Instagram has long been a place for airbrushed beach selfies, colourful vegan salads, and four-bed new build houses decorated in so much grey that you can’t tell where the walls end and furniture begins. Celebrities aside, the most popular feeds have more often than not been carefully curated so that each image works in harmony with the next. This phenomenon started with ordinary users but as with most social trends, brands followed suit.
However, these painstakingly perfect profiles seem to be experiencing somewhat of a demise, with an article in The Atlantic suggesting that the ‘Instagram Aesthetic’ is over.
“Every trend has a shelf life, and as quickly as Instagram ushered in pink walls and pastel macaroons, it’s now turning on them,” Taylor Lorenz writes.
“Fast-rising young influencers such as Emma Chamberlain, Jazzy Anne, and Joanna Ceddia all reject the notion of a curated feed in favor of a messier and more unfiltered vibe. While Millennial influencers hauled DSLR cameras to the beach and mastered photo editing to get the perfect shot, the generation younger than they are largely posting directly from their mobile phones.”
Lorenz’s post focuses primarily on the way that younger users are interacting with Instagram, but it’s easy to see a similar trend among older demographics too. With increasing focus being placed on the impact that online perfection can have on our health and wellbeing, many users are unfollowing ‘negative’ profiles and resorting to digital detoxes.
Influencer culture exhaustion
It’s no secret that people are getting tired of influencer culture and the way an obsession with getting the perfect photo can make those with large followings behave in the real world.
In February, Notting Hill residents complained about the number of influencers using their colourful homes and vintage cars to complement their outfits.
One resident, Olivia Lamb, said: “They’ll just set themselves up for hours on your doorstep with a range of outfits. They make no effort to move when people come in and out of their houses.”
@Beautybythebun tweeted “Can’t say I blame the residents of Notting Hill being fed up with bloggers and influencers. Imagine if this was outside your house. Plus aren’t we all bored of seeing the same shots now?”
She might well be onto something. As Lorenz writes: “A year ago, an influencer could post a shot with manicured hands on a coffee cup and rake in the likes - but now, people will unfollow.”
It’s clear that users are craving more relatable and meaningful content. They don’t want a pretty picture that leaves them seething with jealousy; they want content that actually improves their life in some way. They want to know that the words and images they consume online are real.
The end of ‘fake it til you make it’
The ‘fake it til you make it’ concept has long been upheld as a clever way of turning your dreams into reality - and it’s rife on Instagram amongst influencers and businesses alike. But there’s a difference between pretending to be confident in the hope you one day ooze charisma, and completely lying about how successful you are in order to attract followers, customers and investors.
For many fakers and fraudsters, the veil is beginning to slip. In a matter of months, we’ve seen two documentaries about the Fyre Festival scandal and another about Elizabeth Holmes’ Theranos controversy, which saw the Silicon Valley CEO claiming she’d invented a revolutionary machine that could test for countless diseases from just one drop of blood. It was a complete lie and behind the scenes, the machine was so dangerously unpredictable and ineffective that Holmes had her employees using equipment from Siemens to carry out the blood tests.
Perhaps Holmes thought that if she could convince enough investors that her machine worked, she’d one day have the resources to actually make it happen. With their exaggerated lifestyles and inflated incomes, Instagram influencers often follow the same trend - albeit on a far less malicious or dangerous scale. Behind the fake followers and handbags they’ll return the very next day, they’re often just as debt-ridden and unpopular as the rest of us.
Thankfully, users are beginning to wise-up to the frequency in which they’re being lied to and as a result, they’re more likely to turn their attention to influencers and brands they consider honest, relatable and even flawed.
But with the underdogs benefiting from this newfound surge in popularity and engagement, bigger influencers and brands are looking for ways to capitalise on the quest for authenticity.
The age of authenticity
As Instagram curation falls, ‘authenticity’ is becoming one of the latest buzzwords for brands, with many marketers bending over backwards to show how down to earth and relatable they are.
You can’t move for articles on LinkedIn preaching why you should ditch curated feeds and create brand authenticity instead. But authenticity isn’t something you create; it’s something you just are.
As soon as you start hiring Authenticity Officers to stage elaborate PR stunts that showcase how banterous your business is behind-the-scenes, you have to take a long hard look at yourself and question whether what you’re doing is so far from authentic it’s taking you further into the realm of curation than you ever were before.
Jenni Hill is communications manager at Run2