‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?” This is the question Anglican bishop George Berkeley – a philosopher and writer – posed.
It was a philosophical thought that was meant to raise questions about observation and perception.
Today that question has been reinvented for our digital era: “If it wasn’t posted on Instagram, did it happen?”
The “non-grammers” reading this will no doubt pooh-pooh this Instagram mantra, but there must be something that drives the more than 1 billion users worldwide to post visual glimpses of their daily lives.
And, even if you’re not on Instagram, you will probably see the same pictures posted on Facebook.
Instagram is owned by Facebook and was bought for a staggering $1 billion in 2012, as a two-year-old fledgling company with only 13 employees.
The high price tag raised many an eyebrow. It turned out to be a shrewd acquisition.
Six years later Instagram is now worth $1 billion, if it were to be evaluated as a stand-alone company, which is why, two weeks ago, eyebrows were raised again when Instagram founders – Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger – announced they were leaving the company because “Facebook impinged on their autonomy”.
With Facebook’s reputation taking repeated beatings (such as last week’s security breach of 50 million accounts) shareholders must be questioning if Facebook can continue Instagram’s trajectory as an innovative, business game-changer.
As a visual social media platform it made perfect sense for any industry that could be promoted visually to be the first to see the business benefits, such as the travel, fashion retail and food industries.
It was just a matter of time before the platform switched from an informal, visual diary to a formal business tool.
Last month Burberry announced it was launching “a bespoke digital-selling experience for customers that will operate exclusively on social media channels” – that is via the company’s Instagram and WeChat accounts.
A clever move because the brand has 40 million followers across its social media platforms and 12.2 million followers on Instagram alone.
While Burberry is widely recognised as a digitally savvy, luxury fashion brand, this is the first time it will push its “runway to retail” model to the extreme.
Just half an hour after Burberry’s London Fashion Week show, fans were able to buy limited-edition pieces from Riccardo Tisci’s debut collection through a series of 24-hour product releases.
In essence: watch it, then buy it, all via Instagram.
This up-ends the traditional retail model, not only in terms of timelines and exclusivity, but also in terms of marketing and distribution.
The change in logistics to accommodate this kind of immediacy is staggering, but Burberry will be pioneering the new rules of retail – using Instagram.
While taking pictures of your food before eating it – I call it the digital alternative to saying grace – is an Instagrammer’s preoccupation, the ripple effect on the design industry has been unexpected and far-reaching.
At first restaurants started altering their lighting to ensure their food looked good on Instagram, such was its marketing power.
Better lighting led to better crockery: if you’re going to help style a picture you might as well consider all the elements.
The new business mantra of “Is your business Instagramable?” started surfacing, which then led to aesthetic considerations, moving out of the dining room and into the architectural world.
London-based architect Farshid Moussavi was one of the first to acknowledge that: “Creating Instagram moments has now become part of architectural briefs.”
She mentioned this in a post (on Instagram), saying more clients were requesting their new hotel/bar/restaurant include features that could be shared on Instagram to boost business.
To prove her point she posted a travel article listing various hotels that were judged on everything from menu specialities, nearby tourist sites and specific “Instagramable” spots within each hotel. She commented that: “These hotels are advertising themselves not for their comfortable beds, but for their Instagram spots.”
Australian design studio Vale Architects corroborated Moussavi’s assertion and even went as far as releasing its own Instagram design guide because the image-sharing platform was playing such a key role in the success of hospitality projects.
Dezeen.com’s Scott Valentine, the report’s author, said it was now not just creating superficial Instagram moments as part of a project, but advising clients on where to spend their money.
His design team analyses the social-media footprint of competing hotels in the area, adding that: “If we notice a few people taking pictures in the guest rooms of a hotel, but lots of pictures in the hotel pool area, then this potentially tells us we should divert funds and design effort into the public area in a new hotel.”
If Instagram can shift where design budgets are allocated in the hospitality industry and change marketing and distribution in fashion, then Instagram is going way beyond selfie pop culture.
I just hope Facebook doesn’t destroy its game-changing trajectory.
Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends visit fluxtrends.com