Ping, ping. My phone flashed up with a notification.
‘Saw this, thought of you,’ the DM read. It was accompanied by a meme which completely summed me up.
The woman who sent it to me has become a good friend. And yet I’ve never been in the same room as her.
On Galentine’s Day – the celebration of female friendship – it’s time to celebrate the women who lift us up and support us… even though we’ve never actually met.
I know that Instagram isn’t all it seems. For the most part, it’s a highlight reel. It’s easy to collect people rather than form authentic connections. It can perpetuate mental health issues and low self-esteem. It can also be a huge drain on your time.
In my job as an editor, I’ve seen the best and worst of social media.
It’s hard to navigate sometimes, because some people are out for what they can get from you.
But they are the minority. For the most part, Instagram has been a great source of inspiration, connection and ‘yes queen vibes.’
And some of the women I am so grateful to now call friends, I met through Instagram.
You’re not alone
Due to my job, as is the case for lots of Millennials, I spent my 20s moving around a lot. I formed some solid relationships with women I worked with, but for the most part, I was lonely.
When I moved to Reading, Berks, to be the editor of a series of newspapers, I didn’t know anyone. My fiancé (now husband) was joining me a couple of months later, but to start with the job was very stressful and I was alone.
One night, I got a message on Instagram from a woman who lived in Reading too. She was inviting me to a networking event she was hosting.
It was on a wintry Wednesday night, I was exhausted and didn’t want to go. But I forced myself along. From that experience, I met some wonderful women I now call my friends. I also met a coach who helped me develop my business.
Without Instagram, none of that would have happened.
Growing your network
Since then, my Instagram network has grown hugely and I’ve been introduced to some more incredible women. I’ve bought services from them, worked with them, formed business partnerships with them, collaborated with them, done ‘co-working’ sessions, taken their advice, introduced them to other amazing women and watched on proudly as more friendships bloom.
I wonder how I would be feeling in lockdown had I not been able to check in with these women? How would I have picked myself up on bad days, had they not been there with cheery voice notes or funny memes?
They’ve made me feel far less isolated, at a time when we are more isolated than ever.
They say ‘it’s OK, I’m going through it too. However you’re feeling, it’s normal, it’s fine.’
To know that someone knows you well enough that they will spot things you’d like and tag you is a ray of sunshine through the clouds.
It also speaks to how honest you’ve been about yourself on social media. If people have a clear picture of who you are from what you’re posting, it shows you’re doing something right.
Last week for me was one of those weeks. Six weeks into Lockdown 3 and I hit the wall. I’d been staring at myself on a screen all day and started picking myself apart. For the most part, I’m a positive person. I’ve worked really, really hard on my mindset and I accept myself. But something in me snapped. I went down a spiral of self-loathing and before I knew it I was in tears, googling ‘nose job.’
Rather than hide this episode, I decided to share it on social media. Some people might have thought it was TMI, but my connect is about helping people and I want to extend the kindness I’ve been shown by other women on this platform.
The response was overwhelming. So many women messaged me saying thank you for sharing; they’d been feeling down too and I’d let them know they aren’t alone.
That, for me, is the essence of Instagram. It’s not about presets and filters and ‘£10k months’. It’s not about hitting 10k followers and getting freebies from brands.
It’s about making a difference. It’s about showing up, in all your imperfect, authentic glory and knowing that if your content helps just one person, you’ve done your bit.
Smashing the stereotypes
I know there will be people reading this with bad experiences of female friendship. We’ve all been Mean Girl’d at some point in our lives. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We need to set an example; we have a duty to smash the stereotype that girls are bitchy.
Female friendship is powerful. When women work together, magical things happen.
From girls building empires, to just having someone who relates to you, Instagram friendships are real and meaningful and they mean more than ‘likes’.
I can’t wait to see some of my Insta friends again – or meet them in-person for the first time. Because photos don’t do them justice. I want to see their eyes sparkle; I want to hear the sound of their laughs.
So, how do you develop real friendships through social media?
The key is authenticity. Showing up as yourself, standing in your truth and being honest. The truer you are to yourself, the more likely you are to find people who get you. As the saying goes – your vibe attracts your tribe!
Here are a few other lessons to creating real connections on social media:
Don’t play the follow-unfollow game
Your reputation speaks for you. Instagram is huge, but in some ways it’s also quite small… there is nothing more awkward than running into a friend-of-a-friend who follow-unfollowed you. If someone doesn’t gel with you, that’s fine. But seeing people as numbers to collect will leave you feeling empty.
Not everyone will get you and that’s OK
Let’s be real – being unfollowed feels like rejection. But not everyone is for you. If everyone was the same, the world would be boring. Not everyone will get you. It doesn’t make them bad people and it doesn’t say anything about you either.
If you see something beautiful in someone, speak it!
Don’t be shy! If you like someone’s scarf or smile, or someone is making your day better with their posts… let them know! You have no idea how much it might mean to them. You have no idea where that conversation might lead.
Would I be doing what I do now without the women I met through Instagram? I don’t think so. I definitely wouldn’t be blogging on this incredible platform, House21, which was introduced to me by Instagram-turned-real-life-friend Lizzi Richardson.
I wouldn’t have found the nerve or self-power to quit a job that sucked the life from my soul and set up my own business. I wouldn’t have discovered myriad resources and podcasts and books which have, over the last year, changed my life.
I wouldn’t be who I am today without my Instagram friends. Thank you to each and every one of you.