From finding the perfect lighting for your next selfie to downloading the latest filter, social media platform Instagram has had a huge impact on our daily lives since it was first launched in 2010. Since then, it’s become one of the most downloaded apps in the world with over 1 billion users globally logging on to scroll through their feed every day, making it one of the most influential platforms in the world.
Over the last decade, social media has had a significant impact on shaping and influencing cultural movements, trends and even consumer behaviours but has the instant and almost addictive access to so much content been a positive change to younger generations? We explore the influence Instagram has over particular age groups, whether it does affect mental health and how an image-based app has shaped consumer behaviour- particularly through the lockdown.
Who Uses Instagram?
Instagram recently revealed that 71% of their users were under the age of 35, with ages 25-34 spending the longest amount on their app, compared to all other age groups. This age group known as Generation Z, clock up an average of 32 minutes a day scrolling through images and viewing stories with the majority of users identifying as female. This is significant when it comes to profiling audiences for brands looking to reach new groups of audiences on one of the most popular social platforms. Hashtags are another huge part of the platform too, with over 1 million users using the #meme every day in 2020. That’s a lot of memes!
But it’s not just the positive impact Instagram can have on our daily lives, as the more serious side of being constantly exposed to ‘picture-perfect’ lifestyles and filtered images of the ideal body also has a direct impact on users mental wellbeing. As a social media app, Instagram has truly evolved from the picture-only app that used to be all about avocado on toast and dog snaps to a space where the pressure to impress has surpassed any other social media platform trends.
Instagram in 2021 is much more about clever imagery, super-slick video editing, and capturing that seemingly envious perfect moment, and living up to these very high and impossible expectations have certainly taken its toll on younger audiences. It also actively promotes a certain type of lifestyle that appears ‘perfect’ and with over 1 million posts with the #instagramperfect tag, that strive to take a popular picture isn’t going away any time soon. Over the years, Instagram has become a platform that actively encourages people to share parts of their lives that they may not have previously thought of but with this striving for perfection comes unrealistic expectations for followers. With so many of us admitting to using Instagram every day, it can feel almost impossible to avoid its pulling power.
With the rise of Instagram, a new type of super-user, known as an ‘influencer’ has emerged too, sharing impossibly idealistic lives, careers, and homes with their eager following whilst making huge amounts of money from sponsored posts. Influencers have gained huge exposure on platforms such as Instagram and YouTube, sharing every intimate detail of their glamourized lives and creating an illusion of the ideal life. Many brands actively use influencers to increase their potential audience reach, sending out free products or gifting PR event tickets in return for exposure across the influencer’s account to their thousands of followers.
How Does Instagram Affect Mental Health?
The aimless scrolling and anonymous approval many users crave from their followers engaging and interacting with posts have been compared to similar feelings of addiction, triggering more negative emotions for users and creating a feeling they’re missing out on something better. It’s, therefore, no surprise Instagram has often been referred to as the worst social app for having a detrimental impact on mental health. With the average person in the UK checking in 28 times a day, the repetition of ideal imagery and ‘perfect’ lives has had a huge impact on self-esteem, anxieties and in particular, body image.
A study by The UK’s Royal Society for Public Health looked at younger users and their social media habits, and the results were probably not too surprising. The consultants found that Instagram and other social platforms were directly associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and even “FOMO.” The study also concluded that social media can also foster a negative body image and poor sleep habits in younger people, and with such a heavy focus on aesthetics on Instagram, it’s really no surprise people feel pressure to look a certain way. Whilst there’s no denying the negative impact social media has on users of all ages, there are some positive movements growing in trends that appear too.
The Influence On Body Image From Social Media
In terms of aesthetics, there’s no getting away from the fact that ‘perfection thrives’ on a platform like Instagram, that actively encourages people to add filters, enhance their pictures and even gain more exposure the more engagement their posts make. Creating completely fake and unachievable ‘body goals’ has had a huge impact on youngers users, who are often replicating what they’re seeing on their feeds into their own lives. Around the world, psychologists have conducted a number of studies on people who regularly use social media sites and have a negative perception of their own body with the general mix being equal between men and women feeling bad about their appearances as a result.
Whilst there’s no denying the negative impact social media has on users of all ages, there are some positive movements growing in trends that appear too. With over 15 million hashtags using #bodypositive too, it’s clear has been a shift in how users feel about seeing just one type of body type on the platform.
Having direct access to such huge, impressionable consumers who are continuously hooked to scrolling, there’s no surprise that so many brands have recognised the huge selling power that Instagram has, using influencers to help build on a reputation and share results of using a certain product or wearing a certain item of clothing. With influencers profiting from #spon posts that appear to have ‘transformed’ or helped them achieve a certain weight loss or physical appearances making it hard to escape the sky-high expectations. Whilst there is still a long way to go to help younger generations from being so directly impacted by their social feeds, there is a wave of ‘body positive’ influencers who share unfiltered and natural images of themselves.
As well as sharing selfies, the 500,000-strong influencers are also actively advertising products for companies who have recognised the pulling power Instagram has for selling too.
So, how do brands fit into this new age of consumerism, and how can they harness just a bit of the power and influence Instagram commands daily from over 1 billion users?
How Beauty Brands Can Harness The Power
As the 6th most visited website in the world, encouraging users to click through posts to related websites is hugely significant for brands looking to invest in their consumer journeys. Some skincare and beauty brands have launched their entire stock solely on Instagram, (see Kylie Jenner’s beauty line that has the biggest following on Instagram ) relying on visual reels and videos of people using and talking about their products as well as targeting the younger generations. Utilising the power of appealing to generation Z has undoubtedly paid for the digitally-savvy brands using active trends to showcase their own products. Skincare and beauty brands have really benefitted from the ‘selfie’ phase on Instagram and coupled with the emphasis on wellness and self-care throughout the 2020 lockdowns, the industry has grown exponentially.
In 2019, a study revealed beauty brands performed best on the platform, generating more engagement per post on Instagram compared to other social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. In fact, there are over 80% of users actively searching for products across Instagram and over 130 million people clicking directly through shopping posts, it’s clear there’s huge potential for brands old and emerging to get their products in front of potential new audiences. Brands can position their products in front of a huge global audience, choosing ‘influencers’ to sponsor posts and generally brag about how good their products are- ideal for skincare and beauty brands who always want to demonstrate how good their collections are but may be restricted by the presence, the lockdown or lack of physical stores.
As of 2020, Kylie Cosmetics was ranked as the most popular beauty brand on Instagram with 24.2 million followers, with MAC Cosmetics coming second with 23.66 million, which is a huge achievement for a beauty company with no reputation or physical shop. Arguably, Kylie benefitted from using her own following of 201 million to help boost the success of the beauty products but it was a tactic that clearly paid off as she surpassed all other beauty brands and gained the largest following to date.
There’s no denying Instagram is a powerful social network that enables brands to connect with digital audiences, and beauty and skincare brands have the huge advantage of being visually focused- from packaging to makeover results, consumers are able to see the products in use. It could be down to the power of influencing so many people via just one platform, or perhaps the bare-all approach so many users take when sharing their favourite skincare and beauty products? Whatever the key ingredient is, as of 2019 there were 3.7 billion brand-sponsored posts and that figure is set to grow over 6 billion after 2020. Instagram really is a dynamic tool for visually marketing all kinds of products, reaching far more audiences than most other traditional methods have.
Conclusion: With more users shifting from ‘picture perfect’ to real-life, brands need to be conscious of their target audiences and how their content will affect them. Skincare and beauty brands have really benefitted from the ‘selfie’ phase on Instagram and coupled with the emphasis on wellness and self-care throughout the 2020 lockdowns, the industry has grown exponentially. For brands recognising the opportunity influencer marketing can have for reaching new audiences, Instagram is an integral part of their overall marketing strategy and is undeniably delivering results for skincare and beauty brands globally. Consumers on Instagram are searching for authentic and high-performing products, approved by their favourite influencers, and this is the huge demand skincare and beauty brands need to make.
Whilst there’s no denying the negative impact platforms such as Instagram has on younger audiences, creating a lot more pressure to look a certain way or live certain lifestyles thanks to the glamorised images but things are starting to change. Filters and photoshop still play a part in a lot of the content that’s shared, however, users are starting to demand more authenticity from their feeds which means brands need to be more considered with their content too.