Stop Complaining – You’re The Problem

What’s Bookstagram’s favourite topic to talk about? Bestselling authors? Scented candles? Rainbow bookshelves? Maybe, if there’s enough time, even the occasional book?

That would be the obvious conclusion, but no. It’s the Algorithm. 

Everyone but the lucky few get hit by the Algorithm, deserving of its capital letter through the sheer frustration it inspires in everyone just trying to see their favourite posts. Instagram are understandably secretive about how it works exactly, but the general consensus is that when you make a post, it shows that post to a few of your followers. Depending on the response, it may show it to others. In other words, the exposure of a post is far more dependent on the reaction of those initial viewers than the number of followers you have. 

We all know that the more followers, the better, right? That’s why we play this glorified game of Cookie Clicker – to watch the numbers go up. Or to find like-minded people around the globe and forge long-lasting friendships united by our common love of books. Whichever lets you read easy.

Except, a recent comment by the lovely Miranda Marie on Instagram made me realise that actually, maybe more isn’t better. She talked about needing to clear her follower list of bots and companies, so that although she would have a lower follower count, her posts would reach more real people. 

Once I read it, it seemed obvious, but it had never occurred to me before. It just makes sense that if you have bots and other accounts unlikely to engage with you, there’s a chance your post will be shown to them rather than someone who actually would interact. Without the interaction, the post stops there and withers away. But a follower list full of real, eager to chat people, you’ve got a much better chance at that high score.

I immediately went and did the same, though my admittedly small follower count didn’t have that many that needed clearing anyway. But it got me thinking. It’s bad to have a lot of bot followers because they won’t respond to your posts. But what about real people who won’t either?

Not everyone is going to like and comment on every post they see. I do my best to, but there’s not always something to say. And that’s okay. But at present, I follow 198 people, including family, friends and Tom Holland. I know who everyone I see on my feed is, and what they’ve been up to lately, and I’ve talked to a lot of them personally, though not Tom Holland unfortunately. I see most of everyone’s posts. I used to follow more people, but 250+ got overwhelming. I couldn’t keep track of everyone and it felt like I was scrolling through a sea of strangers. 

I wonder how it feels when you follow 2500 people.

If that’s what makes you happy then that’s fine. I recognise that 198 is an anusually low number. But let’s think about it the other way around. You might be okay with seeing posts from strangers, but do you want to be just another stranger to your followers? Because when they also follow 2500 people, that likely all you are. Not a problem when you’re playing the numbers game, but we’rein this for friendship, remember?

As an example, I’m going to go through the latest ten in my follower list and write down how many people they follow.

  • 6421
  • 5061
  • 5350
  • 6297
  • 211
  • 15 (a real life friend)
  • 80
  • 227
  • 72
  • 5296

A range of numbers there, but unsurprisingly the ones with low numbers are people I actually know and interact with, while the large numbers I don’t recognise at all.

Say my post gets shown to someone with over 5000 other people they follow. Are they likely to notice my post at all in their feed? Not really, and even if they do it’s not like they can distinguish me from the 5000 others, so they’re unlikely to comment and interact. My post dies there just as surely as if it had been shown to a dead account. There is no sort of connection forged, and what’s worse, my stats don’t go up.

And now let’s look at a couple of bookstagram accounts I’d consider fairly typical in content and followers to how many people they follow. No names, I’m not hereto shame anyone, just provide a critique of our community. I also can’t guarantee all these people do complain about the Algorithm (though I know a couple do)but it will give a little sample at least.

  • 4261
  • 984
  • 1565
  • 1136
  • 7463
  • 1061
  • 1452
  • 467
  • 1570
  • 4747

A lot of high numbers again. This is where the problem lies. The Algorithm is frustrating, I won’t deny that. Even I’ve moaned about how my engagement dropped dramatically once I was unable to regularly post. And we’re powerless against most of it. But this is something we can change, and don’t.

We complain about the lack of engagement without being able to give the same back.

If you want to improve your own statistics, you need to curate your follower list. If you want to improve Bookstagram, you need to curate who you follow. It is impossible to form a meaningful, personal connection with thousands of people. The only reason to follow that many people is to build your own follower count as a fraction may take the time to see who you are. And there’s no problem with that, but if you do, stop complaining. You’ve decided not to help. And if that’s your stance, don’t pretend it’s about anything other than the numbers.

This post was drafted several weeks ago and since then there have been events that made me hesitant to post it. The response of the Bookstagram community to ‘Kimmer Gate’ (chronicled by many users but I believe Avery Khuan has the most complete story) reminded me that although there are people who only seem to be in it for the numbers, they really aren’t the majority. There are lots of kind, friendly and hardworking people in this community who are willing to defend it. I know I often write negatively about Bookstagram but it’s precisely because I love the community that I do so. Critique is necessary for a healthy community to avoid it becoming an echo chamber set in its ways. After all, if I really thought it was all bad I wouldn’t still be here, would I?

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