Marketing / Social media

3 things we can learn from Essena O’Neill quitting Instagram

This week we saw a rare sight – an ‘Instagram star’ (yes, that’s a real thing) dramatically quitting the platform and declaring that the photos of her perfect life were mostly fake.


If you spend any time on social media at all, you’ll know that this week Instagram star Essena O’Neill made waves among her followers and the online community by editing the caption of many of the images on her Instagram account to reflect the reality behind them … and then, even more spectacularly, entirely deleting the account that started the week with 500,000 followers and had ballooned to 800,000+ followers by week’s end.

What can soloists take away from Essena’s experience? These three things:

1. If you have an audience, treat them with respect.

This is a huge lesson that Essena has learned – the images that she was ‘selling’ to her hundreds of thousands of followers just weren’t real, and that wasn’t respectful to them.

For businesses, respecting your audience might mean not promising something you can’t deliver or making your online persona consistent with your face to face offering. It might even mean respecting your audience by not posting to your accounts 50 times a day. Think about why someone would follow you, and then try to deliver on those expectations – respectfully!

"While dramatically quitting social media might be an overreaction, it’s important to line up your social strategy with your business goals."

2. Your Instagram audience likes to know you’re authentic.

There’s just no need to put unnecessary pressure on yourself or your business to put the ‘perfect’ posts on social. Some of the most liked and shared posts that I’ve been a part of creating were completely genuine, candid moments that reflected the personality of the people behind the business. Cookie-cutter ‘branded’ posts aren’t what customers connect with – it’s the dad-joke because you’re a dad running a small business, or the great picture of the town your business is based in that connects with your customers on an authentic level.

In a huge twist of irony, when I first read about Essena O’Neill she had 500,000 followers. Even though she’d ‘quit Instagram’ her follower count jumped to 885,000 followers just through the sheer amount of media attention she’s received (before she deleted the account entirely). How’s that for the results of authenticity?

3. Transparency is really important.

Transparency follows on from authenticity, and this relates particularly to those small business owners trying to build their personal brand. If you post about a product or service you love, but you’ve been paid to do so (or are compensated by the makers of that product or service in any way), you should be open about disclosing your connections. Problogger’s Darren Rowse has some excellent resources around this, as does our very own Jo Macdermott.

While quitting Instagram (or any other form of social media) might be a bit of an overreaction from a business perspective, it’s a timely reminder of the importance of lining up your social strategy with your business goals.

If you don’t have a social strategy, given the current conversation now is as good a time as ever to create a respectful, authentic and transparent one!

Sarah-Joy Pierce

is a words specialist, helping graphic designers and small businesses with writing, marketing and social media. Through her business Joyful Communications, Sarah-Joy creates captivating copy, practical plans and marvellous marketing.


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