We’ve all seen the posts: an artfully constructed shot of avocado toast over a tiled floor, a perfectly manicured hand holding a matcha latte in front of a colored wall, that one Icelandic waterfall. Anyone whose Internet use has spanned the past decade has witnessed a shift away from the candid, spontaneous content that characterized earlier days of social media, in favor of more polished snapshots of their lives. As more and more people and brands have adopted social platforms like Instagram and Facebook, the content has become much more curated as the pressure mounts to present a sophisticated and idealized version of reality. To see this shift in action, one only needs to scroll briefly through @Insta_Repeat, an Instagram account sharing compilations of nearly-identical photos posted by users on the platform.
Platforms like Instagram noticed a problem in the wake of these changes — people were intimidated by the pressure of sharing gallery-worthy photos. As the platform’s CEO Kevin Systrom reflected last year, “people want to actually share a lot more, but they don’t want it to hang on the gallery wall.” To solve this issue, Instagram took a page from their competitor, Snapchat, and launched Instagram Stories. Roughly one year later, this feature has amassed over 400 million daily users — more than twice the total users of Snapchat. Instagram Stories represent a turn back towards the more personal and informal content of earlier social media days. Instagram Stories are engaging without requiring any editing, usually shot spontaneously in the mobile-native vertical format. They offer users the chance to share more than just the “highlights,” but rather “the everyday moments that make up your life between those highlights.”
And it’s not just individuals making the shift — all types of accounts from political candidates to news organizations are doing the same. Texas candidate for Senate Beto O’Rourke has driven unprecedented digital engagement (and fundraising dollars) through a conversational and informal approach to video unusual for the political world. Supporters can tune in to Facebook Live on a daily basis as O’Rourke drives from town hall to town hall, or as he waits to get a haircut, or as he skateboards in the parking lot of Whataburger. The Guardian, after months of testing, similarly concluded that investing resources in more heavily produced video content simply wasn’t worth the pay off — less polished video just worked better.
The lesson for brands? While cohesive branding is important and strategic messaging remains critical when dealing with important or sensitive subject matter, brands should take a cue from users — don’t be afraid to show personality and be informal with your digital audience, especially when it comes to video content. It’s what the people want.