I Stopped Following Instagram Influencers for a Month — Here’s What I Learned

published Jan 14, 2022
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I admit it — I’m a millennial with a healthy dose of phone addiction. I’m that girl who always has her phone on her and who “checks in” on Instagram way more than she needs to. Because I follow so many influencers, my feed tends to be full of aspirational content — think cute outfits and gorgeous homes.

While I enjoy this kind of content, I notice my scroll turns sour when I catch myself comparing or asking myself if I need whatever boots that influencer has, even if I already own three pairs. It’s when my mind turns to “I need more” that I know I need a break, because the reality is, I don’t need more. I already have plenty. 

According to Business Wire, consumers purchased more than $1 billion worth of products from rewardStyle (a monetization platform for influencers) content during the first half of 2020, and while rewardStyle has its own shopping app called LIKEtoKNOWit, you can see plenty of this content on Instagram in the form of affiliate links. I’ve purchased many items through these types of links, and am generally very happy about my purchases, but there comes a time when I just want to be on the app without being tempted to buy anything. 

So I decided to try an experiment: mute all influencer accounts for a month in the hopes of bringing my stress levels and spending habits down. I muted both story and feed content on all accounts (which gave me the option to unmute at the end of the month). I decided not to add any social media time limits, with the idea that not having these accounts to follow would lessen the urge to scroll my feed. My goal was very simple: to feel happy with what I already have and to not constantly be reaching for my phone. 

The Prep

The day before my experiment, I went to my “following” list and manually muted accounts one by one. My following list included over 1,500 accounts, and during this first round of muting and unfollowing, I didn’t make it through the entire list. It was tedious work and I needed to take a break after an hour, and told myself that when I’m on Instagram just scrolling, if I see any accounts I’ve missed, I’ll just mute them in real time. This also seemed to be some sort of sign — if I was doing intentional work on my social media and couldn’t last more than an hour, maybe that means something? Yikes. 

Even though it wasn’t my intention to unfollow accounts that weren’t considered influencers, going through my list was eye-opening simply because I became aware of all sorts of accounts that I didn’t remember following in the first place. I never saw their content in my feed and I didn’t know any of them personally, so it was easy to tap the unfollow button. After many moments of “who even is this?” I ended up unfollowing 91 accounts and muting 19 influencer accounts.

Of the 19 influencer accounts I muted, there were six accounts that felt hard to say goodbye to. I hesitated and tried to convince myself that maybe it was okay to keep them in my feed, but I eventually prevailed and told myself it wasn’t forever. Even though the number of muted accounts was much smaller than the accounts I officially unfollowed, those muted accounts made up a lot of the content I usually saw day to day. I anticipated this would shake up my feed and story content, and it definitely did. 

The First Week

My original hypothesis about not feeling that familiar pull to my Instagram — due to not having influencer accounts to check out — seemed to be correct. My feed now included more of my friends, meme accounts, and dog videos, and while that content is easy to scroll through forever, I found that it was easier for me to stop.

What surprised me the most during the first week was noticing how I scrolled throughout the day without even realizing I was doing it. I would check my email or receive a text, and all of a sudden I’d be on Instagram. It was startling to catch myself. Did I really just open Instagram without even thinking about it? Yup, I did. As soon as I was aware of it, I would sometimes chuck my phone to the other side of the room because airplane mode didn’t quite work all the time. It got easier later on in the week, and my screen time was down 10 percent.

The Second Week 

This was the week I opted for a new morning routine instead of my usual morning email check and social media scroll. Even though this experiment wasn’t about setting social media limits, I naturally found myself wanting to be on my phone less. I decided not to check my phone for the first hour I was awake, and definitely noticed that that affected my mood for the rest of the day. I felt more relaxed, and maybe more importantly, on days where I slipped and started my scroll early, I ended up reaching for my phone more throughout the day.

My new morning routine consisted of reading a few pages of a self-help book or meditating before I got on with the day.  I used to have the excuse that I couldn’t meditate without my phone for music, but instead I simply asked my Alexa to set a timer and play meditation music, no phone needed.

This week, I also had more moments of “who is this?” as I all of a sudden started seeing Instagram accounts I hadn’t seen in a while. I unfollowed most of them, and funnily enough, they were all influencer accounts. 

The Last Two Weeks 

This was when the challenge got a bit harder, and I “checked in” on some of the accounts I was missing. I enjoyed seeing what some of my favorite influencers were up to, and also realized that I had missed some seasonal launches of new products. I felt some slight FOMO (fear of missing out), but reassured myself that I could mindfully make purchases whenever I wanted, and that not having the excitement of seeing new things to buy was probably for the best — at least for my nervous system. I went through my closet and took pictures of all of the cute outfits I already had and referred back to them when I felt the urge to check Instagram, and it did the trick. By the end of the month, I was ready to add back a few accounts I had been missing.

The Takeaways

All in all, I think it’s safe to say that spending more time away from my phone made me less stressed and more relaxed. One of my goals was to not constantly be reaching for my phone throughout the day, and I could definitely notice a difference on the days where I slipped and scrolled first thing in the morning..

I learned that I enjoy the small number of influencers I’ve followed for years, and I missed them! I was happy to unmute four of the accounts that felt hard to say goodbye to and kept everyone else — the accounts that I had followed on a whim or hadn’t been following for a long time — on mute.

I also learned that it’s impossible to scroll through Instagram without seeing highly targeted ads, regardless of who you’re following. For me, it comes down to only following accounts I enjoy, and I was reminded that those accounts can shift and change. This is an experiment that I’d like to do a few times throughout the year, because it was good to check in with myself and my feed, and take stock of what content uplifts and what doesn’t.