Posted 22 January 2021

A guide to using Instagram for your career in a healthy way

Over the years at Creative Lives in Progress, we’ve asked countless creatives for their advice on a whole range of topics. But with so much fantastic insight floating around on the site, we’ve decided it’s time to collate all of that knowledge, experience and wisdom into a series of official Guides. From finances to imposter syndrome and everything in between, we hope they’ll be pieces you can return to whenever you need a little bit more, well, guidance.

To kick things off, we’re tackling Instagram, as we explore how to get the most out of it while looking after your mental wellbeing.

Instagram is a common talking point when it comes to creative careers; and even though it can be an amazing source of connections, inspiration and information, it’s not all gravy... The app also has its repercussions, from addictive scrolling habits to toxic self-comparison – all of which can lead to questioning your own value.

As it continues to act as a shop window for creatives of all levels, we believe it’s important to find a balanced approach to using Instagram. Here we’ve gathered advice and tips from a wide range of industry professionals, to bring you a first guide to using Instagram for your career in a healthy way.

1. Knowing what you want

Of course, there is no right or wrong way to use Instagram for your career, but there are ways to set boundaries to ensure you get the best out of the app, while looking after yourself and feeling in control of what you share.

Whether you already have an account or not, it’s always a good idea to take the time to ask: What do I want out of this platform? How can it help me? Having a clear idea of this can really help define what you want to share, as well as how you use the app.

🖊 Write a list

We recommend taking a moment to write this down. For example, you might want it for research purposes, to make new industry contacts, to make your work discoverable – or all of the above.

This list can also extend to the kinds of posts you want to make, which can come in handy if you’re ever unsure of what you could share; for example:

• Finished images of projects
• Behind-the-scenes shots or clips
• Process images or videos
• Things you find inspiring
• Events you’ve attended
• Selected personal news and updates

2. Setting up an account for work

Firstly, it’s worth keeping in mind that people often Google potential employees and collaborators, and social media usually comes up high in the search. This is why it’s important to make sure that people can find you, and that you have some control over what they discover.

🔒 Separate your accounts to create boundaries

One way to set boundaries between your public work and personal life is to set up two accounts. This separation allows you to set the right tone and make sure your business or brand remains professional.

Just finished a great design project? Show the world on your public page!
Embarrassing messages from Hinge? Private page!

If you prefer having one account for both, just know that it’s a choice, and you can be conscious with how much you reveal. In this case, you can also separate content by using the ‘Close Friends’ functionality on Stories, allowing only a selection of followers to see more personal updates.

💼 Consider switching to a business profile

Whatever you choose, look into switching to a Business Profile. This feature will give you post insights, audience usage time (always helpful when scheduling posts!), a detailed inbox, the option to put an email on your profile, and more tailored notifications.

🔗 Add your website and contact info

And don’t forget to add your website (if you have one) to your bio if you want to be contactable for work or opportunities, as well as your email address, if you’re comfortable with that.

3. What to post

💌 Share what you’re proud of

We all know about the infamous Instagram algorithm, but it shouldn’t be about trying to crack the code to get the most likes. Instead, we recommend posting what is authentic to you; what you’re proud of and demonstrates what you want to do more of.

Make the most of what you’re comfortable with: Are you ok with being in front of the camera? Why not talk your followers through your process? Prefer letting your work do the talking? How about sharing the behind-the-scenes shots or finished photos of your work?

Then if your work is less visual, for example if you work with words or have a more behind-the-scenes role, there are always ways of sharing your work. Writers and journalists might want to post snippets of writing using interesting typefaces and colours, or screenshots of articles on coloured backgrounds. Producers could share clips from projects they’ve been a part of, with clear captions about their involvement.

🎨 Think quality over quantity

Sharing what you love is far more likely to produce better connections and outcomes than sharing what you think people want to see. This will also attract the right audience: people who are genuinely interested in your work and ethos.

This means that getting the attention of just a few followers you admire, or are relevant to your work, can be worth far more than hundreds, or even thousands, of more random followers – and the same goes for likes.

🖼️ Your grid doesn’t have to be ‘perfect'

In the past, Instagram has felt like a space for curated perfection, but in recent years we’ve seen it become a far more honest and open.

With that said, your content can be as curated or liberal as you like – whatever feels right for you and your work. And if you ever run out of ideas for things to share, remember to refer back to that list you made of the types of content you want to put out there (see step 1).

👍 Check it with a friend

Do you ever get nervous before pressing send? There’s no harm in sending your post to a trusted friend first for a second opinion. This might help you spot a mistake or even build your confidence. Consider posting work in progress too, this will remind you that not everything on Instagram has to be finished or perfect!

🛠️ Make the most of Instagram’s tools

Remember, the world doesn’t revolve around your grid (or main page). You can use Instagram’s other tools for various functions. That could be:

• Using IGTV to showcase interviews or clips
• Using Reels or Stories to share process, ad-hoc inspiration or personal updates
• Using Guides to produce your very own how-to
• Using the Shop to sell products

📈 Optimising engagement

Even though we’ve said it isn’t all about the likes and engagement (and we stand by this!), naturally it’s one of the biggest questions surrounding a platform like Instagram: Are there ways to make my posts perform better?

Using hashtags, tagging, caption mentions and sharing a Story of grid posts can all help others discover and embrace your posts. But if you want to take that a bit further, you can always do a bit of extra research, via platforms focused on tech and content. One example is Digiday, which has articles on how apps like Instagram function, as well as the latest features, like Reels or Guides.

Something to bear in mind is that consistency will have a big impact. If you take long breaks in between posts and don’t use the app in between, this will reduce engagement. Plus, interacting with other people’s content makes it more likely to come back to you.

And if you’re posting videos, the first few seconds count for a lot. So make sure those beginning moments hook your viewer in.

4. Be kind to yourself

Instagram is a quantitative platform – it literally runs on numbers, so it’s no wonder that so many of us have been lured in, or become obsessed with likes and followers. It’s easy to attach the value of your work to the number of followers you have or likes and views that your posts and stories get. But try to remember the following:

😞 Don’t be deterred if something performs ‘badly’

Building an Instagram presence takes time, consistency and patience, so don’t dwell on by how well something performs.

We’ve all suffered hesitation when posting, or deleted something that wasn’t an ‘instant success’ – but try to take the pressure off. Everything you post is just one element of a fuller picture of your creative profile. Also, if you only post what gets attention and likes, you risk watering down your personal style, which will be frustrating in the long run.

😒 Avoid self-comparison

Self-comparison can be the most debilitating part of using Instagram. But just consider that we only ever see a fraction of someone’s life online, so try not to get dragged down by it. Instead try to focus on your own work, inspirations and path.

🤗 Follow accounts that make you feel good

On that note, remember to be conscious about what you consume, too. The accounts you follow will impact what you see in your feed, and potentially how you feel. Why not:

  • Only follow accounts that inspire you
  • Mute accounts that are triggering, or that make you feel bad (we can all use a break from the endless news streams, and you can always unmute these later)

👀 Dealing with negativity

Along with praise and positivity can come criticism and negative feedback. If this happens to you, try to only take on what is constructive and useful.

For anything that verges on abusive, don’t be afraid to block users and report them directly to Instagram. It might be easier said than done, but try not to let these comments get to you; and where necessary, seek support so you don’t have to shoulder negative feelings on your own.

5. Connecting with others

💬 Build relationships where you can

Instagram can be a great place to network, so use it as an opportunity to research and connect with people who work in the industry you’re interested in.

Luckily, there are lots of small ways to do this, and you never know what can come from a playful back and forth! You can:

• Like and reply to comments
• Drop a DM to a potential collaborator or those who show interest in your work
• Celebrate others’ work by sharing their posts (and if you share work on the grid, make sure you ask for permission, add a credit and tag!)

If you want to build solid connections, it goes without saying that DMs and comments should be tailored and personal, rather than copy-pasted messages. And once you’re chatting, you can always move the conversation to email to keep it going.

6. Taking charge of your time

Whether it’s time spent planning posts or consuming other people’s content, it’s good to set time boundaries to avoid descending into a scroll hole.

📅 Plan your posts in advance

Scheduling posts means you’re able to share work while spending minimal time on Instagram itself. There are many scheduling apps available for Instagram, and many of them are free, including:

Later
Combin
Planoly

These allow you to preview your grid from your computer, letting you play around with curation and see how things will look, before your posts go live.

🕒 There’s no magical time to post

When scheduling posts, think about the time and day. There are lots of sources out there that will claim to know the ideal time for posting, but there isn’t really a magical time that works for everyone.

A good rule of thumb is to consider appropriateness for what you’re sharing, and if you have a Business account, you can see when your followers are most active. It’s an interesting metric to know for sure, but isn’t the be all and end all.

⏳ Use apps to avoid endless scrolling

Both Android and Apple now have app timers on their systems, which means you can track how much you’re using Instagram. Use these timers to create healthy boundaries, setting alerts to let you know when you’ve scrolled for too long.

If you’re easily distracted by notifications, remember to turn these off, or even sign out of the app, as this will stop them, too.

Another helpful tool for avoiding addictive scrolling is Threads, which is Instagram’s private messaging app for close friends. This means you can temporarily delete the Instagram app and just use this one. It allows you share and see Stories by close friends, but without the feed.

7. Protecting your account

Protecting your wellbeing is one thing, but it’s also important to protect your account. Imagine after all the time spent curating and building a presence, your account is hacked, compromised and potentially lost forever.

🦺 Safety first

All of these things could happen to anyone, so it’s best to be prepared. To help prevent this:

• Ensure you have access to the email address connected to your account
• Have a strong password you don’t use for anything else
• Switch on two-factor verification and either have a SMS code texted to you or use an authentication app like Google Authenticator

Much like your career trajectory, your Instagram presence is something that is uniquely yours. Embrace it to create connections, showcase what you love, show what you’re proud of and share your aspirations.Take control of the app by using third-party platforms to reduce time-wasting and self-doubt.

As we’ve said, there really are no hard rules, but if you ever forget how to use it in a healthy way, you can always refer back to these seven steps!

Written by Creative Lives in Progress