Social Media

How To Use Your Small Instagram Following For Causes You Support

You don’t need thousands of followers to make change.

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Since early March, Instagram has transformed from a platform to share your life's highlight reel into a place to seek out news, resources, and activism on large and small scales. In lieu of brunch recaps, your Instagram feed and Stories tray are likely filled with infographics about the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, reproductive rights, and myriad other social issues to mobilize around. And though the results of the 2020 election have given a breath of hope to those who have been posting about these issues, there is still a lot of work to be done.

If Joe Biden's win has you fired up, you might be wondering how you can best use your own platform to effect change. While the average user might not have the same reach as someone whose photos regularly go viral, they do have the ability to influence and inspire their community. Becoming an activist on Instagram when you have a small following can be incredibly effective.

"You can have 40 followers, but if you think about who they are and what will affect them, you can have an amazing impact," actor Lauren Patten tells Bustle. With over 25,000 followers on Instagram, she's ramped up her support of women's rights, and the LGBTQIA community in recent months, but says she'd like to reach people who aren't already following her because they agree with her, instead of "preaching to the choir."

"If you have family who doesn’t share your views, and you don’t know how to talk to them about the issues you care about, sharing concrete information could be really helpful as a way to get through to them, to encourage them to see things from another side," she tells Bustle.

Here's how to make the most of your platform, no matter the size.

Choose Your Cause(s)

The benefit of being a regular person posting about causes you support is that you can choose to amplify information about any and all issues that speak to your heart.

"As a Black woman, issues affecting the Black community are the most important to me, says fashion editor, consultant, and activist Chrissy Rutherford, who has nearly 150,000 followers on Instagram. "However, there is this idea that we're the patron saints of all the oppressed — and that's just not how it works," Rutherford says. "As an oppressed community we cannot fight every single fight — we've seen non-Black people also speaking up about this movement can really push for change," she adds.

Actor, singer, and activist Donshea Hopkins, who has 155,000 followers on Instagram, echoes Rutherford. "If you’re only supporting causes that personally affect you, then you don’t advocate for people, you advocate for yourself," she tells Bustle.

If you're not sure what causes to support, talking to the people in your community and spending some time thinking about the issues that upset you the most is a good place to start.

Post Effectively

There are a jillion ways to share information on Instagram, but not all features are as effective as others, particularly if you have a smaller following.

According to Patten, sharing an eye-catching infographic that offers achievable, step-by-step action items is helpful. "A general 'defund the police' post engages people less than a post that helps explain how to email and call your city council member to discuss the police budget with them," she explains. Alternatively, Patten says that a personal explanation of what a social issue means to the person posting about it can be equally inspiring. "That catches attention much more than a bunch of reposts that are general and are already widely circulating on social media," she says. What's more, a more personal post can inspire others to also create thoughtful content — thereby reaching even more people.

For Hopkins, it's important to spread efforts among all of Instagram's features, to give people an opportunity to see information in different formats. "My followers tend to engage more with petitions, IGTV and Instagram Live videos," she tells Bustle. Hopkins has had success with her series "Quarantine Convos" — a long-form split-screen video in which she speaks with various hosts on racism and the Black Lives Matter movement regularly. But you don't have to have a big audience to go live; sometimes a small virtual gathering can lead to an impactful conversation that's even more interactive. Play around with different features, and pay attention to how your followers respond.

Fact Check

Before you share any information on Instagram, it's crucial to ensure that you're sharing well-sourced facts.

"I've learned how important it is to vet actionable items and statements I find through social media accounts," Patten tells Bustle. "The dangers of just immediately sharing something I see range from a call-to-action no longer being needed or relevant to a claim being completely false and harmful," she adds. Before she reposts anything, she'll double check if reputable news sources have verified the stats or names of people in the graphic. You can also go directly to the source or organization being discussed to see if, say, they're still taking donations or otherwise need assistance. Hopkins also advocates talking to an activist directly about how to interpret information you come across.

Take The Fight Offline

While Instagram provides a great platform to educate your followers on issues that they might not be exposed to, the most important part of being active online is ensuring your efforts lead to IRL movement.

"While social media is a vital tool, I think what you are doing offline is more important," Patten tells Bustle. Make sure you're taking the actions you're espousing on your story, and keep the conversation going offline by talking to your friends and family members. If someone sends you a message about the content you've posted, take the time to have a conversation about it. And if one of your followers expresses an opposing opinion, see it as a starting point for respectful dialogue.

Patten also points out that spending all your time plugged in is a recipe for burnout. "If I don't post about a current event, or any of the staggering injustices that hit the news every day, it's not because I don't care — it's because I'm not putting my caring energy into social media in that moment," she says.

Know That Not Everyone Will Agree With You — And That's OK

"It's important to follow all different types of people so you can get a range of perspectives and diversity of thought," Rutherford says, but the reality is that not all people want to hear voices they don't agree with. It's possible that you'll lose followers if you focus on activism on your Instagram account, especially if it's a big departure from what you usually post about.

"I’ve lost some followers and supporters because people don’t agree with the causes I support or my political views and stances on certain issues, like being an ally to the LGBTQIA community or being pro-choice," Hopkins tells Bustle. "But I can’t ignore injustices in the world and pretend I’m living my best life," she says.

While it's up to you how to use your social media platform, if you're passionate about a cause and feel like speaking out, Patten says it's important to "just keep sharing" no matter what it means for your follower count.