By Patrick Vaillancourt, Contributor
Anyone who follows me on social media will notice that, for the past month, I have been more active than ever before on the Facebook-owned photo-sharing network known as Instagram. Those who keep tabs on me on Instagram will have no doubt discovered my interest in abandoned places, German soccer, food, and most notably, Korean women at the beach. I am quite surprised that no one has commented on my interests, especially the latter.
Regardless of your interests, Instagram has a little something for everyone. Its Twitter-like tagging abilities allow you to find users who might be interested in your images and, by extension, your account. It also facilitates communication within the app itself, which is great for reaching out to people.
While many users of Facebook and Twitter are also on Instagram, the photo-sharing app has a starkly different set of values reflected in its users. The Instagram community is a warm and loving one for the most part—it does have its bad apples, but generally speaking, you don’t see those annoying Twitter trolls or Internet tough guys generally associated with Facebook. In addition, whereas the number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers one had used to be a mark of one’s popularity or influence, Instagram stats tend to reflect one’s ability to use the app effectively.
I admit I’d like to get more of a following on Instagram because this network was previously neglected in my portfolio of digital socializing. People who use Instagram want to let others in on the personal, largely private side of their lives—which is why you tend to see so much interest in the Instagram accounts of public figures and celebrities. The natural start for me was to post a few photos and “like” a ton of others, and followers started coming to see what I had posted. I am now proudly over 100 followers-strong, and looking for more. But the real benefit of my Instagram-use wasn’t in seeing photos, but reaching out to people I ordinarily wouldn’t have had the luxury of reaching out to—whether it be due to distance, social status, or a language barrier.
In the next few months I will be making a trip to South Korea. Having lived and worked there before was quite an experience, but it didn’t feel complete given my inability to speak the Korean language fluently. Instagram has allowed me not only to reach out to those Koreans on the beach, but for me to practice my Korean writing proficiency. I have adapted the social network to my own needs: that of learning and practicing a foreign language, and using the same time-tested tactics that work for fitness buffs—motivation.
Granted, some will say that I could have done the same on a network like Facebook. It is true that Facebook facilitates the creation of groups and other things to allow for someone like me to practice a foreign language, but these options typically only become available after one is accepted into a group or as a friend. Instagram profiles (the public ones, that is) can be seen by everyone, allowing for this interaction to take place. Facebook operates on a model of interaction with those with whom you are already familiar.
My goal was to reach out to strangers who would be happy to interact with me in their own language, challenging me to do the same. Some of these interactions have already led to the beginnings of new friendships and interactions through other mediums.
If learning a new language isn’t your thing, maybe exchanging recipes would be more interesting, or beauty tips—Instagram’s features make the app highly adaptable to whatever it is you are trying to enhance in your own life. Some will use it as a means to store and share photos, but if you think about what you’d like to do with your social media presence, it could be so much more fulfilling.