Q: When is progress not really progress?
A: When Instagram Founder, Kevin Systrom, announces direct messaging as an exciting new feature.
That’s what happened yesterday at the much-awaited special event that Instagram had billed as a major announcement. Located in the old offices of Twitter in San Francisco, the west coast social media phenomenon even deigned to make a special trip to New York City to stage the event. As part of the build-up, Instagram fanned the fires of pretense by issuing invitations to the event that included an image printed on a wood block.
Wait a minute, isn’t direct messaging just IM? Isn’t IMing what they do at Twitter and SnapChat, and on Google+ and Yahoo, and a dozen other ways people have been quick texting for years? But, they gave out blocks of wood with an image on it. Doesn’t that mean anything?
Shades of Andy Warhol. What could it all mean?
Well, it could mean that whoever dreamed-up this idea is some kind of a marketing blockhead.
Or it could mean that Instagram simply wanted to have all eyeballs on Kevin Systrom for a brief moment in time during the busy holiday season.
Made everyone look …
But, it’s even worse than that. Not only is direct messaging nothing new, the way Systrom lathered up the corporate-speak at the announcement is actually worthy of being coined as a new mode of communication in and of itself. They could call it pretentious corporate messaging.
Exactly what is pretentious corporate messaging?
It is difficult to say where it all started, but there is a kind of communication that takes place at high levels of corporate excitement that often waxes poetic. Though one might suspect it is born of pure, unadulterated marketing genius, the culprit more often than not is just a regular human being. It is some person who thinks they are P.T. Barnum, the famous publicity wiz. This person could just as easily be a consultant or an investor, the founder or a C-level executive.
The writing is on the wall. Submitted for approval: Kevin Systrom actually said that Instagram is not just a photo service, it’s a core mode of communication. Did anyone catch that?
Instagram is absolutely not a service for sending pics and videos. Instagram is actually one of the core ways of communicating that people have in life.
One probably did not realize that until Systrom said it. However, one might have also caught the glimmer of pretentious corporate messaging.
Face it, the only way they could get away with announcing that their brand new direct messaging feature is new and interesting would be to announce simultaneously that they are actually not just a photo service.
Top it off with the special event invitation that includes a block of wood with an image on it, and nobody is going to have any idea what is going on. It must be marketing genius in action. This must be a social media powerhouse on the cutting edge of reality.
Social psychologists say that communication rests on a delicate foundation of assumptions.
First assumption: Assuming understanding. That is, people tend to assume that one will understand everybody they communicate with, and they will understand them as well.
Second assumption: if a person does not have full understanding now, then they will be able to clarify and get it later.
Third assumption: if they do not achieve full understanding later, then it didn’t really matter much anyway.
This happens, for example, when someone gives directions to a party, and even though some may have no idea what was just said to them, they will say that they understand their directions perfectly. They figure that they can just GPS it, call again if they have to, and they will surely get there, sooner or later, one way or the other.
The alternative to these simple assumptions would be to check everything everyone else communicates to them meticulously in real-time until they obtain full understanding. However, this would bring social traffic to a screeching halt.
Life moves too fast for people to fact-check every iota of communication they receive in real-time in order to give it the stamp of 100 percent affirmation.
In some sense, Instagram knew that. The Systrom team must have known that nobody would know what that wooden block with an image on it meant. They must have known that people would eagerly be seeking confirmation later for that blatant act of pseudo-communication.
However, when it came time to get the news, one found it didn’t really matter much anyway. So, now the joke is on Instagram.
Since its 2010 launch, it only took Instagram two-and-a-half years to get to 100 million active users. As of September 9, 2013, the company announced it had more than 150 million monthly active users. In retrospect, history will show that on December 11, 2013, in just three short years, Instagram championed direct messaging as well as pretentious corporate messaging for a one-two punch the social media world would not soon forget.
Wait a minute … has everyone lost track of what was said yet?
Opinion by Alex Durig