Working in PR, I spend a lot of time studying and working with influencers (what we used to call bloggers and thought leaders). The field of influencer marketing has exploded over the past 5-10 years and shows no signs of slowing down. But there is a new narrative leaking through those perfect square images on Instagram. The staged photo, as we know it, may be over.
Over the past year, I’ve seen an increase in influencers discussing the stress and anxiety that comes with the misrepresentation of their lives through meticulously edited and filtered photos. I’ve seen comments in bios that say things like, “Watch my stories for my real life.” And I’ve seen numerous influencers introduce “old school blogging” series on their blogs that are essentially diary posts accompanied with raw iPhone photos. This past April, even The Atlantic picked up on this shift.
When Instagram was first introduced nearly 10 years ago, users posted photos in real time. There was a handful of filters and borders within the app for quick editing, but for the most part, photos were simply snapped and uploaded to our feeds. (Remember when it was so odd to post a photo after the fact that people started using #latergram to let people know they weren’t currently there?) Then, bloggers and superusers started experimenting with the app and their photography style to make their feeds stand out. Enter flat lay images, murals, DSLR cameras and Adobe Lightroom presets. As this style gained in popularity, it became the norm, and we’ve finally hit the breaking point – even the influencers who created it are over it.
So, is it still cool to have an Instagram aesthetic?
Over the past few months I’ve been playing with A Color Story, a popular photo editing app that even Taylor Swift started using for her Instagram photos. I purchased its vintage filter pack and started using the same filter on every one of my photos to create a consistent grid (pictured above). I have to admit, I love the look of a matching Instagram grid – it gives me a sense of calm – but I can’t say that my friends and family noticed, nor did it make me gain followers. I think the tide has turned on the Instagram aesthetic.
But before you freak out and think you need to blow up your Instagram strategy, here are some easy adjustments you can make that I’ve picked up over the past year of observation and experimentation.
- iPhone photos are good enough.
Of course, there are exceptions to this based on your business, but for the average user, iPhone photos (especially on the newer phones) look great on social media. They also feel less staged (even if you have 20 outtakes in your camera roll 🤫) I still love a good iPhone mirror selfie to show off an outfit.
- Don’t worry so much about your grid.
How often do you look at other users’ profiles? I’d bet that 9.5 times out of 10, you’re seeing their photos in your feed, not on their profile page. So don’t stress about your grid. Post two flat lays in a row? Cool. Typically post pink photos, but have a cute photo from last night with zero pink in it? Post it anyway! I promise you, no one else is going to notice. Focus more on posting images you like, not images that fit your “brand.”
- Post more in the moment.
Shift your mindset back from “this photo will get a lot of likes” to “here’s what I did today.” I hate to use the word “authentic” because it’s so overused and misused that it now kind of triggers the opposite, so instead, let’s say “current.” Keep your social media feeds current. It will help you come across as a more relatable, real person and bring social media back to its original intention.
Have you noticed this shift in the Instagram aesthetic? What strategies have worked for you?