Okay, this title sounds way more dramatic than it actually is. I love Bookstagram, even though I don’t think I ever intended to make it my main platform in the long run. As a person who had been an active book blogger in her past life and who has only started using Bookstagram recently (kind of), I was immediately starstruck by the vastness of Bookstagram. I joined the platform around March, and at the peek of my ‘Bookstagram career’, I was posting at least four times a week. No lie, I was amazed by how quickly my “numbers” were rising, and what is even more exciting, getting my voice heard at places I never thought would happen.
Let me quickly explain why I even joined Bookstagram in the first place though. In March of this year, the global pandemic finally reached me (literally) and I realised I needed a creative outlet in order not to get mad. So, I decided to re-join the book community after years of neglecting it.
The thing is that I wanted to take baby steps first before entering the big pond with my blog again, especially since my blog needed some heavy upgrading first. So, my decision fell on Bookstagram and I instantly fell in love with the platform.
It’s easy to use, and what is even more important, I’ve made some excellent friends in the meantime, people that share the same passion as me (and who even love rice just as much as I do). I genuinely enjoy scrolling through my feed just before bedtime, admiring the aesthetics of fellow bookstagrammers. Most importantly, it has taught me a lot about how the bookish world works these days — anything from book fandoms, the evolution of fanart or the power of ‘book influencers’. It’s not as if they hadn’t existed before but the intensity with which I was confronted with once I returned felt overwhelming and empowering at the same time.
Nothing is what it seems though when you start off starry-eyed on Bookstagram like me. Just a quick disclaimer: In this post, I won’t talk about ‘what makes you a successful bookstagrammer’ and it’s definitely not my intention to throw any shade on the Bookstagram community either. Again, I genuinely enjoy being part of this community and by the end of the day, it‘s still a very happy (and if you find the right people, safe) place to be part of. With that said, let’s jump right into it!
There are two important things you have to consider when you join Bookstagram and from which my post will be based on. Unlike the usual blog format where you basically post anything that you want to talk about and hope like-minded bookish people will read it, Instagram doesn’t necessarily work this way. Simply put, there are two things that you have to consider and once you see it, you can’t unsee it: Do you want to post the content you truly care about and risk being quickly ignored by the instagram algorithm, or do you like numbers? Here are some thoughts.
As a book blogger, I am used to the luxury of just posting whatever is on my mind without any limits. Book reviews, opinion pieces, (bookish) life updates etc. — these are the types of bookish content I truly care about. It doesn‘t work this way on Bookstagram though. Your posts are limited to 2000 characters and if you overstep this rule, your text gets buzzed out. HOW DO PEOPLE KEEP THEIR POSTS SIMPLE? Also consider the hashtags you want to include in your posts to reach a broader audience — I find it very hard to compromise my thoughts into a few lines only. The problem that I’ve found with this format is that it gently pushes you to drift into something “less meaningful” or something more shallow to get your words across. How are people supposed to understand my true intentions in an Instagram post without getting enough background information though?
Then on the other hand, not all posts need to be ‘deep’ (understandably). The way I handle it these days is that if I feel like posting something more serious, I often just post the most important lines of something that is on my mind and then refer to my blog to see the full post (this is something that my friend Claire mentioned in a conversation and it instantly changed the way I view Bookstagram now).
Amplifying or swallowing you in?
When I started Bookstagram, I had been so out of touch with the book world, I didn’t even know which books were big and cool on the market anymore. Boy, how quickly that changed once I was there. SJM. Cassandra Clare. Leigh Bardugo. Shelby Mahurin. These are some of the authors whose work popped up on my feed ALL. THE. TIME. It went a little bit further though. American Dirt. White Fragility. Erm. I quickly realised I didn’t want to talk about these books (only, and especially in such an enthusiastic way). Where were my diverse books? Where were the like-minded people who also want to discuss books that receive way less attention because they either feature a minority cast or were written by authors from marginalised communities?
In my naive days of Bookstagram, I thought the platform would only amplify my bookish thoughts. Services on social media companies such as Instagram don’t work this way though, apps don’t come for free even though we believe them to be so. Apps such as Instagram work because they collect our data to integrate them into their algorithm which in turn affects the content we’re able to see or to get attention on. Imagine seeing a photo of a book that released 8 years ago vs seeing a photo of a book that was just released — which one would you be more drawn to? If you picked the first option, you’re probably on the majority side of the average Bookstagram user — the more popular a book, the more attention it receives. So yeah, it does amplify your bookish pictures if you have the right audience for it; however, most of the time the average Bookstagram reader is average, as in being more drawn to newer and generally popular books, disadvantaging marginalised books. On a side note, I have noticed that whenever I post a picture of books that little to no people have heard of (especially from genres such as non-fiction, sci-fi and many more), they normally garner considerably less attention than pictures that feature more popular books.
Same goes with bookish opinions. Of course I am glad to have found a platform that allows me to quickly spread my thoughts on certain topics, however, how likely is it that people will even read the whole post? Again, is my audience and ultimately the Instagram algorithm amplifying my thoughts or swallowing me in?
This one is pretty obvious. I’m not getting into detail here (that’s a topic for a whole other post) but with all the glittery posts on Bookstagram, it’s easy to get swept away and to just add new titles to your tbr instead of striking new (book-related) conversations. Getting new book recommendations on Bookstagram is one of the coolest parts of the platform of course, however it can sometimes overwhelming to see all the books all the time without reflecting the overall display of privilege.
Frustrating comments. Or likes.
Here is one of my pet peeves: I find it super frustrating when people don’t read captions and comment something meaningless. I mean you spend a considerable amount of time of preparing a certain post and you end up with something like “lovely post” or “nice picture”? Okay, sometimes I don’t read either. We all do it, if we’re being honest. But when I do that, I try not to comment anything because it just feels so inauthentic. I don’t mean to say that this doesn’t happen in the book blogging community either but comments do work differently here. If you even bother to leave a comment on a blog post here, most of the time the person will have taken the time to read through the text to even reach the bottom of the post. And once I receive a comment on my blog, I do care about replying to it.
As for the second point, don’t even get me started. I think everyone has a weird story to tell with random people liking all of your posts but without really engaging/ following your page. Major clown vibes.
Shady people, or ‘What Do You Do When Your Bookstagram Followers Are Trump Supporters?’
There, I’ve said it. The overall consensus on ‘friendly platforms’ such as Bookstagram is that no matter your racial/cultural/religious/political/physical/etc. background you will be accepted. What do you do though if you find out that one of your ‘friend’s/follower’s views don’t align with your own personal views at all? Is this one of the reasons that most of the time posts on Bookstagram don’t touch on heavy topics, because we’re too afraid of losing followers if we post too ‘political’ content on our account? There have been several incidents on Bookstagram recently where members of the community were outed as supporters of, let’s say, clown politicians with despicable actions, and what is even more scandalous is that due to the Instagram algorithm, they can’t even be held accountable by their followers because they can’t even see their posts. Of course there could be secret Trump supporters in my blog followers list too, however they are less visible or rather, quicker to be called out, should they weaponise their thoughts into something ugly since the book blogging community is relatively tight-knit.
Boo Instagram. To keep it short, there is a certain honeymoon phase where your photos will attract a lot of views (and engagement) but once it’s over, it’s over. Your posts will disappear from other people’s feeds if Instagram doesn’t deem your account important or popular enough OR if you’re not paying the platform to receive more views.
To go back to the title of this post — yes, I am still an active Bookstagram user but it has become a complementary platform for me rather than being my main platform. Numbers and ‘shallow engagement’ can so easily destroy your overall experience, and the fact your (bookish) thoughts can only be partially compressed into short Bookstagram posts can feel limiting at times.
Nonetheless, note that all the points I have mentioned in this post can of course all be roughly translated into book blogs too, but blame it on my longer experience in the book blogging world but they feel less enhanced there. Of course I also pay attention to numbers on my blog, but they feel more hard-earned rather than being a temporary thing, with numbers on Bookstagram fluctuating all the time.
Bookstagram is such a cool place but it can be super frustrating at times, especially when it comes to using it as your creative outlet and not receiving the type of attention you want. The best recipe to find your place there of course is to just post the things that you genuinely like and make Bookstagram your b*tch. Find the right people that share the same interests as you, and once you’ve found your niche, the experience gets 100x better.
Lastly, here’s my Bookstagram in case you’re interested in following my random content 🙂
Are you on Bookstagram? How has your experience been there so far?