Instagram has given me so much in terms of inspiration, photographic sparring and even friendships. If all that doesn't appeal to you, Instagram is still worth considering, whatever kind of photography you practice, professionally or otherwise.
1) Go where your audience is
In spite of what you may think of Instagram, there's no denying that this is where the users are. And no, you won't be inundated with LOLCats and Japanese tourists with selfie sticks if you don't want to. You decide what you want to use Instagram for.
Gone are the days where Instagram was considered uncool for serious photographers. Flickr, on the other hand, is dead. Or at the very least on life support. Its owners, Yahoo, have openly expressed that Flickr is no longer a core part of its services. Get out while you can.
Instagram has reached critical mass so it won't go away anytime soon. And if it does, maybe in a few years' time, your Instagram journey will not have been in vain.
2) Instagram has matured as a photography platform
Square-only photography is a thing of the past on Instagram. It was an integral part of the original Instagram experience but with this restriction gone there really is no excuse not to post your portrait and landscape images on the platform. Well, I would like a feature that enables better viewing of landscape-oriented photos by rotating my phone, just like on EyeEm.
Serious, professional and art photographers have turned to Instagram and if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for you and me.
3) Get your practice on
Nobody I know take the "insta" part of Instagram seriously anymore, i.e. they rarely shoot their photos within the app itself. It's become acceptable to post shots from any camera you may own. I even know someone who shoots with his DSLR, edits in Photoshop and then posts straight from his PC via an Android emulator. No phone involved.
I do recommend that you use your phone for shooting or at the very least for editing. Keeping the workflow fast is what's important to leverage your training potential of Instagram. If you shoot, edit and publish every day, you will become a better photographer faster than if you only spend an hour in front of Lightroom every Sunday afternoon. So get out there and shoot!
4) Be social
Instagram's huge user base combined with the sheer accessibility of being a prominent app on most people's phones, makes the potential level of interaction very high.
Granted, a like is worth next to nothing these days but in my experience, Instagram users seem more inclined to enter into a constructive dialogue than users on other photo sharing platforms. If you put in the effort by interacting with other users and by using relevant (not spammy) hashtags, you can get a good conversation going.
For instance, if you use the hashtag #streetphotography on your street shots, other people with the same interest will see your images and start interacting with you.
I'm not advocating using spammy hashtags just to attract a few extra eyeballs :)
It's all good, but
There's one inherent feature of Instagram that I'm not too happy about. It's just too damn easy to scroll past a great photo without giving it a second thought. Most users spend less than a second considering if my hard-fought pixels are worth the effort of a double-tap. That makes me sad.