I can’t. I can’t and I won’t. I can’t and I won’t use Instagram for business anymore.

Last year, right around this time, I planned a last-minute business trip to Disney World.

I’d recently launched the Disney for Couples blog and was getting serious about turning it into something  —  something income-generating, with thoughtful affiliate links and, eventually, my own products, like downloadable planning sheets and vinyl stickers.

Pretty quickly, I found out how hard it is to find legal-to-use Disney World photos online, and I was spending far too much time scouring Unsplash for them, trying to figure out what combination of keywords (sans “Disney” because: trademark law 🙄) would return results. 

After a handful of days lost to this, I decided to build my own stock library of photos I could use in my blog posts. 

I had just bought an entry-level DSLR, and I was excited to play around with it and come home with a vast collection of non-iPhone photos. (I did  —  about 1,000 of them.)

I also knew that once armed with all this visual content, I could make more of my teeny-tiny, budding Instagram account than I’d been able to with random snapshots from my 3 decades of Disney vacations. 

My idea was to run a photo-forward Insta that I could use as a creative outlet and online gallery. I’d write my Disney for Couples advice (date nights, packing essentials, park hacks, etc.) in the descriptions. Easy.

Instagram was meant to be one of several brand awareness and marketing platforms for the star of the show: the blog. 

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I knew that website SEO and Pinterest would be my best friends on this journey. Instagram was more of a “well, I’ll have all these photos, so why not?” add-on. Non-essential but still worthy. 😌

Shortly before I went on the trip, I scheduled an introductory meeting with a social media consultant, someone with YouTube, Instagram and possibly other social media expertise. I hired him, and we had a session or two before I left for Orlando.

From very early on, I could feel my original plans and goals  —  the ones I’d decided on with years of online content and Disney fandom experience behind them  —  drifting away from me. 

We’ll call my social media consultant “Brad.”

I ended up with pages of notes I’d jot down during my calls with Brad, many of them helpful. The most useful conversations we had were about high-level topics, like branding and the mental health drain that social media can cause. Those lessons continue to be valuable to me today.

I also ended up confused and mixed up more often than not, eventually forgetting the original path that I’d very carefully chosen.

Person walking off their path.

Brad was good at what he did, to an extent. There were also a lot of red flags. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know about social media marketing, so I paid for a handful of sessions before I totally backed off.

There were scheduling mix-ups and bad phone connections, conflicting suggestions, disregard for what I firmly did not want to do (travel planning, news content, putting my face on camera), and a mention of OnlyFans that was mildly offensive and, IMHO, incorrect. (It went something like, “Only girls with OF accounts can get clicks.” 😒)

That said, not every contractor you hire is going to hit it out of the park, so I cut my losses and moved on, happy for the bit of constructive advice I’d received.

I knew I’d function just fine on my own.

I hadn’t seen much growth while I worked with Brad, and now I was armed with lots of techniques to try out and see how they worked over time. Aside from a handful of purposeful breaks to save my sanity, I was pretty diligent.

🔸 I created content daily, mostly Reels, frequently using trending audio. I put up regular posts and carousels, too, and shared an assortment of content on Stories as much as 6 times or more a day.

🔸 I carefully chose hashtags — not too many, not too few — that were on-brand and in my niche without being oversaturated, trying to up my chances of being seen while I was still a small, growing account.

🔸 I posted at the right times of the day according to my audience demographics, playing around with different times and frequencies to see if anything worked better than anything else.

🔸 I engaged several times a day with my own followers and commenters, plus the hundreds of niche creators I followed and their followers. I left personalized comments that went beyond “cute!” and “love it!” and the heart-eye emoji.

🔸 I regularly browsed the Explore page to find new accounts to follow, audio and templates to try out, and ideas and inspiration that my core audience would respond to.

🔸 I tried out and paid for tools to help with photo and video editing, hashtag generation, and scheduling posts.

🔸 I diligently organized my photo library, making sure I didn’t use the same cover photo or main post photo more than once so it wouldn’t be repeated in my feed.

🔸 I bought, experimented with and customized Lightroom presets so my Instagram’s aesthetic would be uniform. I spent extra time creating and posting photos in batches of 9, each with its own on-brand styling, giving my feed a creative flow that stood out from competitors.

🔸 I handwrote content calendars and honed my ideas so they were completely on-brand, interesting to my audience, representative of the Disney for Couples style and purpose, and not a carbon copy of what every other Disney creator was putting out there.

🔸 I painstakingly recorded and re-recorded voiceovers, tried out different parts of my apartment for the best acoustics, cut and spliced voiceover tracks, learned where to hold my phone to eliminate hissing in “S” words, and tested different headphones and audio inputs to get the highest audio quality I could manage.

I created, tested and perfected Reels, only to have the app glitch or freeze or time out practically every time. 

(And yes, the app was updated and my phone wasn’t old or malfunctioning.)

It would sometimes reset and lose my almost-completed video when I would open another app to grab hashtags or make finishing touches to a cover photo. 

Sometimes it wouldn’t post it at all and then inexplicably prevent me from posting anything for days, or it would say the content was scheduled but it would actually post it immediately and then delete it permanently.

I wouldn’t be able to schedule more than 3 or so posts at a time, even though the limit is supposed to be 25.

If I did manage to post a Reel, the colors might be different or the text may have disappeared or the audio might have been timed differently than I’d set up. 

There was a period of time when every single Reel had one image or photo repeated and left out the photo or video that was supposed to be there (and was there when I looked at the editing bar).

It was maddening, and some days, I could feel my mood and energy take a nosedive before I’d done anything else on my list.

And then there were the dismal stats.

Deflated smiley face balloon.

If I got through all that — the voiceover and the transition timing and posting a video that looked like the video I’d intended to post — I would think, “Well this one’s great, this will do well.”

But it rarely would.

I’d refresh and refresh, waiting for the view count to grow, wondering if it would be different the following day after people had scrolled after work and late at night.

I had one Reel go viral and get 1K likes plus tens of thousands of views. Those were the only engagements it resulted in, though. No follows. A couple of trolls in the comments. That was it.

Most of the time, the Reel would underperform, and I would realize it wasn’t being seen by even a quarter of my own followers, let alone the strangers I wanted to attract to my account.

It wasn’t until a Reel download binge one night that I realized the thing that was the first step to deleting the account entirely: Even the Reels that had performed well view-wise had received barely any engagements.

I couldn’t escape the obvious: What was the point?

I’d done everything right. Instagram didn’t care.

From the start, the audience I engaged with and my Explore page was spot-on, so I knew I was interacting with and, therefore, targeting the right people.

All of my creation tactics were by the book, too. None of it mattered.

The account wasn’t growing. People weren’t visiting my website or showing interest in my stickers. 

I couldn’t even say that my content was boring and people didn’t like it because it wasn’t seen by enough people to figure out if that was the case.

I’d poured hours upon hours into Instagram with zero payoff. 

Over the past 13 months, I’d posted over 150 Reels. On average, each Reel took me about an hour to create and post. That doesn’t even take into account everything else I did for Instagram during that time.

Those 150 hours could have been 150 blog posts, 200 Peloton rides, 75 movie nights with my boyfriend, an extra 30 minutes of sleep every night or reading in bed every morning.

Instagram doesn’t respect the exchange we make with online marketing.

The unspoken contract between creator and digital platform is that (a) if you do what you’re supposed to, then (b) it will work.

I’ve been a full-time freelance writer since 2009, mainly SEO content to help businesses and solopreneurs rank online.

I’ve navigated through numerous Google algorithm updates and rules, ever-changing industry best practices, and sheer panics when the standard SEO practice at the time was immediately blacklisted.

In other words, I understand SEO — how it works on the backend, what it should look like on the front end, and all the ways it extends far beyond the keyword you use 5 times in your article.

That doesn’t mean that creating SEO content is easy, but if you learn it and do it right, your stats will go up. The same is true for (some) other social media platforms that haven’t received the tech bro, make-everyone-beg-for-it, bloated app treatment that Instagram’s fallen prey to since Facebook bought it.

Instagram has turned that trade agreement on its head in a way that’s at best annoying and at worst soul-crushing and insulting.

Creating anything takes heart, and even the 5-second Reels you scroll by require some type of work. 

When you take the time to follow the rules so that the thing you create is seen by the people who you know would want to see it, and then the platform that set those rules in the first place still doesn’t do its part, the question remains: What. Is. The. F-ing. Point.

Instagram is the casino of social media platforms.

Instagram is undeniably intoxicating. I still have a personal account, and in the short amount of time that I’ve been free of my business account, I’ve watched numerous Reels and posted 11 photos. 

When you’re tied to stats and overly concerned with the outcome — as savvy professionals and creators should be since the outcome determines success — it’s intoxicating (toxic?) in an entirely different way.

It didn’t take me over a year to realize my content wasn’t driving the results I wanted. That’s just how long it took me to cut my losses and walk away.

We carry a hope that this next one will hit. And if it does, you could get a lot more followers. And if you do, then the content you create after this one will also perform well.

But like a slot machine in a casino, that’s not how Instagram content works. 

You do what you’re supposed to do and stick with it for a while, expecting it to eventually reward you. Once in a while, it does, and that hit of achievement is just enough to try it again, and again.

Some creators have a lot of luck all the time, or even if their stats plummet, they’re still reaching many, many more people than I ever did, so it continues to be worthwhile.

I also know that so, so many Instagram creators are lamenting about all the work they’re putting in for their content to barely go anywhere. On top of that, some of the creators themselves can’t be trusted. 

⚠️ Spoiler Alert: If you come across a Reel that’s all, “Since Insta is a struggle right now, I’m following everyone who follows me from this Reel!” don’t hold your breath. You probably won’t get that follow you were promised and now your feed will be full of those videos. 

If Instagram crashed tomorrow, what would you do?

That’s the question I had to ask myself to ultimately delete my account. It felt strange and irresponsible to quit one of the world’s leading social platforms that’s also brimming with members of my core audience.

So much else was falling by the wayside, though. 

My decision wasn’t “use Instagram for my business or don’t use Instagram for my business.” It was “use Instagram for my business or have a business, period.” 

The time Instagram stole from me was nothing compared to the mental drain and distraction from everything else in my personal and professional life it caused.

My boyfriend put it perfectly the morning after I left it all behind: “I feel like I have my girlfriend back.”