Time was when Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing celebrated Instagram as a tool to build social media empires and provide an authentic glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous. Now he mourns its loss, claiming “it’s not what it used to be.”
Maybe Rousteing is right. Our Instagram-engineered world is becoming weirder by the minute. My “Explore” tab is chock-a-block with sponsored video channels and commodified flat lay food photography. Meanwhile, the influencers we follow have become mere agents of product placement. They’re even trying to bag free accommodation at luxury hotels in exchange for online “exposure”, worsening the image of an already over-entitled generation.
A “Pics or It Didn’t Happen” attitude has reduced famous monuments of deep historical significance to fleeting Instagram hotspots. This new philosophy informs our most mundane activities. If I didn’t ‘gram my jog this morning, did I even workout? If my latest post doesn’t geotag the restaurant my food is from, was I even there? My Instagram grid isn’t just photographic evidence of my lifestyle – it’s a certificate that legitimizes my existence.
In an ironic twist, teenagers fed up with the pressure of maintaining perfectly curated profiles have opened alternative “fake” Instagram accounts called Finstas to display their authentic and relatable selves.
And in what’s waiting to be made into a Black Mirror episode, millennial social media influencers are starting to look more and more like robots. Their deadpan expressions, swollen lips, bike shorts-clad Barbie waists are android-like to the max. There’s no telling a computer-generated Lil Miquela from a human Kylie Jenner. In fact, Prada just partnered with Miquela to launch its set of Instagram GIFs, effectively pushing real, live models one step closer to extinction.
If we’re to trust Rousteing’s hunch, the social media platform may have peaked. But not all hope is lost. Last October, Instagram Stories introduced Instagram Polls – an interactive, customizable poll sticker that lets you post a two-option poll right in your story. You ask a question, your followers vote and you get to see which choice is leading in real time. You can even monitor your voters and what they voted for.
A live audience polling tool could help you decide where to eat, which class to take or what tomorrow’s outfit is going to be. But personal dilemmas aside, this new feature also poses an opportunity for businesses interested in new forms of social engagement. It offers real-time results and a participant breakdown, both of which could help companies capture insights quickly and directly from their customers.
A few brands have already started to use Instagram Polls to engage with their following and collect useful feedback. Airbnb features user-generated photos on Travel Tuesday and asks poll participants to guess where they were taken. On #BravoBlackFriday, Bravo hosted a Vote-to-Watch poll to let users decide the marathon theme for Thanksgiving weekend programming.
What if Instagram Polls were taken one step further and designed to spark a conversation about pressing issues? Intentionally or not, Japanese designer Tomo Kihara’s borrows design principles from Instagram Polls to create a “street debater” tool. Made up of a set of scales that poses a simple multiple-choice question, the tool lets passersby cast their vote by placing coins on either side of the scales. The project aims to change our visceral response to homeless people on the street by introducing an interactive dimension – a public poll. Kihara’s plans to turn his project into a political activism toolkit that highlights issues outside of one’s “social media bubble.”
We’ve become tourists in our own lives, collecting avocado toasts and beach sunsets like souvenirs. Instagram is slowly turning us into perfection-pursuing, followers-flaunting, fembot-manufacturing drones. Now, interactive poll stickers could hold the key to its redemption.