“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”
— Walt Whitman
A question for you, my Instagram-using friend. Do you feel like there’s room for your whole self online?
Do you feel safe sharing it?
Do you feel like people even care?
It’s 2022, and I’m on a mission to stop us all from hiding behind product photos or restrictive niches.
The fact that you still have a ‘day job’. or that you do it from bed, or that you’re not a “real artist” because you’ve only been doing this for 12 months? That’s not a terrible secret you need to hide. It’s actually the magic glue that will turn your online viewers into a loyal, sticky and supportive following.
Let’s talk about how…
Why ‘niching’ on Instagram is (generally) bad advice
You’ve probably seen the posts. “Niche content is the fastest way to grow! Find three topics your audience respond to and only post those, over and over, until the end of time!”
It sounds so easy. It sounds so seductive. Frankly, it sounds like the Holy Grail of Instagram simplicity! But there are a couple of major problems you need to know about this quick-fix approach…
1. People buy from people
Coaches, your future clients need to know what you look like, what your values are, how you make them feel. Wedding photographers, potential clients want to know if they’re going to get along with you on the most expensive wonderful day of their life. Makers, your future customers want to know why you chose that dark blue, where the pebbles in your ceramics came from, how long it took you to make that piece of jewellery by hand. But more than that, they want to know you. Your big, messy, human picture. They want to know all the places where your life overlaps with theirs – shared problems, shared experiences, shared excitement, shared fears and joy. We can buy faceless products and services from any huge multi-national corporation. What makes you special is that you’re one-of-a-kind. Narrow the focus too much, and people will forget that the rest of you even exists.
2. Pigeon, meet your hole
Grow an audience that knows you for one thing, and one thing only, and that is all they will want from you for the life of that account. When we’re hungry for growth in the beginning that can seem like a sacrifice worth making, but when your focus pivots 3 years down the line, which it will- with a new diagnosis, or a new passion, a new child or a newly learned skill – it’s devastating to find that this audience you’ve cultivated for so long simply doesn’t give a damn. Then you’re faced with an unwelcome choice: stand still to keep them happy, or go on alone and start all over again.
3. Only the pretty need apply
Will niching help you grow your account? Honestly, the answer is “maybe”. If you’re fortunate enough to have a super-popular or photogenic subject, then you stand a good chance. Makers of rainbow tutus and clever nail technicians, rejoice! But if your work is something with less viral appeal then it won’t be the magical golden bullet for you. Proponents of niching will tell you that you just need to switch up your business offering to accommodate this, but that’s really just a fancy way of telling you to people-please and pander until you find a way to make their one-size-fits-some-lucky-people strategy work out for you. Instagram trends are not a good reason to pivot your whole business offering. Not least because likes, saves and followers do not necessarily convert into customers unless they’re actually invested in you. (See point 1)
4. As dry as plain crackers
You might not think you care about this too much right now, especially if you’re knee-deep in Instagram overwhelm and looking for any life-raft to cling to. I get it, I do. But for any practice in life to be sustainable, it needs to feel good. The real reason you are avoiding Instagram right now is that whatever you’re doing – whatever rules you’ve created, whatever habits you’re trying to force – it makes you feel awful, so your brain tries to run and hide. Instagram is a creative platform, and using it should bring you freedom and joy! If those two emotions are not at the very top of your list of daily social media experiences, then friend, it’s time to put that right.
So what’s the alternative?
Build an internet presence that has space for everything you might ever want to share.
It’s exactly as easy – and as difficult – like that!
People often join my Insta Retreatclass with their entire existence niched down to the smallest components. Artists who have their pen work on one account, their mixed media on another. Florists sharing their wedding work on one, believing their wild and tangly is too different to be mixed in.
The record is a never with 13 individual accounts for all the individual facets of her creative expression.
Unspurisnl she was feeling overwhelmed, under-motived and burned out. That’s 13 times as much work and 13 times less reward for your efforts!
And so, I recommend something (seemingly) radical. Drop all those extra accounts. Go back to just one. Just one place where all of you gets to reside; all of your work, your play, your humanity, your inspirations and dreams.
Let your audience be there for all of you – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Make the common denominator that ties it all together be you – glorious human, flawed, amazing, wonderful you. And then watch the incredible rewards that come from connecting as an actual human online, instead of a glossy, impossibly perfect, department-store catalogue, intimidating alien.
‘But, I’m an exception!’
Around now, your brain might be offering the most common refrain I hear in response to this message – but wait, ‘my business/account/work is different!’. It’s really, really hard to see the common thread that ties all of our elements together when we’re knee-deep in the details of it all. To the florist, to the artist, the distinction between their work is real, clear and pronounced.
And I’m not here to tell you that’s not true. Of course, those distinctions are real, and truly do exist.
But the question at play is, are they important to your potential audience or customers? Do they see the distinction? Because if the answer is no, then everything would benefit so much more from being housed altogether.
So, should I just post everything and anything?
Not quite. Think for a moment about a favourite magazine or online publication. I like to use Marie Claire as an example. Marie Claire magazine uses photos, writing and journalism from a range of different contributors, covering a pretty wide range of themes. But it is always, always Marie Claire. You never find something outrageous or wholly unexpected inside. Everything feels cohesive, on-brand, but still varied. It’s different enough to be interesting and engaging, but not so different that it turns you off by featuring things you couldn’t give a crap about.
Your Instagram page is like a mini-magazine of you.
So, if you’re all about floristry, you might feature your spectacular finished flower arrangements, alongside work-in-progress shots, snaps from the 6am flower market, your tools of the trade, the mess on your workshop floor. You might also feature your dogs, your home, your finds in nature, your new favourite dress, your baking, your books. All of that would fit well, be on-brand and an enriching experience to help your audience get to know you more intimately.
But, if you also loved recreational drug abuse, you might not want to include that in the mix. Maybe your love Formula One racing doesn’t fit quite right for your online brand, or your super-specific collection of vintage Thundercats action figures. They’re extreme examples, I know, but you actually have to go to pretty bold extremes to find an area of your life that can’t be a part of your brand, if you decide you want it to.
Because ultimately, the common denominator that ties all of your photos, reels and content together? It’s not your niche, or your subject, or the rules of your business.
It is, quite simply, just you.
Need some help?
Of course, “just be you” sounds so easy, but in practice it can be a whole lot harder. Most of us have had a lifetime of conditioning that tells us it’s not safe to be ourselves. That we’ll be criticised, rejected, ostracised or worse. And so, however enticing the idea of showing up as a multi-faceted human might be, when it comes to the actual application, we have a tendency to avoid.
If you’d like some help in unpacking that baggage and finding your true creative voice online, then my Insta Retreat class might just be the right fit for you – and we’re just about to start the next class!
The Insta Retreat combines strategy, imagery and marketing with coaching and mindset work, to help you craft a social media strategy that is as nuanced, creative and joyful as you are. Join me for live coaching calls each week, as well as a weekly teaching call with me, special guest Lives, a gorgeously supportive community and all the Instagram insight, tips and knowledge you need to create something that serves all of you – both financially and emotionally – long term.
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