Here's a piece from some guy, A Crisis of Purpose in the Age of Instagram, which starts out pretty well. Anyone who pays attention to this kind of thing has seen this sort of essay. Rarely do these pieces come to a satisfactory conclusion (but if you read on, I will restate mine, which satisfies me). Shooting for Likes? Followers as the measure of Quality? It's a terrible world! How superficial!
Then the conclusion, which is at least half weird. Go shoot authentically, take risks, make something meaningful, so you can go get a bunch of Likes and Followers.
His rationale isn't completely insane, he justifies this weird conclusion by asserting that popularity is the metric, and we're stuck with it, so go optimize the metric. But he's flat out wrong, here.
Number of followers has almost nothing to do with how good your pictures are. He even gives us this clue in the piece, all the pictures that "did well" are of hot girls. The ones that didn't aren't. You can grow your following organically, to a modest degree, by shooting hot girls (and probably one or two other subjects, but mainly hot girls). You can grow your following in meaningful ways by actually socially networking. Follow other people, comment, like their pictures, and so on.
All of which tells us that this metric, your popularity, hasn't got anything to do with the work. This is obvious, surely? Does anyone even need me to say this? Taking risks isn't going to make you popular, shooting meaningful work isn't going to make you popular, unless you also stick a lot of hot girls in the frame and network like crazy.
So, for any newcomers, my stock answer:
There is almost nothing that can be done one picture at a time. Almost nobody serious works that way any more, and it's insanely difficult to succeed by by any measure at all (unless you count paper and ink consumed, or something, perhaps). We've seen all the photographs that can be shot, roughly. What we have not seen is every combination of photographs.
It is in the essay, the portfolio, the body of work, that profundity, meaning, and excellence can be attained by the mortal. Find something that matters to you, something with powerful emotional impact for you, be it a joke, a tragedy, or pure unadulterated love. Shoot it, over and over and over. Find a way to express your emotion, experiment, find another way, build up a body of work around whatever it is, and then cull that ruthlessly, and shoot it all over again.
In the end you won't have one picture, you'll have 4 or 6 or 50, or 200. In the end you'll have a body of work in which anyone with enough sensitivity can find meaning and power. Each picture will probably look a lot like something we've seen before, but the subtle differences between your picture and Frederick Evans' picture will bind your picture to your other pictures, will reveal your meaning, or at any rate some meaning. The combination of pictures, each most likely sort of familiar to us, will be itself a new thing, unique. If you've put enough into it, if there's enough meaning put in, the odds are good we'll be able to get something out.
It won't fly on instagram, but who cares? Instagram has nothing to do with this kind of photography.