How consumers are sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly on social media
"Finstas", second Instagram accounts where users share private photos to a smaller circle, have been around for quite some time. In the early days, TikTok was essentially a Gen Z app and often seen as an escape from the easy gloss of other sites. It seems younger consumers have long been aware of the constraints they feel when posting, but the pandemic has hardened this sentiment.
Recent media examples validate the existence of this mindset. Traditionally speaking, an athlete's success depends on their ability to master perfection, which is why the world was shocked when decorated gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the Olympics in the interest of her mental health. While the move sparked some criticism, AI platform HypeAuditor found that the overall reaction on social media was favorable; and between July 26-August 2, Biles gained more than 1.8 million Instagram followers.
Online personalities who don’t feel comfortable digging this deep can peel back layers by speaking more freely about other issues. For example, social media users who gravitate toward people that acknowledge their flaws are also more likely to say they mainly use platforms as a space for sharing opinions. The apparent rising class of influencers who exist to spread ideas rather than products – known as “genuinfluencers” – therefore stands to have a positive impact on their perception of influencer culture.
Around every potentially harmful fad is an anti-movement. Alongside straightforward tags like #nofilter, which has over 3.7 billion views on TikTok and 284 million posts on Instagram, others are turning popular phrases upside-down using comedy.
Women have taken #thatgirl, a paragon of wellness who meditates at 6am before drinking a kale smoothie, and used it to mock superficial archetypes in the schoolyard. Likewise, pages like "Be A Man" parody toxic masculinity and the illogical outlook some men have when navigating through life. Hashtags are a prime way for brands to insert themselves in trending conversations, as long as they’ve considered existing moods by checking the relevant stream of posts before taking part.
Filters are spreading in certain parts of the world, as others turn their back on them. Since 2020, Europe and North America have experienced a drop in the percentage of Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok users applying filters, while MEA and APAC have witnessed significant upticks. As they become increasingly common, unedited images are often viewed as refreshing.
% of social media users in each category who...
*those who like to see influencers/creators posting about beauty, fashion, travel, or fitness
Even filter users aren’t letting these alterations slide. They tend to have an aspirational outlook on life, so we’d expect them to be less bothered by promotional posts that blur reality to inspire followers; but their demands tell a different story. Compared to the average, they’re more likely to want companies to be authentic.
A growing number of brands work in long-term partnerships with influencers, rather than on one off-projects, which means they’re associated more closely with the content their ambassadors create. While editing professional posts isn’t illegal in the vast majority of countries, businesses can stay ahead of future regulations by ensuring they have a strong set of guidelines that all collaborators are briefed on; and untouched work can give both parties an edge in today’s age of curated perfection.
2020 was dubbed the year of the “photo-dump”. And there’s a reason why many relished bundling a group of random photos together at a time when societies were undergoing real hardships: they wanted a break from their carefully curated online self which didn’t chime with reality.
In the present day, a tightly controlled, shiny version of ourselves doesn’t boost likeability in the same way it used to. Past research has demonstrated the advantages of candid (rather than posed) pictures as a way of making people seem more genuine, and it’s likely photo-dumps achieve something similar.
While there’s still demand for inspirational images that look good, some consumers want content to better reflect the reality of post-lockdown life and support people. Luxury or fashion brands that traditionally rely on glamour shots might drive growth by adding some eccentricity to their marketing mix. Whether that’s in the form of raw, messy images or self-deprecating memes, the up-and-coming vibe is characterized by light-heartedness and impulsive creativity.
Businesses stand to benefit from tapping into the casual posting trend, which offers an easy way to capture what happens behind the curtain. Though the current formats and hashtags designed to counteract curated perfection might not be around in a few years’ time, the spontaneity and realness they’ve unleashed is set to stick around.