Sally-Ann O'Dowd I February 19, 2020
In the ad industry, it’s our job to follow social media trends—whether it’s Facebook’s new ad campaign for groups (such as bazooka players) or bad behaviors accompanying Instagram addiction. Think: the 2017 Fyre Festival that defrauded thousands of music lovers, leaving many stranded in the Bahamas. Or, a travel couple with 25,000 followers who fell to their deaths in 2018 trying to perfect a selfie in Yosemite National Park.
What’s more, a study by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine says extensive social media use and depression are a vicious cycle. The more time people spend on social media, the more likely they are to become depressed; some people already demonstrating symptoms go to social media for connection—only for more loneliness to set in.
But it’s a fictional tragedy that’s making Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri address real-life dangers simmering on his platform.
In a recent New York Times interview with Amy Chozick, he said he decided to remove likes from public view while watching “Nosedive,” a dystopian episode of “Black Mirror” in which people can see each other’s public rankings in thin air like a telepathic Google Glass. The protagonist becomes unhinged at the wedding of a childhood friend who ranks higher. She winds up in jail after an outburst at the reception.
Employees executing Mosseri’s like-hiding plan—dubbed Project Daisy as in “you like me, you like me not”—have been testing the feature for several months in six countries: first in Canada, then Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand.
Mosseri announced at November’s Wired25 conference that tests on U.S. accounts, including some event attendees, would begin later that month, while the Times is reporting that Instagram will “introduce” the project “later this year.” Mosseri did not respond to a Facebook DM asking for clarification on how many U.S. accounts will be affected in 2020.
While questions remain, advertising executives, influencers and casual users have strong opinions on what this means for the platform, from cautiously optimistic and cynical to downright exuberant.
“I have to commend the effort to just start to figure out, directionally, how they can change some of the behavior,” says Sarah Snyder Lyons, general manager of digital marketing company SocialCode. “Ultimately, is it going to make really big strides toward shifting the way people deal on the platform, the pressure, the anxiety? Or [go] as deep as eliminating bullying? It’s not going to solve those things.
“But it indicates to me that the platform wants to get ahead of what YouTube found itself in…after having such a massive role and scale and then advertisers finding out they were showing up next to hate speech.”
Or, Instagram is making up for its parent’s sins. Facebook has been the subject of outrage since the Cambridge Analytica scandal and its decision to allow fake political ads. Likewise, Mosseri could be taking a cue from Justin Rosenstein, who has stated publicly that he regrets creating Facebook’s like button.
Matt Klein, director of cultural strategy at marketing research firm and consultancy Sparks and Honey, is skeptical of Instagram’s intentions, saying it’s an effective PR play.
“They’ve made their money and developed an incredibly impressive career, and now they’re saying ‘whoops, let’s make this right,’” he says of the social media tycoons. “The coincidental timing [reflects] the conscious reckoning in Silicon Valley.”
The young generation’s collective desire for superficial approval can’t be stopped so easily, says Marc Landsberg, CEO of creative agency SocialDeviant. Some Instagrammers have been known to dress up as if they’re going clubbing, post some selfies, undress, and go to sleep. He compares the trend to a waterfall that can’t go backwards while Klein sees Instagram as a drug supplier. If people can’t get dopamine spikes from likes, “you find another drug dealer.”
“The vanity metric ends up being really dangerous for people,” Landsberg says. “Removing likes is an important but insignificant step.”
On the positive side, it appears the public’s desire for authenticity is growing organically.
“In the last six to nine months, SnapChat has gotten traction,” Landsberg says. It’s what Instagram used to be—“unfiltered, unvarnished, you’re in your sweats, up early, up late. It is the opposite of ‘how great my life is.’”
Eric Sanchez, with 381 Instagram followers, proves Landsberg’s point.
While Mosseri’s posts are littered with spam about blocked accounts, @erics640 wrote him around the time of his Wired announcement and a trip to Asia.
“Please take my likes away!!!” he commented after Mosseri posted a photo of his Tokyo team. “It makes the experience feel more inclusive and I engage with the content I love without the negative pressure of feeling like everyone is competing on what is supposed to be a leisurely social platform. Also it seems the content that people post has improved as all of the fake follower people are gone.”
At the other end of the spectrum are paid influencers such as L.A. designer Amy Royland, the woman behind @afashionnerd, an account with 136,000 followers. For years she dedicated herself to blogging and taking photographs on her building’s rooftop to build social currency; now she earns between $250 and $6,000 for each post on behalf of a brand.
Through it all, the pressure of acquiring likes has limited how frequently she can post; she’s needed to wait up to two days to maximize the public’s affection for each piece of content. Without the pressure, she can post three times a day.
Instagram’s decision is “amazing,” she says. “If brands want to know our engagement we can always see it on our end and screenshot it and send it over. I don’t think that’s gonna be an issue at all.”
Developers are also innovating to adapt to Instagram’s changes. If, for example, influencers don’t want to have to send pictures to clients, they can use Socialinsider’s “Return of the Likes” app, available in the Chrome Web Store. The app—which makes public likes reappear—has garnered about 3,000 downloads since December.
In the page’s overview section, the firm explains: “Instagram has stopped displaying the number of likes and comments in some areas—that makes the life of a Social Media person very complicated so we thought about lending a hand.”
The emergence of workarounds shows the relentless need for external validation, says Sparks and Honey’s Klein. If Instagram is serious about changing consumer behavior, then the company needs to communicate directly with everyday users, he says. Aside from the conference announcement and the NYT interview, neither Mosseri personally nor the company has said anything; nothing about Project Daisy appears on Instagram, the blog, or anywhere else on the corporate site.
“They need to say, ‘this is why we are removing it,” Klein says, “and explain why [people] are better off without it.”
This is all too late for Jacqueline Jimenez.
Five years ago this month, members of South Florida’s social media community gathered for a memorial and a walk on the beach to honor the 28-year-old marketer and blogger who died by suicide on Jan. 27, 2015. On her Instagram page, which is still live, she called herself “The Innovative Consultant and Public Speaker.” She had 546 followers.
Her friends continue to run the Jackie Jimenez RIP Facebook page, where people post tributes and content related to suicide prevention.
“We would work together,” says Karla Campos, owner of The Mompreneur Center, which provides marketing and other services to women-owned businesses. “She was happy, motivated—someone you’d think would never do such a thing. It started going downhill because she wasn’t getting likes…She didn’t feel successful; she was comparing herself to others.”
Jimenez, who lived in Boca Raton, left a suicide note stating she felt “lonely” and “ignored,” Campos says. Yet BocaNewsNow.com, which does not regularly cover suicides, did cover Jimenez’s death because she was “notable.” The site refers to her as a “social media expert and consultant” with more than 3,000 Twitter followers.
A couple months before she died, she posted a motivational phrase with a pretty lavender background: “Be an encourager, the world has enough critics already.” She didn’t take it to heart, in the end.
It’s taken Campos years to get over her friend’s passing. If she could talk with her again, she would tell her to not take social media so personally. “She wasn’t where she wanted to be and felt people were ignoring her,” she says. “We were all trying to get our businesses up. We were not trying to hurt her.”
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Sally-Ann O'Dowd I March 24, 2020
Fjord’s latest trends report says people are moving from a “me to we” perspective. Does that hold up in a pandemic?
From soy burgers outselling red meat at Oakland Coliseum to banana-fiber sanitary pads for rural Indian women, companies are overhauling product design in an era of “liquid” people.
It’s a time of self-reflection and changing behaviors spilling like homemade almond milk onto all aspects of one’s life, according to the Fjord Trends 2020 annual report.
An increasingly woke public is developing a “me to we” mindset, reassessing what it means to be a citizen, make money, and buy stuff. Whereas your grandfather may have said “I gave at the office,” now we’re authentically stating our values while traversing every role we play. And although the study does not account for the coronavirus, some lessons do apply.
“People are redesigning themselves on the fly,” says Mark Curtis, co-founder of Fjord, Accenture Interactive’s design unit. “Self-definition is changing and becoming more liquid. People are moving away from defining themselves as consumers. Don’t get me wrong—we will continue to want to consume things—but we will be more thoughtful, with greater intent and insight on the ramifications of what we buy.”
Companies responding to such shifts are adopting life-centered design processes that consider a broad range of societal and environmental needs, not just an individual’s wants. Fjord’s point of view is inspired by writer John Thackara’s theory of designing for all life, not just human life.
The holistic view replaces user-centered design, for decades considered the paradigm for making things. Just as the dehumanizing word “servant” has left the daily lexicon, the word “user” sounds selfish and pejorative, says Fjord Global Media Relations Director David LaBar.
Now, designers must start to address people as part of an ecosystem rather than at the center of everything. This means designing for two sets of values: personal and collective.—David LaBar
One such design pioneer is Indian feminine hygiene company Saathi. It uses discarded banana fiber to make biodegradable and compostable sanitary pads, instead of relying on plastic and chemicals found in products on most Western women’s bathroom shelves.
The natural fiber is safer for women’s bodies and the planet: Over the course of their lifetime, women generate 132 pounds of plastic from sanitary pads alone, the company says.
Along with other Indian personal-care companies, and even Oscar-winning documentarians, Saathi is also helping to advance education and female empowerment in India, where traditional attitudes associate periods with shame.
In the food sector, Fjord highlights the popularity of the Impossible Burger.
Impossible Burger CEO Dr. Patrick O’Reilly Brown and Beyond Burger CEO Ethan Brown have both earned the United Nations’ Champions of the Earth distinction. Plant-based foods, the UN says, are a viable replacement for meat, which it considers a primitive “technology” for creating nutritious food. Animal agriculture is a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.
Impossible Burger uses heme, an iron-containing molecule in every animal and plant cell, to recreate the same smell, taste and texture of animal meat. Its primary ingredient is genetically modified soy. Genetic modification may raise some eyebrows, but according to a biotech non-profit, the mass-producing process dramatically reduces the need for pesticides.
“There’s a lot of design thinking in the product,” Impossible Burger Communications Vice President Jessica Appelgren says:
What is more interesting from a pop culture perspective is, the younger you are the more plant-based you are. You’re not associating red meat with an American identity.—Jessica Appelgren
The entertainment industry is a big backer of the company, with investors including Beyoncé, Jay-Z, John Legend, Quest Love, and Katy Perry, who wore an Impossible Burger-inspired outfit in the last scene of Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” video.
Hip hop “is a driving force in awakening the masses to plant-based eating,” Appelgren says. The community is “pretty upset about the way African-Americans are being marketed to…”
Indeed, Questlove and the company he keeps embody the “me to we” perspective when speaking out for neglected communities.
He addresses racism in the food system on a podcast produced by Foodtank, a nonprofit supporting life-centered opportunities to build a more sustainable and just world.
“It’s not by accident that the cheapest and kind of the most unsustainable foods are surrounding [certain communities] and the foods that should be benefiting you, like the foods from the earth, are more expensive and don’t seem at all appealing to [these communities],” he says in a fall 2019 Food Talk episode. As a child in Philadelphia, he says, “To even want a healthy lifestyle was financially unobtainable and literally 20 blocks away out of my range.”
Burger King, which launched its Impossible Whpper six months ago, is working to change that perception. José Cil, CEO of Restaurant Brands International, which owns the chain, has said “plant-based food is a new platform for the brand.”
But prices needed to come down to reach a broader audience.
Last year’s premium price “limited some guests from trying the Impossible Whopper, so in January we added [it] to our core 2-for-$6 promotion,” Cil says on February’s investor relations call.
In the six weeks since then, the coronavirus has killed thousands of people worldwide and stirred concerns about an economic depression. Still, Fjord’s thoughts on human behavioral change remain prescient. Hygiene is the new vegan.
The U.K. government has told people to wash for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, Curtis says. “I’ve never seen people so assiduously wash their hands. That change is happening in a month.”
It comes down to the liquid idea—as consciousness evolves so does habit.
You have to meet people at a place they care about. They don’t want to spread disease and die of it…and you reframe that and tell them hand washing is the most effective thing you do.—Mark Curtis
Fjord declined the opportunity to elaborate on the future of design in a post-pandemic world. But if life-centered theories hold, private and public sectors will have to innovate new products and services, say journalism, PR and advertising students at Florida International University.
Several of them riffed on potential travel-related outcomes during a recent Zoom session replacing an in-person writing class. (The author teaches writing and media studies at the university.)
One Gen Z’er says she hopes the transportation industry will redesign airplanes so they’re “roomier” while another posits that airports may require temperature checks at all gates. Life-centered design would be critical in all such instances to achieve feasible business models, sustainability, and public health.
Likewise, travelers may proactively bring their own masks and gloves, even if airlines don’t require them, another student says. Given current shortages, manufacturers would likely need new approaches and materials to meet unprecedented demand.
“You’ll have to have a card with you to check your medical history, or wear a chip in your arm,” says another, to whom a fellow student responds: “We have no choice. If the government applies these regulations, we have to abide by them.”
The students help to illustrate how the pandemic will fundamentally change social interaction. But businesses may not have the resources to design for fear, says Matt Klein, strategy director at cultural consultancy Sparks and Honey.
“This moment will absolutely scar the way in which we view public spaces and more specifically proximity to each other in transit,” Klein says. “We’re still flying in planes that are sometimes 10 years or older. The planes and trains we’ll see in 15 years may possibly reflect this moment in time, but these designs will also have to consider the economics of the business.”
Concern about lurking germs could generate skepticism and distrust, in a world already divided in the political sense. Liquid people could dry up.
“While over time we’ll recognize how we helped each other ‘flatten the curve,’ we’ll also realize how we’ve endangered each other by not practicing social distancing and responsible hygiene,” Klein says. “This will be burned into our memory.”
If today’s hypervigilance turns into long-term paranoia, that wouldn’t be life-centered at all, as summed up by one FIU student:
Interaction is already dying because of social media. Now we’re three feet away from each other.
Photo by Photo Boards on Unsplash
AAF South Florida was established in 1957 as a local arm of the American Advertising Federation (AAF) to serve the interests of all disciplines and career levels in advertising. Now in 2020, we serve the Greater Fort Lauderdale and Plam Beach County advertising community.