Scroll Stoppers: Part 4 - Say No Faux
How the authentic and relatable trumps the filter and polish
Hello again. This week we’re sharing Part 4 of Scroll Stoppers: six ways hybrid work is changing our attention. Thanks for staying with us on this journey. If you missed them, check out parts 1, 2 and 3. And if you didn’t get the memo, you can find out why we’re releasing this report week by week here.
I have a love-hate relationship with Instagram, and yesterday was talking to a fitness trainer who uses it for work and said the same thing: sometimes she feels obliged to post for her work, when she really doesn’t feel like there’s much to say.
Of course everyone goes through phases, but it feels like there’s more of a movement towards rejecting platforms that are too polished and performative than before. Perhaps during lockdown everyone had their fill of it, and scrolling through perfect feeds when we were in our pyjamas just didn’t feel right. Our research showed that this sentiment is indeed gaining popularity.
This week we’re looking at our growing tendency to reject fakeness (fakery?) and appreciate social media with #nofilter, in all its messy realness. We’re calling this trend Say No Faux. It should take no more than 9 minutes to read. If you want to go deep there’s a fantastic reading list, plus some quotes and a quick takeaway at the end. If you just want the highlights there’s a handy downloadable summary here.
You can’t deny social media has had a vast impact on modern day society and the way we present ourselves online. And while platforms like Instagram and Facebook have transformed culture in more ways than we can mention, it seems their long reign as sources of escapism, aesthetic, and aspiration could be coming to an end.
There may have been a (burning) desire for escapism during the pandemic, but when it came to social media feeds we saw a significant shift toward more authentic and relatable posts. Lockdown was a leveller for everyone and the “hashtag goals” lifestyles of the famous and influential no longer spoke to our needs. One interviewee explains, “when the pandemic started, I was definitely looking for more content that felt comforting and kind of replaces the human interactions we'd have every day.”
This behaviour is apparent in the rise of apps like BeReal and TikTok, but also in how we’ve transformed our relationships with the OG social media apps. We’re trading fine-tuned (and face-tuned) Instagram lays for unaesthetic photo dumps—the tag #photodump has racked up almost 2.5 million Instagram posts and counting.
This change in attitude, alongside the mass exodus of users from social media platforms like Facebook also connects to a general distrust in big corporations. Our research shows audiences are becoming increasingly wary of big brands, unethical behaviours, and cheap advertising tactics. One interview tells us, “we've become a lot better at just sniffing out the nonsense really, you know, what's authentic and what isn't. We've got better at that.”
Relatability is an important driver of trust, and in the search for authentic, value-driven, and community-focused content, we’re seeing audiences transform their relationships with the apps and platforms that held their attention for too long. Making the internet work for them instead.
If you’d like to go a little deeper, here are a few Say No Faux things you might want to read.
How the lockdown made the mundane instagrammable: "Photo dump resurgence may be partly a tactical reaction to current circumstances: there aren’t any 'big moments' to post on Instagram anymore, coupled with an 'anything goes in a pandemic' spirit," How Instagram's 'Photo Dump' Trend Finds The Beauty In Lockdown Life (8 min. read).
And how celebrities during the pandemic “ruined the music” in the most unrelatable attempt to send positive vibes: “positive actions are worth more, literally, than sending positive vibes.” Thoughts on this celebrity remix of John Lennon’s Imagine (3 min. read).
On shared unsharing: How we became increasingly aware of the perils of sharing an aspirational version of ourselves on social media: “The whole moment triggered one of the first major pangs of distaste I would have with myself (and my self-presentation) in 2020. It was hardly the last. I’d finally caught an extreme case of self-consciousness that I probably should’ve had all along but that the rules of engagement on Instagram had given me permission to override.” Our Shared Unsharing (12 min. read).
On Main Character Energy: Post-pandemic we went on to being more honest, perhaps less self-conscious. “People are finally posting that they’re on vacation” flooded our feeds, but this time with a word of caution: “capturing a main-character moment might be antithetical to living it.” We All Have “Main-Character Energy” Now | The New Yorker (6 min. read).
On lo-fi food and laissez-faire; that is, “food that looks like it will be eaten — and enjoyed”: “I feel like there’s something about the general cultural shift that supports that — folks are way more into ‘does this look like something I can do?’ and ‘look at this thing I made — it’s not glamorous but it’s delicious!’” The Great Food Instagram Vibe Shift (9 min. read).
On long-form content and “hunger” for “something more than clickable diversions”: “We still bite at the clickbait, but it doesn’t taste so good. Something is wrong. We feel it intuitively and the numbers validate it. We’ve maxed out on clicks and swipes…This is a signal that we have reached the endgame stage. And a new game is beginning with totally different recipes for success.” Has the Internet Reached Peak Clickability? (8 min. read).
On Gen Z and the end of the “perfect” social media feed: “Many of the influencers of the first generation no longer exist today, and not only because of generational turnover, but mainly because of a decline in interest in their content. Consumers have become more savvy and as a result, digital creators have evolved to favor a more truthful and real relationship with their community.” Nobody cares about "perfect" Instagram feeds anymore (5 min. read).
On how authenticity is driving the niche: “The Webby Awards team has released its annual report, presented in partnership with WP Engine and YouGov, titled Never Niche Enough! It explores Gen Z’s shift to niche communities and micro-networks, how they’ve redefined online communities, and why the future of digital is rooted in authenticity.” Never Niche Enough! (report).
And last, but not least, we have proof “that relatability and trust play a significant role in building a strong relationship between storytelling content and audience engagement”: Influencer Marketing on Instagram: A Sequential Mediation Model of Storytelling Content and Audience Engagement via Relatability and Trust (research paper; PDF).
Almost everyone remembers the 2017 BBC interview with Professor Robert Kelly, whose children gatecrashed his interview on live TV. That set the stage for a lot of people’s Zoom calls during the pandemic that took over our lives 3 years later, and now children, cats, dogs, parents or anyone else popping their head into work calls is absolutely normal. And guess what - people are fine with it. There’s no need to feel embarrassed anymore. This sentiment was echoed in our research:
People actually go on TikTok and share a story in front of many people and it becomes viral and even more people find out about something embarrassing that you did. And it sort of becomes like a relatable thing that people just wanna be very true, honest, and very open about their experiences and stories. They get rewarded for that, for their honesty.
It’s not just behaviours on social though, the preference for authenticity cascades into the choice of media:
In just that one little frame, you can tell if it's good quality or bad quality or if you're going to like it or not. You have that sense of judging much faster now and it's because there’s so much content. It's become more rapid and we've become more sharp in a way to judge content and trust content.
Giving us all a content nonsense identification radar (yes we made that phrase up, but it really is a thing!):
So basically we've become a lot better at just sniffing out the nonsense really: what's authentic and what isn't. We've got better at that.
We've become really good, like detectives, and we really inspect everything with very close attention to it. We just do a little research very fast and we know what to search for now.
I wouldn’t want to be an influencer in today’s world - because if you want to make it big in influencer land and move to L.A to monetise your fame, then this happens with your audience:
I just want to say something on trust and trusting people on TikTok because you find them relatable. Something that I find interesting is where that trust sort of goes. You can follow a creator and it seems like as soon as they become big or something, they're out of your relatable zone of being like them. You see this happening when for example they move to LA, like they’ve made it big. And then everyone turns on them and people don't like them anymore.
But at the end of the day, it’s about facing the mirror and being comfortable with the person you see in the mirror - being transparent (literally) online and off.
When the pandemic started, I definitely started looking for more content that feels comforting and replaces the human interactions that we'd have every day. Finding the replacement for that. And I think that's also when the shift started online, when people started to take social media a little bit less seriously and be more real and relatable. So I think that's the kind of content that became super popular as well.
When asked what their main motivation is for engaging (finding, consuming, sharing) with content, only 2% of our survey respondents mentioned the need for social status or capital. Their top choices were:
1. Researching information
3. Information sharing
Also, according to YouTube’s 2022 Culture and Trends Report “65% of Gen Z agree that content that’s personally relevant to them is more important than the content that lots of other people talk about”. And “78% of people agree that they use YouTube because it serves them with content that’s personally relevant to them.”
People are tired of the polished versions of everything they see around them. The pandemic brought this into focus, as we spent so much time with our media by ourselves or with our bubbles. We’re now in a time where being who you are doesn’t need to come with visors or shades, or, dare we say it, filters. Think about how your content matches these needs:
First-person stories are always better than rambling pieces reported by a third party.
Sometimes visuals don’t need to be overly directed - vox pops and raw footage have an audience
Give people the background behind the stories they see - they want to know.
That’s it for another week of Scroll Stoppers: six ways hybrid work is changing our attention. If you liked it, please share it with colleagues, friends, or anyone you think will find it useful. Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment. Subscribe to our other newslettersand .
We’re back next week with part 5 which is titled Unscrollable.
My personal experience correlates with what you have shared here. I am spending way more time on Substack and less time on socials. I'm enjoying consuming more long form content. It feels like eating delicious nutrient rich food vs McDonald's.