whatsoever. Sure, they inflate your follower count, which is great for the world of Instagram, but currency in the world of Instagram has zero real value in the world of Google. During my entire two-year span on Instagram, I had two referrals to my blog. Yes, just two referrals. That’s it.

I created an Instagram account solely to set up this experiment, which has successfully proven my point. Of course, my website is merely a small blog that’s only been around for two years or so. What about larger blogs, with tens of thousands of Instagram viewers? Surely they should have better referral percentages? Right? It turns out that they’re also having the same problems. In fact, many of the more popular blogs have far larger numbers of Instagram followers than actual email subscribers, or even visitors, in some cases.

Think of all of the work, in terms of time and effort, that goes into posting on Instagram to get to 20,000 followers. Now think of that work equating to just six referrals to your website. These Instagram referrals are far less likely to subscribe to your mailing list to receive updates and links to the latest articles from your website.

Instagram followers are content to keep using Instagram as their sole connection to your blog. However, unlike your email list, which allows you to reach 100% of your subscribers, Instagram only allows you to reach about 5% of them, even if they actually want to hear from you. This is due to Instagram’s rigged algorithm, which we’ll discuss in detail further ahead. It gets even worse upon realizing that these few referrals are likely not spending much time on your blog, which brings me to my next point.

Instagram has shortened society’s average attention span down to Idiocracy levels.

Instagram’s Target Is an Audience with an Extremely Short Attention Span

For the last ten years or so, we’ve bemoaned Facebook turning our society into one that caters to a dangerously short attention span. Facebook’s algorithms are designed so that only the most polarizing, reductive, and overreactive stories, articles, and visual media reach users. Due to Facebook’s blatant exploitation of its users through simultaneous over-stimulation and over-simplification, as well as legitimate privacy concerns that were exposed in the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, many have sworn off Facebook.

Many former users have moved on to Instagram (which, ironically, has been owned by Facebook since 2012), viewing it as an escape from the divisive, toxic environment that Facebook helped create. However, this is extremely flawed logic, as Instagram is merely a roided up version of Facebook, that also happens to be owned by Facebook. If you thought Facebook shortened our attention spans, Instagram has brought us down to Idiocracy levels.

Instagram is for people who are too impatient or lazy to even read. Think about that for a second. I’m not talking about reading a multi-page news article or a lengthy novel. Instagrammers don’t even have the time to read a social media post containing no more than a few sentences. They want to indulge their eyes and the pleasure-seeking dopamine receptors in their brain non-stop. They view words as a hindrance to gluttonously absorbing visual stimuli non-stop, scrolling through images on their feed at an alarming rate.

Instagram users have the shortest attention spans of any of the major social media platforms’ users. If we were to caption a stereotypical Instagram user’s thoughts while coming across a post deemed too word heavy, it would likely read like this: “Me no want read, me want picture…NOW!!!” This captioned thought would then be immediately followed by violently aggressive finger-scrolling to make up for lost visual stimulation. If Brawndo was Idiocracy’s thirst mutilator, then Instagram definitely has got what dopamine receptors crave. Knowing all of this, do you really want this to be your target audience as a blogger?

Bloggers write for fun, for career, or for both, but regardless of the motive, bloggers enjoy writing and feel that they offer their viewers something useful, that they’ll enjoy reading as well. As a food blogger who typically writes long-tail keyword search articles averaging three to six pages in length, my target audience is those that love to learn about food, particularly authentic food from around the globe. My target audience is passionate about food and looks forward to reading about it, as opposed to simply viewing highly edited food photos with little substance or description. It’s the focus of their search.

Knowing my target audience, I have no desire whatsoever to target Instagram’s general audience, who are clearly not there to read, particularly about food. The numbers prove this as well. Looking at my referral metrics in my Google Analytics account for borderlessfoodguide.com, I can see that social media is not a great traffic source to my page, at under 5%. Within that 5%, Instagram is by far the poorest performer, with an extremely low referral count, which we just discussed.

Low Quality Referrals Mean Low Session Durations and High Bounce Rates

Two to three minutes is considered a good average session duration (total time spent viewing a website) by industry standards. Looking at the actual time spent on my website, the best performing social media platform is Pinterest, at six minutes and two seconds. In fact, it’s the only good performer. Facebook is at 33 Seconds, Twitter is at 17 seconds, and in last place, Instagram clocks in at a whopping 0 seconds. That’s right, 0 seconds. How is that even possible? Probably through bots, referral spam, or even an accidental click.

In business, you want to market yourself through the proper channels so that you can connect with the right people. If you sell surfboards, you’ll want to target surfers. If you sell your blog’s content, you need to sell to readers of that content. Instagram simply doesn’t connect you to the right people. What little food community Instagram claims to have is interested solely in food porn. Its users are not geared towards reading, which my food blog is.

Instagram referrals tend to have a high bounce rate. Bounce rate is the number of single page sessions divided by the number of total page sessions in the whole website. A rate of 100% means that every visitor that clicks on a specific page, only sees that page, then clicks on an external link to another website, clicks the back button, or closes the browser. A high bounce rate is not inherently a bad thing. For example, viewers could be bouncing to an advertiser’s link on a very popular page.

However, for the majority of blogs, particularly those that rely heavily on detailed writing, a high bounce rate would be considered a bad thing. It means that visitors are just looking at this one page (the landing page they were referred to from another site, such as Instagram), even though the site has similar pages covering topics within the same niche. These visitors are viewing one page, and then leaving, which means a lack of interest in the rest of the site.

Looking at bounce rate for each social media platform, the best performer is once again Pinterest, at 39.4%. Mimicking our average session duration comparison, Pinterest is again the only good performer in this category. Twitter is in second at 87.5%. Facebook is right behind with 88.2%, and yet again, in last place, is Instagram, with a 100% bounce rate. This means that both of my measly two referrals only viewed the page that they were referred to and subsequently bounced.

If these bouncing visitors also have a low average session duration (below two minutes), then this is a sign that you’re not getting meaningful referrals. They may be spambots sending referral spam (messing up your analytics data) or just uninterested Instagram users who clicked on your link expecting the short form visual media that Instagram is known for, only to find the detailed writing that a typical blog would contain. With both of my referrals having an average session duration of 0 seconds and a 100% bounce rate, it’s safe to say that my Instagram referrals are not meaningful.

Follow/Unfollow is Still Alive and Well

Though Instagram has taken some measures against the practice of mass following and unfollowing as a means of building an audience, it hasn’t really been particularly effective. You might be able to only follow/unfollow a certain amount of people per hour and day, but follow/unfollow still exists, and it’s still one of the most popular tactics of gaining followers. There are plenty of ways around Instagram’s weak measures. People still buy followers from third parties who run hundreds, or even thousands of bots set within Instagram’s hourly and daily follow/unfollow limits.

This means that there are few people actually growing their following organically, and the likelihood of ghost followers is extremely high. Furthermore, your followers may also be follow/unfollowing your account, meaning they’re only following your account so that you’ll follow theirs, and will eventually unfollow yours once their account reaches a certain follower count.

To make matters even worse, Instagram doesn’t allow you to track who has unfollowed you. It also doesn’t provide a list of who follows you within the people you follow, unlike Twitter. This makes policing the practice of follow/unfollow extremely difficult to enforce. It’s also yet another reason why Instagram is so unreliable for user interaction, particularly of the variety that leads to actual website referrals.

Unpaid labor, lack of ad revenue, and rigged algorithms are obligatory in Instagram.
Unpaid labor, lack of ad revenue, and rigged algorithms are obligatory in Instagram.

It’s Instagram’s Sand Box and They’ve Tricked You into Unpaid Labor

Instagram wants to hang onto its viewers until the end of time and sees both you and links to your blog as a threat. It only mildly tolerates you as a source of free content and as an additional consumer of its content and the litany of products and services it peddles for its sponsors.

Instagram cannibalizes the viewers you bring from your website to Instagram. It knows that your visitors will switch from subscribing to your email list to using Instagram for notifications, but as mentioned earlier, unlike your email list, which allows you to reach 100% of your subscribers, Instagram only allows you to reach about 5% of them, even if they actually want to actively follow you and be updated.

Posting your content on Instagram means that you’re making Instagram content for free. Users no longer have to visit your website to see exclusive content that you created. Instead, they can stay within the confines of Instagram’s sandbox. In this scenario, you’re providing unpaid labor to Instagram. You’ll get none of the monetary benefits you’d have posting on your own website, such as advertisements.

In addition to providing Instagram free labor, you’ll be providing it free use of the content you’ve provided. Instagram will reap 100% of the advertising revenue that it gains from third parties by freely using your content. Nothing whatsoever will be allocated to you. While Instagram won’t own your content outright, it will have complete license to use it as if it did, with no royalties or compensation to you, ever. This is written into Instagram’s terms of use below:

We do not claim ownership of your content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos or videos) on or in connection with our Service, you hereby grant to us a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings). You can end this license anytime by deleting your content or account. However, content will continue to appear if you shared it with others and they have not deleted it.

It actually gets even worse. In addition to the free content that you’ll be providing Instagram, and the free advertising revenue from the royalty free licensing rights that you’ll be also handing over, you’ll also be giving Instagram permission to run advertisements with your username and profile picture, based on your user data and habits. This is also written into Instagram’s terms of use below:

You give us permission to show your username, profile picture, and information about your actions (such as likes) or relationships (such as follows) next to or in connection with accounts, ads, offers, and other sponsored content that you follow or engage with that are displayed on Facebook Products, without any compensation to you.

This means Instagram can run ads for third party companies with your username and profile picture, stating that you endorse certain products, based on your likes, follows, and other Instagram actions. As is the case with Instagram’s royalty-free licensing rights to your content, you’ll also receive no royalties or compensation for this, whatsoever. All three of these contractually enforced stipulations will last so long as you have an Instagram account, and in the event that your content is shared by other Instagram users, will continue long after you’ve deleted your account.

Much Like Facebook, Instagram’s Algorithms Are Rigged

Much like Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, Instagram suffers from the same rigged algorithms designed to suppress organic reach to your posts. This is a twofold strategy. Beyond the aforementioned strategy of keeping users within Instagram’s sandbox, this tactic of rigging algorithms is designed to make organic reach so pathetically low that content creators are forced to buy Instagram’s ads to remain competitive or even relevant in its pay-to-play environment.

There was talk back in 2014 of a Facebook Reachpocalypse, in which Facebook suddenly changed its longstanding algorithms in a manner that lowered true organic reach to fan pages from respectable levels between 30 and 60%, down to about 15%. It then made further changes to its algorithms, bringing organic reach numbers down to the 5% and below levels that we’ve been seeing in the present.

Facebook also qualitatively changed its algorithms so that reach preferences would be assigned in the following order: videos, images, onsite text posts and reactions, and lastly, posts with links to an offsite web page. This was done to adapt to the Pavlovian-conditioned short attention spans of its viewers, as videos, photos, and memes are the most easily digestible forms of media for such users. Onsite text posts without offsite links come in third place. Though not rewarded heavily in terms of reach, they’re still not in the “punished” category.

Posts with links to an offsite web page are punished by Facebook, severely. Running A/B tests on my blog and a few other websites, I’ve consistently seen the poorest results with these types of posts. It all boils down to Facebook not wanting its users to leave it’s sandbox. Unfortunately, posts with links to offsite web pages are the most needed type of post for bloggers like me. As such, these algorithm changes have made Facebook worthless for most bloggers.

Facebook has implemented similar changes to Instagram’s algorithms. In fact, in some ways, they might even be worse. In 2016, Instagram changed the order in which users would see posts in their respective feed. Posts would no longer be ordered chronologically, as they had always done before, but would instead be ordered based on user behavior, such as likes and follows. Despite user outrage, Instagram, has kept this particular algorithm.

Instagram has also stepped up its use of shadow banning accounts that appear to engage in repetitive activities that don’t create what it deems “genuine engagement.” Shadow banning is the act of partly or completely limiting the visibility of a user’s contributions on a website, as opposed to regular banning, which is the act of deleting a user permanently from the website. This vague rule unfairly targets bloggers, as legitimate posts that direct a blog’s Instagram followers offline are now penalized via Instagram’s algorithms. It gives Instagram carte blanche to reduce the reachability of a user’s posts to near zero.

Brand Awareness Is Meaningless for Blogs

Countless bloggers and internet marketing strategists continue to pump out “brand awareness,” as a defense to Instagram’s poor referral rates, low average session durations, and high bounce rates. If you sell a well-known product or service such as Nike shoes, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or GEICO car insurance, brand awareness is quite useful. Because of the notoriety of these products and services, and the gigantic economies of scale of the companies that make them, these products and services can be bought virtually anywhere. People have to buy car insurance and shoes, so brand awareness is extremely helpful in getting a potential customer at the point of sale.

Blogs don’t operate this way. They offer information found only on the web, not in books. There is no physical product to be sold. Blogs aren’t stocked on millions of store shelves worldwide. They don’t sell a service either. Blogs are not a paid subscription service like a newsletter or online magazine.

A blog’s product consists of the articles that it posts at regular intervals. It provides free information. You can’t brand that. You could take out thousands of dollars in Instagram ads to promote a blog, but you won’t get much yield from it, because a blog is quite possibly the most intangible thing that you could ever sell on the internet, especially when it’s free.

The only way that you can successfully market a blog is by having great writing on pertinent subject matter that’s easily indexed by search engines such as Google. Effective search engine optimization is how you get your viewers to your blog. Great writing and quality content are how you keep them there. Most successful blogs operate this way and proportionately speaking, very little of their overall traffic is driven from social media, particularly Instagram.

Instagram Has a Horrible Design That’s Not Intuitive

Instagram requires you to post photos directly from your phone with the Instagram app. You can’t upload the photos from your desktop through Instagram’s website. This means that for posting large quantities of photos or videos, you’ll be computing from a phone for significant durations of time. This isn’t easy on the eyes or the hands. It’s also bad for your neck.

We blog for a living, which means we write for a living. Most adults in the working world, and even the world of leisure, write from a desk, hence the use of a desktop, or at the very least, a laptop. We can’t do this long-term from a phone. Additionally, what about photos from a standard, non-phone camera, such as an SLR or a point-and-shoot? We have to download them to a computer, then send them to our phone, then post them on Instagram. This is way too much work, and should be an immediate deal breaker.

Instagram’s attempt at uniformity means that your photos will be cropped to Instagram’s specifications regardless of size. Instagram’s filters are pointless and unnecessary. They’re not so much a feature as they are a constraint. Once you’ve posted photos, you cannot edit them from your desktop. You have to do so from a phone. Nothing in Instagram’s interface screams user-friendly.

Even with a Non-Personal Account, There are Huge Privacy Concerns

Instagram is owned by Facebook, which all but guarantees that your information will be sold to the highest bidder. It’s part of Instagram’s terms of use, which you’ll have to accept in order to have an Instagram account. As mentioned earlier, even in the case of a business account or a non-personal Instagram account, just by virtue of its invasive phone app, Instagram will have your contact list and access to related metadata. It will also track your offsite habits through cookies.

Instagram can’t be fully operated from a desktop, so if you want to use its platform, you’ll have to give it access to your smartphone. Even after deleting your account, Instagram will retain all of your information. What’s deleted is only what you and other users saw externally while your account was active. The actual internal files containing your user information will be around long after account deletion.

Instagram Handles Have Not Replaced Business Cards, but Domain Names Can

When I meet restaurant owners or other bloggers in the real world, I’m still asked for business cards, or at the very least, my domain name, not an Instagram handle. Calling yourself a writer and referencing your Instagram handle more than the actual name of your website is the small business equivalent of having a company email without its own domain name. When I meet a business owner, particularly one who utilizes the internet, that has “randombusiness@gmail.com” instead of “name@randombusiness.com,” it’s very hard for me to take this person seriously. The same goes for an Instagram handle in place of an actual domain name or a business card with a domain name on it.

Most of my real world contacts want a business card with legitimate contact information on it, including my domain name. The reports of the business card’s death are greatly exaggerated. When people occasionally don’t want a physical card, they ask for my domain name. I’ve never been asked for my Instagram handle, ever. This is just something that internet marketing consultants and bloggers have been pushing from the comfort of their desks, without any field data to back it up.

The average blogger is fairly unaware of how much of a money pit Instagram is in terms of lost time and revenue.

Instagram Is Simply Not Cost Effective As a Business Tool

Your time is money, and Instagram takes far too much of it. Given that posting content on Instagram equates to giving away free content and viewers, while simultaneously providing unpaid labor and advertising to Instagram, you’re time is better spent doing something else. With no positive payoff in terms of referral traffic, average session duration, or bounce rate, Instagram is a money pit that’s simply bad for business.

Great Content Writing and Meaningful SEO Are the Way to Grow Your Blog

The hours that you save by not posting and interacting on Instagram should be applied to writing, first and foremost. Writing great content is essential to any successful blog. By writing detailed content that targets a specific audience, you’ll be able to reach far more viewers than you would via Instagram.

Focusing on optimizing your content for long-tail keyword searches, you can improve your search engine optimization results drastically. It’s not something that will happen overnight. This is why cranking out a high volume of quality content toward a targeted audience is so important. In the long run, it’s far more sustainable and much less fickle than dealing with a volatile trickle of social media traffic, particularly Instagram’s.

I Deleted My Instagram and You Can Too

Deleting your Instagram is not just a sentimentally great feeling. It’s likely to improve your blog’s search engine optimization performance as well. Ditching Instagram will free up more time to devote to writing great content and focusing on getting it to where it needs to be.

The quantitative and qualitative data clearly back up the case for dropping Instagram. With Instagram’s organic reachability, referral traffic, and referral quality at all-time lows, there is no better time than now to break free and leave Instagram to the painful demise that it deserves.

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