If you sat across the table from me, narrating the fact that you strapped yourself on a 9-hour flight to Italy to visit the marvelous Uffizi Gallery, learn how to make the perfect Linguine and sip a Gaja Barbaresco under the stars, you’d expect me to momentarily keep aside my mundane life and partake in your swashbuckling adventures. You would enjoy the tinge of envy in my expression, the look of longing in my eyes and growing tension in my mind that’s already planning how my future vacation in Italy could possibly prove cooler than yours.
But, more importantly you’d want me to admire your individual authenticity, sense of adventure and spontaneity. As much as the story you tell seems to be an innocent collection of facts about Italy, its inviting culture and heritage, it really would become about how I see you in the fresh, new light of your delectable escapade.
Like standing in front of a looking glass and adjusting every detail proudly, delicately to seem desirable to the onlooker — we design stories about ourselves. Mostly to help us shape our own self-image.
This is the growing obsession of our era, gnawing at us a little more with every scroll down and every swipe up.
It begs the question, what is it about sharing, telling a story or building a narrative if you will, that motivates us? A need so strong that we want to Instagram our dense expressions to 243 strangers only to be ignored. Yet, a need so strong that there are entire businesses and cultures built around it.
Psychologists confirm that accuracy is never the main objective of good story-telling. Our minds invent bits and pieces to fit into a narrative, just so it would all hold together. It’s like social media translated that quirk into filters and stickers that can accentuate the picture of even a tasteless chocolate mousse into an authentic, fetching representation of a life that other plebeians could only pine for, from a distance.
We may choose to celebrate this culture of “accentuated self-expression” or boo its narcissism, but what we cannot ignore is the upwards of $67.25 billion advertising ka-ching attached to this phenomenon. Add to that, the latest research by Pew research Centre that cited ‘Social Media’ has effectively surpassed ‘Print Newspapers’ as a source of news in the US. And just in case, that wasn’t powerful enough, in 2019 Snapchat’s user base alone (90.4 mil) is predicted to overtake the number of magazine readers (84.4 mil) in the US.
For the average user, every time the ‘like’ counter notification lights up so does their brain, sending them a shot of dopamine just like a great workout would. Ford’s consumer trend report way back in 2014 said 62% adults reported better self-esteem after a round of positive social media validation. This is otherwise great, I mean all we need to feel good, is a red notification telling us a stranger on the world web thought our post was worth the effort of a mouse-click. Only, this need is now our collective borderline addiction. Gasp! The horror of being liked at one point, and then facing indifference!
Surprisingly enough though, who would have guessed that the greatest level of engagement would stem from content that would abruptly disappear in sometime? In 2018, stories on Marin Software Platform were 25% of all ad spend on Instagram. In advertising parlance, stories are “immersive, full-screen and mobile-centric”, so it’s no surprise. But from a consumer perspective — it’s not enough to know what celebrities wore at the Met Gala. Access to their #NoMakeupMakeupLook, #WokeUpLikeThisLook and #BackStageMadness is reassuring to a generation of people who take comfort in knowing that when they falter, when they don’t look their best, when they are faced with depression, low self-esteem and self-doubt, they are not alone. Makes you wonder if it’s just harmless, temporary, human comfort one is looking for or are we perpetrating a generation of lazy, escapists enjoying the safety in numbers? But, I digress.
Benefit Cosmetics actually A/B tested different formats for its content strategy to see which would appeal more and found that unedited, person-talking-straight-into-the-camera format outperformed the stories that were edited, and polished. To such a story, sneakily add a sticker or two, mimic an offline shopping experience and that which started out as just an engaging experience now translates into a virtual product trial, boosting sales. Voila! And, it is this very raw, authentic, real content that’s also fueling the rise of nano-influencers — remember that friendly neighborhood Instagrammer who happens to have 6K odd followers, and is now weaving stories about how their FitBit is the reason workouts are #Lit?
Have Instagram and Snapchat ‘Stories’ become the equivalent of junk food in our social fabric? We complain how an entire generation suffers from self-worth issues because it is caught up with watching everyone else so closely, but to label it junk is to almost say we disapprove of it. Ah the sheer joy and taste of validation keeps us coming back for more, like the ice-cream bucket tucked away in the freezer that you just can’t stop digging into. Perhaps this is the case with all of social media, not just stories. But then again, stories are the latest candy on the market complete with the wrappers of authenticity, and a soft center oozing with FOMO. You consume too much of it and it can cause a heartburn, too little and the craving is undeniable.
And oh! if I wanted to mint a profit? This aggregate sugar-high, frothing at the seams is my easy bait.