Photography and Numbers

What to do about the Instagram algorithm, numbers of likes, views, comments and such. And eventually why I’m starting this blog.

The Instagram Algorithm Sucks

Definitely for me and maybe also for you. Only a small fraction of my followers see my posts and the likes seem to get less and less for every post. I have around 1.500 followers on Instagram and I’m happy if I get more than 100 likes on a post. 2-3 years ago I had maybe 500 followers and it was not hard for me to get over 100 likes. I won’t say anything myself about the quality of my posts here because this is up for others to judge but the feedback I receive makes me believe my quality at least didn’t decrease. This leads to frustration and ultimately to the question: should I care and should you care if you experience the same? Eventually that depends on why you do what you do and why you use Instagram.

Now if I consciously think about it, it comes down pretty much to one thing: sharing my pictures. Pictures that I love to take and to edit. Pictures which I think are worth sharing. However, the act of sharing doesn’t change at all how much fun I have while taking and editing them…or does it? Let’s have a brief excursion about extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic & Intrinsic Motivation

“Extrinsic motivation occurs when we are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment” [1]. A huge extrinsic motivation we all know is money. It’s the reward for our work. Is that bad? Definitely not. Rewards can make unpleasant tasks way more pleasant. What is problematic about it though is that extrinsic motivation tends to kill intrinsic motivation. Offering children a reward for playing with a toy they already liked playing with lowers their interest in playing with it. It slowly transforms activities, which are intrinsically fun to do, into work. 

In this very sense, getting a lot of likes on a post on Instagram is increasing extrinsic motivation. The likes are the reward. And as a consequence, the extrinsic motivation when we’re obsessing about the Instagram algorithm and numbers can kill our intrinsic motivation. The intrinsic motivation to create, to go out and shoot just for the sake of shooting, exploring and being outdoors. Or to edit the picture in a way you like it most because of your own taste and style. 

Me in my natural habitat, doing what I like most: taking pictures in the mountains.

Me in my natural habitat, doing what I like most: taking pictures in the mountains. © Julian Bruckbauer

What’s your motivation?

And interestingly, Instagram knows exactly about this phenomenon as they ran a test for a while to hide the number of likes on posts [2]. Apparently they dropped this again, which seems like a cowardly move to me at the expense of the wellbeing of its users. But what can you do against this and should you stop looking for ways to improve your stats?

No, but you can try to be more conscious about why you post on Instagram. What is your intrinsic motivation? Why are you creating? Once you make yourself aware of these things, from my experience you become more grateful of the likes you’re already getting and less frustrated about not growing according to any numbers. And it’s easier to do your own thing just for the sake of it other than wondering what others might like or not. 

What all of this has to do with me starting this blog? Well, people told me that I could improve my SEO with a blog to generate more clicks on my website. Which immediately made me lose the motivation to do it. However, I reconsidered because I actually like writing about things I care about and find interesting. And I don’t really care about how many clicks I get for this blog post because I enjoyed reflecting about this topic, and ordering my thoughts by writing them down. If just one person reads it and finds it interesting, I’m happy about it. And this is how I’ll continue this blog. I don’t know how regularly this will be and I won’t restrict myself to any kind of topic. I’ll just do what I find interesting and what I enjoy. 

In a Nutshell

Extrinsic motivation (e.g., getting as many likes as possible) kills intrinsic motivation (e.g., taking pictures because it’s fun). So in the end, this is not advice on how to be successful on social media in terms of numbers or the instagram algorithm – but on how to have way more fun with it anyway. 





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