Recently, I joined a marketing group on Facebook, formed to help writers and small business owners (the businesses are small, not the owners—although, they may be small, too, who knows?) improve their public profile.
It’s a tough world out there, you know. I may be famous in my own back yard—as in, a new book brings a flurry of excitement from my mother, my mother’s neighbour, my sister and my aunt—but if I’m to make any impact on the world, or even my little corner of it, I have to get my name, and my work, “out there”, wherever the heck “there” may be.
We’ve been discussing social media. Are you on Twitter? Tick. Facebook? Tick. Do you have a Facebook author page? Tick. A blog? Tick. Pinterest? Tick. Instagram? Er, what, now? “Ah, Instagram. The new, trendy app that simply anyone who is anyone is using.” “Okay, well I’m not sixteen and I have no idea about Instagram. Help, please?”
In the event, it turned out that most of the other people in the group had no idea about Instagram either, so I decided to march forth and try out this brave new world for myself.
First step—as always—was to Google it for information. First question. What is Instagram? Google was most helpful. “You’re kidding, right? I mean, how old are you? A hundred and six?” (I jest, of course. Google would never be so flippant, or so rude.) Having determined that Instagram was an app that basically lets you share photos online (you know, kind of like Pinterest, or Facebook, or Twitter…), I decided that I HAD to be part of this amazing feat of technology.
First lesson. You can’t join Instagram online. You have to download an app to your phone. Having just figured out how to turn my brand new Windows phone on, I was in the marvellous position of being able to do just that. So I duly downloaded the app. Now what?
Second lesson. You have to have a username and password. Okay, fine. I’ll just use my name. Except, my name wasn’t available. My own name! Harsh. Okay, let’s go for my own name and date of birth. Not available. Well, that was just rude. How could my own name and date of birth not be available? Who pinched them? I tried various combinations of words and numbers and not one of them was available. In desperation, I used my nickname and birthday. Aha! Allowed. So I was finally signed up for Instagram.
Third lesson. Your username is available for everyone to see. Oh drat. I don’t want to be known as that. I thought it was private. Okay, how do I change my username? Back to my beloved Google, which scratched its head, rolled its eyes, tutted in despair and said, “You do know what edit profile means?” Oh. I hadn’t noticed that. So back I went and clicked on “edit profile”. Delete username. Add new username. Done. Well, that was easy. Just add a short bio now…
Fourth lesson. Your bio has to be very, very short. Shorter than a tweet. After rambling on, explaining how I once played the queen in a school play, and how I never got over not having my name picked out of a hat to win a signed copy of a Bobby Brewster book after the author visited our primary school, in spite of the fact that I was the only child in the class who actually read for pleasure, I was informed, quite sternly, that my bio was far too long and I’d better cut it. I deleted a sentence, then a paragraph, then a chapter. Eventually, I was down to the permitted length. Success. My bio was complete. My profile was done. Except…
Fifth lesson. For some reason I cannot fathom, Instagram had taken my Facebook profile picture and used it as my Instagram profile picture. Since the picture wasn’t even of me, this didn’t seem at all useful. Back I went to Facebook and searched, in increasing desperation, for a photograph of me that looked reasonably human and didn’t feature me posing with Benedict Cumberbatch. What do you mean, camera trickery? It was all perfectly genuine, I’ll have you know. Anyway, I finally found one where, not only am I alone, not only am I not staring in horror with my hand half over my face, pleading with someone not to take my picture, but I am actually smiling. Crikey! So I changed that to my profile picture. (When I got home from work that night, the picture had loads of likes
and nice comments. I think my Facebook friends were stunned that I’d actually posted a photo of myself. I’m not the most photogenic of people, let’s face it.) So there I was, fully signed up and all profiled up for Instagram. Except…
Sixth lesson. I had no idea what I was supposed to actually do on there. I posted on my Facebook writer’s page, announcing that I had joined, and asking, quite genuinely, “What do I do now?” Back came several replies. “We have no idea, but when you find out can you let us know, please?” I really do have to get some younger, trendier friends. So, I decided to trawl through other people’s Instagram accounts and get some idea of what I was supposed to be posting. Hmm.
Seventh lesson. There is one huge snag with Instagram. You’re supposed to do things, see things, go places that are interesting. Since I’m usually either at home, writing, or at work, er, working, this doesn’t really apply to me. I tried my Write Romantic pal, Rachael Thomas, for help first. Her account featured lots of beautiful pictures of the countryside. Well, you see, Rachael isn’t just a fantastically talented romance writer. Oh, no. She’s also a dairy farmer. So when she skips merrily out of her house in the morning, she can raise her camera phone and sing happy little Disney songs and balance little blue birds on her hand as she takes gorgeous pictures of the Welsh countryside, pretty animals and—you know—stuff like that. I, on the other hand, live in a city. I don’t much fancy taking pictures of the dustcart blocking our way out of the road yet again, or the latest takeaway that’s opened nearby because, after all, we’ve only got thirty takeaways in our area already, or the roadworks at the end of the street that have been there for weeks, even though whoever put them there seems to have forgotten all about them. So what to do?
Eighth lesson. Everyone has photographs of cake. I mean, everyone! People bake and then they take pictures of their culinary creations so the rest of us can a) feel suddenly in desperate need of cake and b) hang our heads in shame because we haven’t baked since nineteen ninety-eight. (That may actually be true, in my case.) Even Rachael had posted a photograph of a cake she’d made! How does she find time for that, for heaven’s sake? I turned to my other Write Romantic chum, Helen Phifer. Helen is really busy, just like Rachael. But Helen writes ghostly crime stories. She collects photos of haunted houses and—you know—creepy stuff. I can rely on Helen. Oh, Helen! Cupcakes! Seriously? But yes, there they were. Cupcakes. Okay, they were in among some creepy stuff (and some lovely stuff, too!) but they were there. I had to take photos of cake. It was obviously the way to go. A quick scout around our kitchen revealed two stale Jacob’s cream crackers and a broken custard cream. I suppose I could have photographed them as some sort of artistic statement. But no…Things were getting critical.
Ninth lesson. Instagram makes you desperate to photograph anything. I mean, anything. I spent the entire day wandering around looking at “things” and wondering if they would make a good subject for a picture on Instagram. I even trawled through old Facebook photos, trying to convince myself that I could post some of them and pretend they were new. Then I realised that I didn’t like any of them anyway, so that was pointless. I decided I would have to buy cake and start—you know—actually going out. Desperate times.
Tenth lesson. When in doubt, remember man’s best friend. Okay, so I don’t bake, and I didn’t have cake in the house, and I don’t go anywhere. But what I do have, which seems to be very acceptable, is a pet. My lovely German Shepherd, Tessa (who features in my Kearton Bay books, albeit aged by some years and with a personality that’s the opposite of the real version, but is still lovely—not that I’m plugging my books, you understand. Ahem) was most obliging. As I scoured the house, looking for something that I could take a picture of, she gave a sudden sneeze, drawing my attention to her. She was lying by the sofa and as I leaned forward to get a better look at her, she gave me a worried look as if to say, “Why are you pointing that phone at me? Get away from me, you mad creature!” Too late, Tessa! A click and I had it! Feverishly, I looked at my photograph. Ah, my beautiful dog. You are the perfect subject for my first Instagram photograph!
Eleventh lesson. Uploading, or downloading, or whatever it is you do with the wretched things, isn’t as easy as you’d think. For a start, I couldn’t figure out how to crop the picture, and Instagram likes your photos to be square. Back I went to Google. “Oh, God. It’s you again. What now?” it sighed. Still, it was very obliging, and I managed to find an app that ensured all my photos were suitable for Instagram, and I didn’t have to worry about cropping or any of that technical stuff. Problem solved. So my picture of Tessa was duly up/downloaded. Then I up/downloaded pictures of my People’s Friend pocket novel. Then pictures of my two books. Then a picture of Winter Tales (which is back on sale, by the way). Then a picture of my notebooks to show that I was about to start plotting and drafting a new book, because, after all, I’m a writer, and that was the point of joining Instagram in the first place – to remind people that I write books and they’re worth reading, even if I do say so myself (and my mum’s neighbour agrees with me, so there). The point was not to prove that I bake cakes or go places or socialise or anything like that. Right?
Hmm. I still have to work out how, why, or if I should share my Instagram photos to Facebook. I also have to fathom the mysterious world of the hashtag, so my adventures in Instagramland are not over yet. I have a feeling that I’m going to be looking at life through a lens from now on. Everything is a photo opportunity.
Look out, world. Sharon’s got a camera – and she’s not afraid to use it. In fact, she’s quite desperate…