Article

Value Over Vanity

Social media is moving from an era of curated content to one of genuine connection. It’s time to focus on the honest and authentic.

Social media is moving from an era of curated content to one of genuine connection. It’s time to focus on the honest and authentic.

Connecting with vanity

It’s almost impossible to remember a time when instant communication wasn’t at our fingertips. When connecting with loved ones took more than just a click or a swipe.

The internet enables us to get in touch with friends and family at unprecedented speeds. Then came social media. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram boast one commonality—the ability to keep you constantly connected with your network.

You can “friend” anyone and everyone on Facebook, giving you access to a constant feed of what people are doing and what they’re interested in. The same goes for Twitter, where you can follow the personal and previously private musings of celebrities. You have access to a seemingly endless stream of consciousness. On Instagram, you see snapshots—both mundane and extravagant—of every life you follow.  

Across all three platforms we have the ability to peer into each other’s lives, connecting us near and far.

Somehow, though, since these social platforms emerged, the objective of connection has faded. Now most social networks operate almost as a contest, with the winner being whomever can get the most likes and comments on their carefully curated feed.  We see only the snapshots of the most edited moments. The value of connectivity feels lost. The worth of each individual account is measured only by the number of interactions at the bottom of a post. The bigger, the better.

Social media users have become hyper-focused on vanity. Research shows the temporary rush that comes from positive interactions on a social post can increase self-esteem—but lower our self-control on post frequency. It also means that we’re more likely to mask our true personalities to uphold these insignificant indicators of self-worth.


Experts from many fields are calling into question the impact these newfound values have on our psyche. It was only a matter of time before social networking sites took notice and realized that we’ve abandoned the original purpose: genuine connection.


Back to basics

Now, the major social media networks are going back to basics. Instagram is leading the way with its recent changes. Facebook and Twitter are in talks to follow suit in their own ways.

Recently, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said platform changes like removing the like count from photos comes from wanting “people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about.”


So what does this mean for our favourite social channels? And what does it mean for modern day marketers?


Instagram

The app once created to capture life in the moment has quickly become a platform for staged, inauthentic photos. Users have adopted a “do it for the gram,” mentality, which means mastering the art of chasing the perfect shot. The better the shot, the more likes and followers you’ll get. The more interactions you get, the more likely you are to “succeed” on Instagram.

Staged photography gave rise to influencer marketing, which many brands have since capitalized on. Brands like Lipton, Fiji Water, and Audible have all partnered with Instagram Influencers to help sell their products.

But change is happening. Instagram has begun hiding the number of likes on posts. Users can still see their own numbers, but not on the posts of others.

What started as a test throughout Canada has now been expanded to seven more countries, including Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. The team will measure the effects on a global scale, hoping to create a more welcoming environment to users.

So far, the change has been well received. Many users state that they’ve been thinking less about sharing only perfect moments, and instead post more genuine snapshots from their daily lives. However, for those brands focusing on influencer marketing, they’re worried they’re losing a lucrative marketing tactic, feeling the need to pivot in the face of change.


Twitter

Instagram’s team isn’t alone in believing that private engagements will build a better online environment.

Twitter has an ongoing problem with plagiarism. Users coast on unoriginal ideas and recycled memes because the platform puts such a high measure on likes and retweets as a sign of online popularity. Twitter executives have mentioned the possibility of hiding the engagement counts on individual tweets (unless you click on the tweet to see more). This feature was recently tested in an app prototype.

In many ways, Twitter has become a global complaints department for businesses, giving users the ability to tweet at or about any business they wanted. This has sent complaint tweets viral, meaning companies have had to be accountable. The problem, though, is that this creates a more negative, self-focused platform.

Jack Coleman, Head of Consumer Product at Twitter, says that these tests are a step towards creating a friendlier platform, thus improving “the health of conversations.


Facebook

Facebook is the owner of Instagram, so it’s no surprise that whispers of large-scale changes to Facebook are circulating in the news.

In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg pledged that Facebook and its attached companies would focus on safeguarding well-being. As a start, Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm will now prioritize content shared by friends and family members, rather than media outlets and businesses. The platform is also shifting its focus to one-on-one messaging, rather than public posting. This algorithm has companies worried they won’t be able to get the bang for their buck when it comes to digital marketing.


The bottom line

The common thread among these changes is a renewed focus on genuine connection. That means sharing honest, authentic content.

No longer will these platforms value simple reactions. Instead, value depends on how users feel when they’re online.

Marketers that have long benefited from social media brand awareness might be alarmed. But in many ways, this shift to honest content is an advantage.

The first reason is that honest content builds a deeper sense of trust between brands and customers. A study done by Bazaarvoice shows that 47 percent of consumers are tired of influencer content that seems repetitive or inauthentic. Another 62 percent of respondents feel as though this type of content takes advantage of impressionable audiences by misrepresenting real life with material goods.

The second reason is that stripping away the false value of likes and reactions allows for more meaningful performance indicators. For Instagram specifically, those indicators include sharing stories, comments and story watch-through. It forces brands to focus on the content quality rather than vanity metrics. That’s a good thing.

Be true to you.

Snapchat recently released a study called “The Friendship Report.” The company surveyed a variety of markets to see what people valued in a friend. Across the board, the most important qualities in a best friend were honesty and authenticity. The least-valued trait was having a large social network.

We agree.

These changes should enable all of us to reveal our truest selves. It’s much easier, and more valuable, to connect with something real—rather than unrealistic perfection in an imperfect world.