Sparking Conversations, Tracking Results

Instagram Enriches Online to IRL Experiences

IRL. In real life we’re busy. It’s messy. It’s far from perfection. It’s important to remember that what we see online in our social media feeds – shiny, happy people – is not the full story. In my fourth in the series of Insta Exploration posts, I’m exploring the relationship of real life and online engagement. I’m interested in sharing some ideas about connecting real life to online experiences and ensuring humanity, not technology, is at the heart of the relationships we create.

Instagram creates online relationships based on shared experiences, common interests and location through hashtags and pindrops on maps. For example, posting a picture and some descriptive copy of where you work, live and play serves as a thread of connectivity. If you discover other users’ posts or accounts and continue to track with them because of this connectivity in an online only relationship, that can certainly add value for some. But is that all there is? It feels empty lately so I’ve been thinking more about how online connections might develop into an IRL relationship, a conversation string of more depth, or provide the inspiration to pursue a goal or passion. Now this could be enriching.

How many of us think of social media as a way to enrich our lives? Many people view it as a necessary evil and have totally abandoned it or spend so much time endlessly scrolling and going down rabbit holes that it becomes a time suck. The like button has made us lackadaisical and lonely. Many social commentaries exist on the subject of the Internet of Loneliness like this article in the Guardian, which notes, “…as long as we are capable of feeling and can express vulnerability, intimacy stands a chance.” So how do we fiercely protect our right to intimacy and relationships of meaning in an online era?

I’d like to offer up intentional ways to use online connections to bring more realness into your life. My suggestions are an aside from the oft written about, obvious approaches from turning OFF instant notifications and your mobile (easier said than done, but super-worthy of making the effort). They’re less about cutting the ties with technology and more about seeking out value from online opportunities and interactions.

Enriching Suggestions:

Make a relationship map of your online life. What you do you like and dislike about social media platforms? Where are your most enriching interactions? Look for activities you can cut and opportunities you might newly pursue. (see my sketch)

Consider making your channels and contacts more personal or specific. I don’t post all that often on Facebook. However, when I discovered that private FB groups like the one I recently hosted for wellness and accountability have been super beneficial when it comes to starting or deepening relationships online that develop into IRL connections, I took renewed interest. I’ll also mention the growing popularity of group text strings, apps that support communities and Snapchat, where history disappears and pictures don’t need to be perfect. These are all more personalized ways to connect at a micro social level.

Another way to be more streamlined in your approach — on Instagram or Twitter, for example — is to have a thing. Be very specific in what you’re posting about and what you seek and you’ll attract like-minded people to your cause and content. I have three Instagram accounts and five Twitter accounts. On Instagram I have my own general catch-up account of everyday life since 2012, but when I started a wellness community and got a dog, I chose to create new accounts for those content types. And Twitter… well there/ not there on accounts focused on general, parenting, business, empathy and wellness. whew! I don’t let it stress me out : )

Seek ways to connect your goals and interests to social media, IRL experiences and relationships. If you haven’t created or went through the process of vision-boarding, it’s worth it. Take the daily tasks you’ve focused in on and apply them to social media because no doubt you’re on these channels daily. Let the content you see and engage with reflect your goals and inspire you. Podcasts are a great way to infuse daily learning. If it’s accountability you seek, FB groups can be a great fit. For me personally, after looking at my social media map, I’m going to use FB for recipe sharing with other moms (vs Pinterest, which I think can be overwhelming). Professionally on LinkedIn I’m going to comment more on posts and articles and engage with rich discussion groups related to my career aspirations and knock off a couple of networking events from my calendar.

Understand social media platforms and their opportunities and pitfalls. This understanding will help you have a healthy relationship with social media. For example, Facebook friends are typically people we already know in person, therefore, it can be a source of support when needed, but recognize they may not all share your love of heavy metal or favorite hobby. Instagram followers and those we follow are more likely people or brands we’re intensely connected to due to shared passions. They may not care about your family, but they’re a Goldendoodle lover and they are curious to see where you take your dog on walks. At any rate, post content appropriate for the channel, don’t engage in negativity and set your expectations and time limits in each channel.

Don’t just like. Engage. Comment. I’ve seen her do it. My 14YO will like every post in her feed. She’s sweet like that. It prompts me to ask if you’ve noticed how few people take a moment to share a comment that amounts to more than an emoji? Try sharing a bit about your experience related to the post, ask a question. Crazy, right?

Be supportive. Be vulnerable. Take risks.  I try to take notice when people share causes and communities they’re particularly passionate about in an online format. Support people who put themselves out there emotionally or open up. Play it common-sense safe, but consider taking some risks. I’ll share one recent scenario. I discovered an account on Instagram, @mspcoffeeandthings. They offered that anyone could join them in a #coffeehang. The account had some enticing pics of local MSP coffee shops, so I was intrigued, but I did not know the account creator. I almost shied away from rsvp’ing yes when I saw the first date started at Wesley Andrews. I thought it was someone’s home, which I was definitely not going to do. Upon further investigation, Wesley Andrews turned out to be a conversation compliments (fancy for coffee and cocktails) shop and was indeed legit. In fact, I met Joy, the lively woman behind the coffee-wooing account and at least 18 new people since I’ve attended four coffeehangs to-date.

Take breaks.

Now take a moment. Consider how the time we spend scrolling through feeds of online content is improving or adding value to our lives. The answer is different for everyone. To create your own space and answers for your approach, take some of the suggestions for general social media behavior I’ve just outlined and put them into action. Set boundaries, set goals, be selective, strengthen IRL connections and relax…. live your life on your own terms, enriched by what technology has to offer and not burdened by it.

Note: In three previous posts I highlighted how to create an Instagram account and manage its content (see: An Appetite for Insta), dove into the why of its relevancy (see: Instagram Serves Up A Shared Experience) and touched on the who, or the influencers of this channel (see: Under the Influence of Instagram).


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