How Instagram Restored My Faith in Social Networking

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If you have not played with runaway hit mobile social network Instagram, you should. Yes, it’s become known as a utility for iPhone users to send pictures to Facebook and Twitter, but make no bones about it, Instagram is its own social network, and a very enjoyable one, too. In fact, it has restored my faith in the media form.

With more than 13 million people on Instagram, you can see some fantastic sharing. It is innately personal and wonderful.

Gone from the mix is the usual social media punditry and sword fighting. Instead you simply have real experiences throughout the average day. It’s just photos, sharing and comments, and nothing more.

Instagram exists on the mobile web, and is not tethered to the web. Rather it is on your iPhone or iPad via application (soon coming to Android). It only lives on the most personal and portable electronic devices. I think that in combination with its simplicity is what makes the network so special.

You see, on the go people can only be people. It’s not contrived, and thus sharing is unusually naked and revealing. People show each other how they see the world. Yes, you can share professional or well edited photos via your phone, but generally Instagram is a social phenomena of the moment. It feels safe, and unbelievably relational.

Sure, companies are trying to figure out how to tap into the incredible Instagram phenomena. And Instagram itself is another social network in search of a revenue model (advertising looks like the probable path). With an open API, people are exploring how to harness the photos, including search by city.

But for now, Instagram is very pure in its simple peer-to-peer interaction. And in that sense, it is a welcome relief in comparison to the over-commercialized Facebook, Twitter, and blogosphere.

Messaging Still Fails

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One of the greatest triumphs of the social web remains the open citizen revolt against marketing messages (bored image by Samael Trip). Note how well the Apple iPad name flew yesterday online (ahem, let’s not go there). Nonprofits experience the same disinterest from their stakeholders as companies due.

In fact, a recent report by marketer Nancy Schwartz (hat tip to Beth Kanter for forwarding me these stats), 84 percent of 915 nonprofit leaders who completed the survey last month said their messages connect with their target audiences only somewhat or not at all. Nancy’s post includes comments from survey participants explaining why their messages fail to connect:

  • “Our messages need to be more succinct to communicate how effective we really are.”
  • “We don’t move our base to action.”
  • “We have individual elements that are ok solo, but no unified path.”
  • “Our messages aren’t hard-hitting or targeted enough. So they fall flat.”
  • “We need to shape messages that are simple enough for staff to remember and feel comfortable in repeating it to others.”
  • “Too much jargon. I can’t even understand what we’re saying.”

Maybe, but… Let’s be frank as I’ve written about this over and over again in the past on the Buzz Bin: The Cluetrain Manifesto was right! “There’s no market for messages.”

It doesn’t matter if you have a compelling cause or a public interest, or if your company contributes to society. If you drill people with messages, they will absolutely turn their back on you.

And you know what? You deserve it. It’s like entering a party and spamming people with solicitations, stale lines, and hucksterisms. Thanks for talking about yourself and what you want from me all night. Cause or not.

The 20th century approach of communications is over, regardless of medium. Mass communicating at people no longer works. Even Super Bowl ads are starting to fail now, thus Pepsi’s $20 million (troubled) social refresh program.

Whether its social or not, cause and corporate communicators alike need to stop and retool their strategic approach towards messaging. What we learned in business or communications school has changed. The old dynamics of media, specifically the concept that there are limited channels of media that people get information from, no longer applies.

Look at messages as conversation starters (see this post I wrote on the starter message premise). You won’t control the dialogue, but the fact of the matter is you already lost control and some argue, you never had it. Instead let’s have real interesting conversations that matter to us (organization and person), and society, in general.