A Rookie’s Journey with Instagram

800 million users, 40 billion posts, one photo-sharing application and service: (Instagram). Nearly 8 months into my affair with Instagram, I think I’m beginning to actually enjoy the experience!

As a rookie instagrammer, what have I learned from using this incredible platform? How have I used this to build my online presence? What joy has this brought me? How did I begin? While this post is by no means an Instagram 101 or one that features technical details, it’s definitely a rookie’s guide to having fun and falling in love with Instagram.

Where Do You Start? Just Begin. 

My first Instagram post was on May 1st, 2017. It has zero hashtags and 5 likes. I’m a believer and advocate of mindfulness. And one of the most integral components of practicing mindfulness begins with focusing on breathing. And so I chose this photo.

But I was genuinely anxious. Was this a good, first picture? What impact would it likely have in the long run on my personal brand and digital presence? Is the font way too cursive? Will people ‘like’ it? Should I care? And hashtags? Don’t even get me started on that. It was overwhelming. I had more questions than answers. There was more fear than joy. 130 posts later, I’m still here. If you’re a rookie instagrammer like me, I hope that gives you hope! At some point, you may discover that Instagram isn’t your forte at all. Your preferred social media platform may turn out to be something else. But at least you tried and you’re more aware of the power of this platform now.

A Picture is Worth a Million Words on Instagram

Every day, I come across multiple selfies on Instagram. Complete with the selfie pout, head tilt, and SnapChat filters. While these are fun and entertaining in moderate numbers, it could cause your audience to lose interest, quickly if every post is the same. Unless you’re a superstar or celebrity of some sort. The 3 questions I always ask myself before posting a photo are:

  1. How does this serve my audience?
  2. What story do I want this picture to tell?
  3. Is it in line with my personal brand?

You don’t have to be a master photographer with heavy-duty, photography equipment. You don’t have to spend hours, post processing. Your phone, a steady hand, and a willingness to view things differently is enough. And every picture you share is like your resume. You wouldn’t write random things in your resume, would you? Everything on that document is intended to be honest, authentic, and deliberate. At the same time, your resume is a reflection of your personality. Your pictures are an opportunity to reveal who you are, to the world. So, choose wisely and have fun!

Hashtags for Posts and Tags for People

My earliest recollection of hashtags wasn’t on Instagram. Instead, it was on a Facebook post. If you’re sharing your Instagram posts to Facebook, please take a few minutes to delete the hashtags and only then share with your Facebook audiences. Using hashtags on Facebook posts doesn’t make you look smart.

Hashtags are the heart and soul of Instagram. Without them, content cannot be searched, labeled, or filtered. And therefore, it increases the probability of being ‘found’. They also help you find content that is relevant to your needs. It is super algorithmic and I’m still amazed when people like or comment on posts less than a few seconds after posting. For me, hashtags really encourage the abundance mindset. Instead of jealously guarding every ounce of content you have, you can use hashtags to help other people find you and your story!

I recently made the mistake of tagging people I did not know. Just because I’m into aviation photography, I foolishly thought I could tag people and groups and that will somehow amplify the views, likes, and comments. Bad move. It didn’t do anything to amplify the views. Instead, I may have lost credibility by my indiscretion. Now, I’m careful about when and who I tag and what purpose it’s expected to achieve.

Enjoy the ‘likes’ and comments but don’t chase them!

It is now well established that Social Media triggers a Dopamine High. Here’s an excerpt from this article:

“…According to a study of Australian consumers by San Francisco-based media-buying firm RadiumOne, social media usage is a dopamine gold mine. “Every time we post, share, ‘like,’ comment or send an invitation online, we are creating an expectation. We feel a sense of belonging and advance our concept of self through sharing…”

The truth is that you can gain or lose followers in a moment on social media. One of my favorite posts on this topic is by Mark Schaefer. In the last 24 hours, I gained 30 new followers on Instagram and I woke up feeling rather chuffed. By the end of the day, that number had dropped right back to what it used to be! Was I disappointed? Sure. Did it crush my ego? No way. Because Mark’s perspective has changed the way I look at this topic.

I learned that people un-follow you for many reasons. And sometimes, it’s because they’re trying to play the numbers game. They un-follow you after you follow them to increase their follower numbers. I think that is sad and unfortunate. If my ego was so fragile and driven by how many followers, likes, or comments I receive, I have already lost the battle.

I use Instagram because it gives me joy. The followers, likes, and engagement with my audience is important but it is not my primary driver.

Use Instagram to Promote Your Blog Posts

If you blog regularly, use Instagram to promote your posts. It doesn’t display clickable links but I invite my followers to check out the link in my bio. I use hashtags that are relevant and specific to help them find my post.

Based on feedback from a dear friend, I add the title of my blog post directly on the featured image. This way, it saves me precious, real estate space by directly adding my excerpt on other social media platforms. It also helps me manage span of attention in an era of extreme, information density.

Create Art

In a recent LinkedIn conversation, I read something Darcy De Leon posted. She wrote:

…Creating content is an act of service, so create content that you know will best serve the people consuming it…

That is the most sacred articulation I have ever read on the act of creating content. Blog posts, Instagram photos, podcasts etc. are shared freely. They are a result of hours of work and burning the midnight oil. Some of my pictures like this one below was the result of waiting for that single, magical moment on a 16-hour flight.

Any act of service is carried out with mindfulness, love, and generosity. So, look at this platform as a community that creates and shares art. Make that your key differentiator. It may or may not fetch you followers or likes by the hundreds of thousands. But it will give you joy.


  1. Don’t be afraid to begin!
  2. Choose your pictures wisely.
  3. Remember: Hashtags are for posts and Tags are for people/groups.
  4. Enjoy the attention but don’t go looking for it.
  5. Use Instagram to promote blog posts.
  6. Creating content is an act of service so go ahead. Create Art.

As Jason Thibault shared in this post: How to Win at Instagram: The Long, Grueling, and Worthwhile Way, it is definitely my escape portal! It is my second, go-to creative outlet after blogging.

If you have a goal list for 2018, I hope “Play and have fun with Instagram” features on your list of adventures!

Anitha Aswath is an HR Consultant and Strengths Coach of Leader Success in the Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area at Cisco. She has the unique privilege of meeting Cisco clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of their teams.


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