What I've Learned: 3 Years On Insta and 4,000 Followers

Updated: Jan 14

Part 1

February 11th, 2016.

Three years ago.

My first Insta post.


Painful breakup.

I needed a reason to get out of my house.

Meet new friends.

Explore new spots.

I had only moved to Sonoma County a couple of years prior.

After the break up I was asked,

"Are you going to move back to San Jose?"

My entire life was in San Jose.

Grew up there. Moved back after college.

My answer: NOPE.

There has to be a reason I dated a winemaker.

A reason we moved to Healdsburg.

A reason he shattered my heart when he cheated on me.

At the time, I wanted to hate the reason, but I was determined to stick it out.

Sonoma Wine Life on Instagram was born.

My creative outlet.

My excuse to get out and explore.


At the time, there weren't a ton of women wine instagrammers like there are now.

Lots of foodie accounts.

Wine Instagram seemed to be in its infancy.

Key Learning:

Missing something in your life?

Consider starting an insta.

Love cats, vintage records, wine, fashion, antiques...Take that interest and photograph it.

See if you enjoy it. See if it brings you joy. Think of it as your little digital scrapbook. Challenge yourself to get out and photograph at least once a week.

Part 2

The No-Faced-Wonder

For an entire year I didn't show my face.

Probably because it was red and puffy and bewildered after being blindsided by a breakup.

I posted mainly close-up photos of food, and wine, and food, and small town charm, and food.

It really wasn't until December of 2017 that I considered showing my face.

I fan girl over @youhadmeatbordeaux

She doesn't show her face full-on, but she was in her pictures, looking fabulous, drinking her wine, and enjoying life.

I remember I had my mom take pictures of me in my house.

We tried to recreate real life scenarios where I would be interacting with wine.

Embarrassing!!!! Cheesy!!!!!!

(Here are some bloopers from this photo shoot)

I started to get more comfortable.

When I was out and about, instead of focusing on objects, I made a point to have the camera turned towards me.

I remember the shock!

A picture of me out front of Ledson Winery.

Most of my photos got ok engagement.

This photo, with me in it, doubled with interaction.

Ok I thought....people want to see me.

Makes sense.

We want to get to know the person behind the iPhone.

We are curious.

We want to connect.

Key Learning:

Instagram/Social media likes faces.

Face pictures do better.

Train all partners, friends, family members to take your picture.

Teach them about higher angles, and taking ALL the pics.

Find your inner Beyonce. Beyonce has a stage persona. Sasha Fierce.

Sasha Fierce comes out when there is a sold-out venue and the lights come on.

As if possessed Beyonce turns into Sasha. Confidence, swag, power.

I have my inner Sheila Fierce.

When the camera starts taking pics I let loose and release my inner goofball.

People will mock you.

Probably judge you.

Who does she think she is taking all these photos of herself?

Fuck them.

And I am not usually a swearer.

But really, I have gotten to a point where I trust that:

If I share me

and I share what I love

Then the right people will find me and the wrong people will leave me.

Good riddance.


And a big BUTTTTT!!!

MIX IT UP!!!!!

I find myself quite bored on Insta when I see everyone posing the same way.

Scan your pics.

Do they all look the same?

For example:

Holding a wine glass.

Standing in a vineyard.

Mix it up.

Change up the angle.

Hop/Dance/Skip to get a different pose.

Aim for more candid pics.

I'm still working on this too.

Part 3



Before I even begin this section....I want to say I'm not talking about anyone in particular. I'm sharing an overview of Instagram tactics I have seen in both my wine lifestyle and then when I had my teacher instagram account. There is absolutely NOTHING WRONG with people deciding how they want to use Instagram tactics. There is absolutely nothing wrong with growing followers. This is a window into a very challenging time on my Instagram journey. Honesty is important to me!

I've been in two main Instagram fields.

Teaching and now the Wine Lifestyle Community

Back when I left the classroom to start an online teaching business, I had 15k + Insta followers.

All followers were completely organic.

MASSIVE competition.

Big egos.

Friendly teachers with a cutthroat insta mentality.

It was exhausting keeping up, comparing my follower count to other teacher accounts, coming up with photo ideas that had to be perfect.


When I entered the wine lifestyle world, it was a breath of fresh air.

There were just a handful of women in the space.

I found a few digital running buddies.

Gals that started the same time as me and were a barometer of my Insta health.

If they sprinted ahead with followers I knew I had to up my consistency, improve my quality, study hashtags, etc.

It's good competition!

The kinda competition that pushes you out of your comfort zone.

Then things started to blow-up.

Soon running buddies were gaining followers by the hundreds a day!

How is this possible?

Then these digital running should I SAY????

Usain Bolted my arse.

Thousands of new followers per week.

I couldn't keep up.

I started to completely doubt myself.

I'm not skinny enough.

My filters aren't pretty enough.

I'm not young enough.

I'm not fashionable enough.

My content stinks.

(I remember this photo shoot like it was yesterday. This was a girl trying so incredibly hard to keep up. Trying to find the pose, wear the perfect outfit, get the perfect background and nail Instagram perfectly. I was so self conscious of my curvy body.)

My Sonoma Wine Life mission became very cloudy.

What started as a fun exploration escape turned intense.

Resentment and green-eyed jealousy vibes kicked in. Not a becoming look.

The ethics and moral compass of it all started to come into question.

Follow/unfollow tactics.


The bot follows people.

The person follows back.

Then the bot unfollows.

At the time, I wanted to scream CHEATER from the roof tops.

I didn't.

My friends and boyfriend heard A LOT about it.

I'm sure I was super annoying during this phase.

It really took me a year.

A lot of work with my Alanon Sponsor and program.

To get to a place where I could accept and make peace with the entire Instagram algorithm.

I remember I reached out to Erika of @erikabeach

Super classy, gorgeous, talented wine Instagram babe.

I unloaded my frustrations to her.

She assured me.

She's been in the Instagram game a long time too.

Growing her follower account completely organically.

Incredibly high quality content.

She stays in her own lane.

She is happy for the followers she does have.

Erika is my guiding light.

I respect her immensely.

She doesn't let Instagram take over her life and drive her crazy.

She sets boundaries.

She even encouraged me to take Instagram breaks.

A tip I use to this day.

Sometimes you need to step back for a few days, weeks, or even a month to get some distance from the rat race.

Key Learning:

No matter where you go in the online world there is always competition.

As 'kum-ba-yah' as people might sound.

Making you believe that it's about connection over competition.

We are all humans.

Competition is inevitable.

It is what motivates us and pushes us.

Learning to harness this power has been my biggest strength.

Getting clear on what my Social Media values are.

Sticking to those.

Then TRYING HARD to not judge others for their personal Social Media value choices.

Let people do their thing.

Getting to the place where I respect everyone as a content creator.

It takes massive bravery to start an insta account, post, create content, stick with it.

I respect EVERYONE in the field who is vulnerable enough to share their creative passions.

Whether or not they use or don't use follow/unfollow bots and leave me in the dust.

Their growth tactics ARE NONE OF MY BUSINESS!

I have no control over others.

I have to believe that if I put my energy on my side of the street I will manifest my own successful abundance.

Part 4

After 3 years of Sonoma Wine Life, what is my personal "why"?

And what are my personal guiding principles?


I have fallen completely in LOVE with Sonoma County.

I am on a mission to showcase Sonoma County in all of her glory.

Whether someone lives here or loves visiting here, I want to go out and find all the hottest, most beautiful delicious, local treasures that Sonoma County has to offer.

I also want to build a community of women who meet-up and explore together and build friendships (goal for 2019)


Guiding Principals:

I'm grateful for every single person who follows along on my journey.

I must step away from the follower obsession and focus on who DOES follow along.

Be of service to them.

Interact and connect with them.

I determine the health/metrics of my Instagram account by:

Do my insta followers want to comment and interact with me?

Do I get DM's asking for local recommendations and tips?

When I see Insta friends out in the community what feedback do they give me?

It warms my heart when they share how much they LOVE places I've recommended, or joined wine clubs based on my rec., or watch my stories and ask about my dog.

THESE are healthy metrics for my personal Instagram account.


As my account has developed credibility, I have been able to work with some amazing local wineries and brands.


Truth moment.

I remember when the very first brand reached out for a partnership.

Not even a Sonoma County winery.

They were going to send me a bottle of wine in exchange for a social media post.

BOY, did I learn my lesson.

Upon receiving the wine, I quickly realized it was not good.

I had already agreed.

I was so excited a brand noticed me that I jumped at the opportunity,

My dear friend helped me.

We turned the focus away from the ka-ka wine and showcased an award winning recipe instead.

If I couldn't give a solid approval of the wine at least I could give a coveted recipe.

Lesson learned.

Keep in mind....

I am by no means bombarded by brand offers.

I don't have the follower count to make me that coveted.

Only brands that can see past my follower number (anything under 10k is considered LOW for a follower number on Insta)

It's the brands that see my wonderful community and see that I work my little tail off writing blog posts, and making videos, and stories and producing quality content.

I'm grateful for THESE brands that see my vision.

When I partner with a brand, it is because I'm hooked, obsessed, believe in their mission, use their product daily, LOVE THEM as a whole.

I always think to myself....

If I partner with this brand.

Talk about this brand.

And then someone tells their best friend based on my rec.

And then that best friend happens to be Oprah.

And Oprah goes to check it out.

Would Oprah like it, use it, put it in her favorite things?

If the answer is yes. Then we are good to go.

I've loved doing partnerships with:

Bucher Winery

Dutcher Crossing Winery

Kendall Jackson Winery

Stark Restaurants

Wilson Artisan Wineries

If I don't like something I just don't share about it.

If I like, you'll know about it!

Part 5

My FAVORITE parts of Sonoma Wine Life

All the....


From Insta friends to REAL LIFE wine friends.

I can't get over the female friendships I'm cultivating.

The entire reason why I started Sonoma Wine Life.

Get out and explore and meet new people.

I used to see gals on Insta.

See all the followers they had.

Wish I could be friends with them.

Not the best tactic.

Not a good basis for a friendship.

I've been seriously disappointed when a person online is not as nice, friendly and welcoming as they are on instagram.

That being said. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

For example, I tend to have resting bitch face.

If you ever see me in public and I look grumpy....try to look past that and come say hi.

If I ever am bad with names or faces, try to look past that.

I have some social anxiety and seeing someone digitally can be a lot different than meeting a person in real life.

No matter who I meet in person, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Unless they are straight up rude, condescending, and act like they don't know me even when they do. True story. This happened to me. Super disheartening.

I digress....


Kathy from @vinstagrape and Michelle from @mecreativenapa are my wine tasting adventure buddies!

A local Insta Wine gals meetup I went to a few weeks back.

Shana Bull @sharary and Sarah @corksunleashed and Audra from @sonomagrapegirl

Then there are the two lovely ladies who I love seeing at events.

Amber from @amusedblog and Jenna from @sonomagirlonthego

There's the fabulous Elysia Myers from @elysiamyers.wineart We met up at Pangloss and had the best time chatting.

All the gals I met at Wilson Artisan Winerie's Chili Cookoff:

Hannah from @vinoforbreakfast

Kacey from @bigcanbiggerhair

Anna Marie from @Vinylsandvinos

Sarah from @winowanderlust

I could go on and on!

I also love meeting all the chefs, winemakers, small business owners, local folks.

Hearing all the stories of how people landed in Sonoma County and how they started their dream.

Part 6

Am I bitter?

Has instagram jaded me...

I was.

Not as much anymore.

I have my mission displayed in my office.

When something in the online world pisses me off or concerns me I look at my purpose.

Stay in my lane.

Stay focused on me.

I really had to get clear on my definition of success.

Sonoma Wine Life is SO MUCH MORE THAN INSTAGRAM to me.

Sonoma Wine life is:

My cork earring line

My thriving Facebook page

My private FB local women's group

My blog that I strive for consistency

Sonoma Wine Life Success is....

Capturing the money shot

Feeling like a little local news reporter

Helping out local businesses who need some exposure

Using my writing skills to hi-light a winery in the best possible light.

Sonoma Wine Life Success is....


Sonoma Wine Life Success is....

Writing captions and blogposts that sometimes bare the innermost workings of my naked soul. Its scary, but if I'm going to say I'm authentic I better be real.

Sonoma Wine Life Success is...

Not letting the politics of the wine industry and Instagram get me down.

Success is not expecting that everyone likes me!!!!!!

Last Part:

If at the end of the are on Instagram...and you really want growth and followers....

Don't listen to anybody in the entrepreneur space who glosses over what it takes to get thousands of followers.

Don't let them trick you into thinking it is easy if you just follow simple steps.

There is nothing easy and effortless about Instagram.


Ask them specifically:

Have you ever used or currently use a bot?

How many comment pods are you in?

Do you buy likes for your Insta posts?

How did you go from 300 likes per post to over 1,000 in less than a week?

With 20k + followers why are you only getting between 200-300 likes per post for engagement?

Most likely they won't answer.

I don't blame them.

Everyone has their own secret sauce recipe to success.

I guess it's like not discussing politics at Christmas.

Even me.

I share a lot with you.

I don't share EVERYTHING with you.

There are still a few social media secrets I keep close to my sleeve.

I tell myself constantly.

Toughen up, Sheila.

Don't hate the player; hate the game.

I do suggest noticing how influencers move in the space...

Are they partnering with a lot of other influencers.

This is a great way to spread followers and gain followers.

Are they doing giveaways constantly?

What time of day do they post?

How often?

Track their follower numbers...track their total likes for each post.

It's pretty easy to tell if someone is or has been botting.

These are all very strategic growth tactics.

The best way to grow in any social media space is to observe and take notes.

Then align yourself with the people who have the type of success which you hope to have.

(Depending on your definition of success)

Then provide VALUE and have a service focused mindset!

Let's Wrap This Up


I fear this blogpost has morphed into.... I don't know what.

A venting session.... lol!


Talking about social media gets me all riled up.

Bottom Line:

This has been my journey.

I am so proud of Sonoma Wine Life.

I am so proud of my 4,000 person strong community.

I am so proud I've stuck it out three years. (feels longer)

I am so proud I've circled back around to my true why.



© 2020 Sheila Jane Co.