One of the biggest (and strangest) Instagram trends to emerge this summer is that large Instagram meme accounts are making their profiles private.
In the following post, we look at why more Instagram accounts are going private, if it actually works to get you more followers, and whether or not it’s a good strategy for your business:
Why Some Instagram Accounts are Going Private
If you or any of your close friends on Instagram like sharing funny memes (who doesn’t?), then you’ve probably run into something like to the following scenario: a friend DMs you a so-called “hilarious meme,” but when you open your inbox to view it, all you find is a messaging saying “Photo Unavailable.”
Sound about right? Well, you’re not alone.
Starting in early 2018, Instagram meme accounts have, en masse, started taking their accounts private and forcing non-followers to request access before they can view their posts.
The situation has become so widespread, in fact, that hundreds of people have taken to Twitter to rally against it, tweeting things like “It should be illegal for Instagram meme accounts to be private” and “Basic Instagram manners: don’t send memes from private accounts.”
Basic Instagram manners: don't send memes from private accounts.— A z a m ! (@SirAzamAlot) July 30, 2018
This isn’t the first time we have seen Instagram accounts go private. Everlane, a direct-to-consumer fashion brand that is popular on Instagram, is known for pulling off different strategies to promote new collections, like taking their account private or archiving all of their Instagram posts.
So in a world where your Instagram aesthetic and feed is everything, why go private? Here are a few reasons why some accounts are using this strategy:
#1: Make Your Instagram Private to Get More Followers
This is the big one and definitely the most important. According to several large meme accounts, the main reason they went private is because it helps them attract new followers.
The idea here is that by taking your account private, when one of your followers sends a post to their friend, that person has to follow you in order to see it.
On the other hand, if your account is public, that friend could simply view the post in their DMs and then move on without following you.
There’s also a mystery factor. Going private on Instagram is a bit like putting a red velvet rope in front of your account — it tugs at people’s curiosity.
If someone lands on your profile and sees that you’re private but you have millions of followers, there’s a strong chance they’ll hit the follow button — I mean, there has to be a reason why you have so many followers, right?
And the strategy works! According to The Atlantic's interview with Reid Hailey, the founder of Doing Things (aka @drunkpeopledoingthings), before making one of his accounts private, it was “growing at an average of 10,000 new followers per week. Once it flipped to private, that number jumped to 100,000.”
That’s 10x the follower growth, just by doing one small Instagram hack!
Other big memers like Elliot Tebele, the founder of @fuckjerry, have corroborated Hailey’s claim. “I’ve tested it once or twice to see and it does work,” Tebele also said in an interview with The Atlantic.
#2: Going Private on Instagram to Help with Follower Retention
A second (and similar) reason why a large account on Instagram would go private is because it helps keep their followers from hitting the unfollow button.
Unfollowing a public Instagram account is easy, but as Taylor Lorenz of The Atlantic’s notes, “when a user goes to unfollow a private account, a pop-up appears asking them if they really want to take that step and reminding them that they’ll have to re-request if they want access again. Many people find it easier to just keep following.”
#3: Protecting Your Content by Taking Your Instagram Private
Another reason large accounts go private on Instagram is because it adds a layer of protection to their content — which is especially important today with new meme accounts popping up left, right, and center.
The thinking goes that by making your account private, you get an added level of control over who can see and interact your content.
It’s hard to say how effective this strategy is for preventing other accounts from stealing your content, but going private certainly does give you more control over your account.
Also, if you have a private Instagram account and you block a user, they won’t be able to interact with your account at all (as opposed to a public Instagram account which is still accessible from the web and other places).
#4: Going Private to Protect Yourself from Being Reported
With Instagram getting more serious about banning accounts that break their terms of service, some larger meme accounts have gone private simply to protect themselves from being reported.
This is more often the case for accounts that post (questionably) offensive content. Basically, the idea is that by going private, these meme accounts can avoid being reported (and possibly banned) by people who find their content indecent or offensive.
Should You Take Your Own Instagram Account Private?
So, should you make your Instagram account private? Here’s where things get complicated. While all the above points are valid to an extent, the reason why going private works for large meme accounts is because… well, they’re large!
Accounts like @shitheadsteve and @commentawards can afford to go private because they already have millions of followers. They don’t need to implement the normal Instagram growth strategies that most accounts use. All they have to do is post great content and they’ll keep growing.
In other words, they’re too big to fail.
But it also has to do with the type of content they post. Meme accounts create content that’s meant to be extremely shareable. That’s how they grow: by enticing their followers to share their posts with other users.
Other growth strategies come second to this. Nothing is as effective at driving growth for meme accounts as getting their posts shared by DM — not even the Explore Page!
According to an interview with Sonny from @sonny5ideup, “When you run a private account, you don’t get in the Explore Page anymore, but I’ve noticed it doesn’t matter.” Whereas his public accounts get around 200 new followers each day, his private accounts can get as many as 10,000 new followers in a day.
As unlikely as it sounds, going private works for meme accounts. But the same strategy probably won’t work for regular Instagram users — brands and businesses included. As Sonny said, when you take your account private on Instagram, your posts no longer appear on the Explore Page. And they also won’t appear under any of the hashtags you use.
In other words, by taking your account private, you basically abandon any other form of audience discovery on the platform.
This is obviously problematic for most accounts. Unless you’re huge already, you’re much more likely to get new followers through the hashtags you use, your Instagram Stories, the communities you associate and engage with, and, of course, getting on the Explore Page.
While going private might attract a few more curious followers, that number would be offset by the new followers you would lose by not being able to execute on those other growth strategies. That’s the opportunity cost.
The Winner? Keeping Your Instagram Account Public!
So what’s the final say? Well, the fact is that while going private may be effective for large meme accounts, it’s very likely a detrimental strategy for most accounts.
Outside of very specific circumstances (like the ones we outlined above), it’s probably best for you to keep your account public and focus on other ways to attract new followers!
Have you tried taking your Instagram account private? What kind of results did you see? Let us know in the comments!
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