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And The Video Vanishes


Media has always tried to grab our attention. To draw us in. To hold our gaze. And keep it. 

Media does all it can to get in our sight line, fix us squarely in the eye, unblinking, and say, "Look at me... And hold... And… Stay. Right. There."

Of course, during everyone's pillow-to-pillow in-between, everything competes with everything else.

Life: The Attention Maelstrom; a daily deluge of frontal and peripheral assaults for our time and attention. (Of which this article is indeed part of that quotidian attack.)

But when Social Media first took to the stage, it immediately went straight to the mic, centre of the spotlight, a charismatic enchantress hitting all the right notes, where we've all been transfixed ever since.

The American author and pastor Dan Reiland once (rhetorically) asked…

“How can you have charisma? Be more concerned about making others feel good about themselves than about making them feel good about you.”

Where brands are (boil it right down) all about trying to make people feel good, Social Media brands are arguably the most charismatic brands of all, because their focus is not on what they say about themselves. Social Media brands are all about how they allow us to express ourselves through them. In consequence, we want to spend time in their company. We are drawn to them. They are charismatic and hypnotic because they are selfless and empowering. Because they are “all about us”, inviting us to hold a mirror to ourselves, equipping us to express and update and redefine, and where it’s clear we continue to like what we see.

By this thinking, from the other side of the fence, then consider the tech owners and product developers. For them, the Social Media world is survival of the fittest at pace, turning pivot into quickstep, where success stems from being the fastest cheetah.

Simply meaning, all Social Media brands are in the adaptation business, of on-going innovation to an ever-better form. So offering new function. Functions aiming to fulfil a broader spread of our hard-wired needs as social creatures; our need for self-expression and creative outlet, for social approval and esteem-building, for a sense of connection and belonging. 

To this very end, Instagram kicked off 2017 (on January 17th) making its latest play to be the more killer social app. It doesn't want to be seen as a photo-sharing platform. That's too niche, too limiting, not enough of a land-grab and attention-steal in the Social Media battleground for hearts and minds and everyone’s time.

Now Insta is video too, and not just 60" video posts that become a thing of digital record, but also 60" stories that live but a day, or if streamed, only live the life of the view.

Insta’s Live Stories are quite literally instant, of that moment, and then nevermore. Long short: Insta has gone 'Snapchat', has moved into the "share and gone" live streaming space, hoping users will see this added functionality as second-mover virtue and not blatant copycat.

Instagram’s Head of Product Kevin Weil describes it simply and precisely for what it is. “We pivoted”, he declared. “Instagram should be all of your moments, not just your highlights.”

Will people find this broader functionality creatively liberating, or just feel Insta’s actions are unapologetically derivative, given they’re offering something people can broadly get elsewhere?

At first glance, Insta's move into the “vanishing social share” feels counter-intuitive - because people love Insta for the high quality photos it helps them post. All those filters. All those terrific edit features like ‘Structure’ and ‘Saturation’. Insta makes our photo-evidenced life look more premium, more pleasingly stylised, providing us with a tool to take our time and get it just right.

Conversely, Snapchat's inherent appeal lies in the principle of "relax, it won't last so it doesn't matter." Snapchat is where you can be loose and scrappy and there'll never be a future of exhibited evidence. Snapchat is all about not just being in the moment, but in the micro moment. Snapchat is (the content equivalent of) onesies and comfies and having a duvet day. Insta - pre video - was glam rags and red carpet swagger, and it'll be telling to see whether Insta can have it both ways. 

With Facebook Live allowing permanent replay, Instagram has become the most ephemeral live streaming platform, inviting us now to not only apply filters to our photo shares, but also get laid-back, care-free and unpolished with our vanishing videos. 

Certainly ‘Live’ is an exciting new chapter for online video. It’s playing to what consumers want, and (for the late majority) to what they don’t know they want yet.

Live video streams have energy and spontaneity and even uncertainty to them. When done well, they can be hugely watch-able. And where these live broadcasts capture and respond in real-time to viewer commentaries, this emerging format wields a deeper level of involvement, even intimacy.

At one end of the broadcast spectrum we have time-shift downloads and Box Set binging. At the other, we have ‘in the moment’ live streaming. The former: all high-gloss and sky-high production values. The latter: often a scrappy and slightly lunatic low-fi aesthetic. There’s clear appeal and space for both.

And specifically where video vanishes, the benefits to users are clear.

“Sharing without consequence”, without adding to the digital exhaust, of not being held to later account: it’s a welcome respite for people. Compare to not-so-long-ago, where every ‘share’ inevitably, automatically added to the permanent digital record. “Vanishing video” will be a liberation for some. And for brands, it will similarly invite a more experimental, playful, at times perhaps even more risqué way of addressing consumers. For brands and users alike, it’s the chance to trial new forms of creativity with less risk of reprisal.

What’s not in doubt is this. ‘Social Video’ will become bigger in all of our lives through 2017, and every ‘platform for one thing’ will fast-adapt into a ‘platform for many things’. 

Will Social Media undergo convergence and a single platform ultimately emerge victorious? It’s possible. Though any brief monopoly is then counter-balanced by new challengers and competition. And we, as consumers, will always like choice and variety.

We're still though very much in an 'App culture', with our mobile screens the equivalent of Batman's utility belt, affording different platforms for different social jobs. All social platforms would like to become The Social Platform. The Definitive. Forcing us all to ditch our utility belt in favour of Dr Who's sonic screwdriver – but until such a time, Instagram has given us another gadget for our bat belts: video that can go the way of Keyser Soze. Seen once, and then, “like that, is gone.”

Simon Pont

Simon Pont  is a writer, commentator and brand-builder. He is the author of three books, The Better Mousetrap, Digital State (both non-fiction), an emember to Breathe (a novel).