A few years ago, I started an Instagram account with the intention of having it act as a simplified extension of my blog – that is, to serve as a snapshot as to whatever material already exists on my website, and to let my followers know whenever a new post has been uploaded. As time went by, I found myself thinking about what to bake next based on what my Instagram followers would literally, ‘like’ more, and for a while the relationship between my Instagram and my blog was reversed. It wasn’t all bad though – the preferences of my followers tended to be in line with that of the readers of my blog and both platforms were gathering a decent amount of attention. Plus, anticipating what would be well-received was a fun challenge. The problem was, the content that was relatively popular was principally, extremely over-the-top decadent desserts. I’m talking triple-layered cakes swathed in buttercream and then drenched in ganache, and basically anything with lots and lots of chocolate. It’s not hard to imagine why since such desserts can be so visually arresting and Instagram is a platform for visual content. However, after a while I got tired of baking – and eating – those butter-and-cream-laden desserts and moved on to bakes that were more suited for twice-a-week consumption like swiss rolls or macarons.
That’s when I learnt my first lesson as a ‘brand’ on Instagram – consistency. When I follow an account on Instagram, I do so with the expectation of seeing more pictures like the ones that are already posted under that account because I want to receive a constant flow of inspiration from pictures that I might like. Weirdly, it took me a while to realize that my followers must have expected the same of me. As I changed up my style of baking I noticed that my posts on Instagram did not garner as much attention as they used to, which makes utter sense in retrospect but was a frustrating experience at that point in time. Other factors include The Algorithm, as many long time Instagrammers like to refer to it as, that was later introduced and the fact that I took a year long break from baking and posting on Instagram because I had just moved to Tokyo and was overwhelmed with my first year of university life. And I didn’t have an oven in the dormitory I was living in. Crucial point.
I started baking when I was 12 years old. 10 years later I still have not quite pinned down my baking style or even what I like to bake the most. My preferences change constantly; sometimes in a matter of days, sometimes after a few months. I mostly make a recipe just once, because there are just way too many other desserts to try out be it in terms of flavor combinations or techniques. I like to think of my versatility as an asset, but it’s not always one in the world of Instagram. The hesitancy of posting new subject matter or trying out a new photography style because of the possibility of losing followers is a feeling that has been expressed on the platform lately by many established users. (I wouldn’t dare count myself amongst them but I strongly feel the same way.) Since when did Instagram begin to stifle creativity? Of course, it would be shortsighted to simply blame the technology and overlook the tendencies of the people using it; I think we consume so much information on a day-to-day basis we forget that there are real human beings involved in the construction of that information. I propose that whenever we follow a new account, we keep in mind that we’re following someone on their personal journey of creation and exploration that they’re brave enough to leave open to public appraisal.
The data that exists on Instagram is human-generated. Pictures may have been spotlessly lit, flawless edited, and the colors too beautiful to be real. But a real-life person made that fairytale dimension happen (most often with the help of some clever photo-editing tools of course). We just need to pause a little longer and look a little harder to recognize that. I will – how about you?