Firm News

Freedom in “Finstagram”

April 21, 2017

A Millennial’s take on a Generation Z trend changing the redefining the culture of authenticity in social media engagement.

Almost two years ago, Justine Harman wrote a fascinating piece for Elle.com on a social media trend called “finstagram” sweeping the group of tech-savvy youngsters born between 1996 and 2010, now commonly referred to as Generation Z. As younger millennial myself, I was not familiar with this term until a group of friends, all currently in the tail-end of their undergraduate degrees, asked me for my own “finsta” username. After incorrectly guessing this was a new third-party photo editing software for Instagram, they soon explained this phenomenon with giddy delight.

According to my friends and quick search at Urban Dictionary, a finstagram is a portmanteau for “fake instagram,” or a separate, private Instagram account where (mostly) teens post their unfiltered selves without adhering to a specific theme or heavily curated appearance, often revealing a private and unflattering, yet genuine view of their everyday lives. The finstas of my friends are filled with memes, biting political commentary, swimsuit photos featuring cellulite and belly rolls, goofy selfies and anything deemed too unfit to show their grandmother.

Their “real Instagram,” or “rinsta,” however, is edited and cultivated with photos of picture-perfect experiences and photoshoot-quality images filled with effortless joy. These are perfect for appealing to increasingly digitally-literate parents or impressing like-minded peers. Eighteen year old Hailee Sussman* explained to Elle.com that she became “so good at selecting the right image and writing a perfectly pithy caption” on her rintsa that each photo would receive around 200 Instagram likes despite only having 544 followers. A 37 percent engagement rate is unheard of, even for celebrities. In comparison, Rihanna generally receives a two percent return in Instagram likes.

Raised as digital natives, this generation is acutely aware that social media connects them not only to friends and family but also to brands and business. In an era where having ten thousand followers can bring you free merchandise, invites to exclusive events and even help land internships or gateways to career paths, this younger, entrepreneurial Gen Z spends an incredible amount of time and effort perfecting their own personal brand.

In a December interview with Forbes, a panel of advertising experts discussed this phenomenon in order to build a better rapport with this new breed of social media users. In order to gain their affection, brands need to be genuine and transparent above all else. Due to Gen Z’s own cultivated online identities, they are hyper aware of traditional marketing gimmicks and forced content. In order for brands to survive the next decade it is necessary for them to create a unique, signature voice that does not simply mimic their audience, but relates to them in a way that truly connects.

Even marketing giants who have produced decades of memorable ads are having difficulty deciphering this fine line between mimicry and understanding their customers. On paper, Pepsi’s recent “Live for Now” campaign had everything Pepsi believed mattered to a younger audience: chic clothing heavily featuring denim and monochromatic tones, phrases like “brave” and “bold,” social activism, entrepreneurial artists, a diverse cast and the ultra-stylish Gen Z muse, Kendall Jenner. Due to a sloppy misinterpretation of what is important to this demographic, this ad received nothing but backlash across all age groups due to its tone-deaf understanding of current events and blatant co-opting of a delicate social movement to sell soda.

Gen Z understands that businesses need to sell their product. They know that businesses are rapidly tapping into social media giants like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube to seamlessly integrate their content into new revenue opportunities. If the younger audiences didn’t want to interact with apps now utilized by these companies, they would simply move to a different platform entirely once the old ones stopped being “cool.” Instead, they are creating a dual identity which understands and accepts the nature of monetizing digital communication, while protecting their freedom to project a true “fake” self in private.

*Name changed in Elle.com article to protect identity.

Melanie du Mont is an intern at Bond Moroch and admits that she now has a “finsta.”