12 things I learnt taking 12 months off the ‘gram.

Reproduced from an original article published on Medium, Dec 30th, 2020.

12 months ago I posted my last in-feed photo on Instagram.

It was, like so many others around that time, a ‘Top Nine’; the nine MOST-LIKED photos from my feed throughout that year.

Image for post
Instagram, #TopNine2019 — @whatleydude

8/9 family. 1/9 work. That’s a good balance, I’d say.

A few days after that I posted – and pinned – an ‘end of year review’ to my stories and then after that… promptly uninstalled the app.

One month or so prior my other half, (pictured top left, 319 likes), shared with me a quote from Matt Haig’s Notes from a Nervous Planet:

“An online profile of your best friend is not your best friend. A status update about a day in the park is not a day in the park. And the desire to tell the world about how happy you are, is not how happy you are”

It stuck with me.

And so at the end of 2019, I thought I’d take the damn thing off my phone and just see. Could I do a year without Instagram?

Spoiler: I did. And you can too.

So here, as promised, are:

12 THINGS I LEARNT TAKING 12 MONTHS OFF THE GRAM

THING 1.

I didn’t miss it that much.

This is interesting to me. I thought I would. Like I really would. I thought removing the app from my phone would be one of those things that I’d try for a bit and then eventually crumble again for, I don’t know, work reasons or something. Truth be told, I did have to visit the platform a couple of times to preview some builds for work but nothing further than that — and virtually all of that through the web interface.

Point being: it was easy.

Much easier than I thought it’d be.

THING 2.

Seriously, I didn’t miss it at all.

I remember when I first signed up for Instagram (August 2011 — a photo of a Green Goblin action figure, 5 likes), I think I was convincing myself that it was a great place for photographic creative expression.

And I guess for a while I think it was. But then you find yourself in the early hours, trapped in the endless scrolling of the never-ending feed, either looking at what other people are doing, or seeing if that latest exquisite framing of a great sandwich has got… just… one… more… like… than the last one, or just checking your activity page to see if you have any new followers.

This is not healthy.

And for why?

In Cal Newport’s excellent book, Deep Work, he asks the question (admittedly of a journalist’s Twitter usage):

“Why are [they] urged to regularly interrupt their deep work to provide, for free, shallow content to a service run by an unrelated media company based out of silicon valley?”

It’s an adjacent point but one I am drawn to from time to time. You see what I mean? Why are you doing this? Why is anyone doing this?

I enjoy the creative expression. But if I’m pouring it into Instagram then where isn’t it going instead?

THING 3.

You don’t actually MISS much.

For transparency, I re-downloaded the app earlier today (I’d forgotten the password — of course) to see exactly what I had missed.

Turns out I had nine unread notifications. Of those notifications, three were posts that people had shared with me directly, one actual Direct Message (we’ll come back to this) and five ‘X has mentioned you in their story’ — an entirely useless notification anything later than 24hrs after it happened.

Why? Because I click on them and I literally see… this:

Image for post
Useful Content™

Like. What?

So while I may have missed the occasional engagement announcement from that person I once met at an after-meeting drinks thing, or a Stories Mention (what even do those two words together mean) from someone that I’m hanging out with telling me that they’re hanging out with me… I think I’ve done alright here? Yes my life doesn’t revolve around instagram and it turns out when you remove it from your life, life goes on!

Both on Instagram and off.

And if people want you — you specifically — to know stuff, they’ll tell you.

THING 4.

The platform kinda sucks now?

I installed the app this afternoon to take a proper look at what I had missed. The new dark mode looks L U S H on my phone’s OLED screen, that’s nice. But the muscle memory instantly went click on the ‘Activity’ on the bottom nav and, oh look, Facebook has switched it with ‘Shop’.

Image for post
Hmm. Crispy blacks.

I understand that this is a dark pattern of some kind and I also understand I am VERY LATE to this party. But still. It sucks! And no matter how Facebook paints the decision, it is clear to everyone why it was done and what the ambition was. It’s all just so transparent.

Speaking of things that suck.

THING 5

My God the ads get worse.

You saw that one above right? So far today in feed-ads I’ve seen: crap for extendable desks, crap for bikes, crap for… WhatsApp? And just more crap. It’s a photography platform. Create ads that look like gorgeous photography maybe? Can it be that hard? Apparently: yes.

Actually, no. It’s not about making things hard it’s about what Facebook makes easy. Facebook makes it easy to run the same ad across all of Facebook’s platforms with just one click. So why bother making something platform-specific when platform-agnostic (and screw the user experience!) is so much quicker?

And don’t even get me started on Stories.

Image for post

I used to run a Tumblr aaaaages ago, called ‘Instagram ads are awful’ — I don’t think much has changed. I’m sure there are some great ones but aye carumba they are drowned out by the dross.

Dross that appears after every fourth post.

I know this is veering into old man shouts at cloud territory but I work in this stuff and man alive I wish people would just. stop. with. the. bad.

THING 6

None of it matters.

This too shall pass. And people will remember you for the things you did, not the photos you posted or that amazing Stories compilation you nailed.

THING 7

It changes the way you look at social apps.

For background, I think I took Facebook off my phone shortly after the ‘Sorry, didn’t we mention we use your 2FA for targeting advertising?’ debacle (but then again it might’ve been sooner. Given how much I’ve written about how they simply cannot be trusted, like, with anything). So when’s that? 2018?

Possibly even earlier.

Don’t get me wrong, I still use the platform; exclusively on web and almost exclusively for groups (work, gaming, and smart people — w_w). Those conversations are valuable, yes, but the app actually being on my phone is too high a cost for that, thanks.

For Twitter, I have an on/off love affair with how I have it installed or not. And that changes from time to time. I’m relatively self-aware of how much time I spend on these things so if I catch myself spending too much time on it, I’ll take it off.

If idiocy levels get too high, if strat-gash gets too much, or if a firetruck load of muppetry gets delivered to my feed… then Twitter gets uninstalled.

Twitter is not currently installed on my phone.

TikTok was on for a short while but OH MY GOD WHAT A TIME SUCK so I had to that off as well. My children (combined TopNine score: 435 likes) need my time, not TikTok. I get it, I understand it, I read about it — I just don’t need it in my life right now.

So my point is, until earlier today when I installed Instagram back on my phone, I didn’t have any social apps installed at all.

And I didn’t realise how good that felt until I did.

By moving all social apps to web-only experiences, you’re removing some data-syphons, some terrible features (looking at you, Fleets), huge memory sponges on your device, and — perhaps most importantly of all, no notifications whatsoever. You decide when to look (or not).

No one else. Just you.

Freeing. Utterly freeing. I simply cannot recommend it enough.

And I think that’s what I might aim to do for 2021: try and spend the year with no social apps installed at all (almost impossible, given my job — but still, a healthy ambition nonetheless).

THING 8

Life is better without it.

Tim Urban, the amazing author of the Wait But Why website has written about this at length. This image (one of many) encapsulates a lot about why people feel the way they feel. Look.

Image for post

You can read the whole article right here.

And you should.

Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy”. My own version of that is simply ‘Never measure yourself with someone else’s yardstick’. Either way, by removing the platform from your life, you stop being Lucy and you can start being you again.

THING 9

Practical one this: If you’re going to leave a platform, and really mean it — then you should definitely tell people.

Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand those people that flounce off platforms at the drop of a hat (only to return <12hrs later). And there’s that tired old trope of ‘If you leave a platform and tell anybody about it, have you even left?’ BUT BUT BUT… hear me out!

I had to send a handful of messages this afternoon each saying ‘Hey, I’ve only just seen this! Sorry!’ and actually mean it — which is as hilarious as it is ridiculous:

‘Hi friend, this DM you sent me in July, what was the context? Can I help at all now… six months later?’ (this is a real thing that happened).

I guess if my last post on Instagram had said ‘Hi, I’m taking 2020 OFF this platform — if you need, send me a WhatsApp, thanks!’ then maybe that would’ve been helpful? Shame you can’t set an auto-responder or an out of office for these things.

I think I’m going to add one more post to my gram, in the short term — saying just that. Yes, that might be useful.

Point is: if you’re leaving, tell people.

Even if it is subject to tiresome mocking.

THING 10

2020 was a stellar year to not be doing the gram.

In these uNpReCeDeNtEd TiMeS, going on Insta and talking about how great your life is and how well you’re doing is… kinda gross?

Amanda Hess wrote in March about how ‘Celebrity Culture is Burning’, highlighting just how brilliant/disgusting it was to see/read/hear about what the ‘slebs were doing to help people STAY SAFE.

“Staying home is my superpower,” the “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot reported from her walk-in closet. Ryan Reynolds urged his fans to “work together to flatten the curve” from within his rustic loft…

…Ellen DeGeneres is going “stir-crazy” from having to stay inside her enormous home; Katy Perry has lost track of the days she’s spent inside her enormous home…

Madonna, performing for the public and holding fans in her thrall is yet “another luxury gone, for now,” she says in one video. In its place is the disturbing sensation of normalcy. “The audience in my house is not amused by me,” she says. Later, from the bath, she concludes that Covid-19 is “the great equalizer.”

Sublime. Incredible. And distasteful AF.

The lack of self-awareness is sublime.

THING 11

You should probably print more photos.

When I were a lad, you’d take photos on your camera and then take the film to Boots to get developed and then a few days later (or an hour if you paid extra) you’d get your pack of photos back, pick out the best ones for your wall/album, then chuck the rest (either in the bin or in the drawer with all the others).

Not being on Instagram didn’t stop me from taking photos (or sharing them, tbh — I’m still quite active on Twitter) but what it did do was make me start cherry picking what photos I have on our digital displays at home. And also think about how we might start bringing real-world photos back into the house somehow. We’ve already started — calendars have been made and there’s a cork board in the kitchen — but by not being on t’gram, I think I’ve come to appreciate photoGRAPHS more.

These things are important.

THING 12

Your mileage may vary.

I don’t know what I’ve truly missed out on because… well… I’ve missed it. But given the year we have had (yes, I said it again) I’ve probably spent more time figuring out what’s most important to me over above that of ‘things I might be missing on social media’. Yes, I am painfully aware that that point of view comes from an enormous position of privilege: I am a white man. I have a young family. We have our health. We have our jobs. We have each other.

And while we have struggled with mental health this year (all of us have)…

We are not struggling with the disease.

We are not struggling to make ends meet.

We are not struggling with loneliness.

For some, Instagram might be a window into the lives of friends that they’ve been missing all year round. For others, Stories might be the replacement for the person to person connection that they’ve each craved during isolation. My point is: the platform is what YOU make it.

And that is both its core benefit and ultimately, for me at least, the source of its downfall.

Scientifically proven to be bad for your mental health, Instagram is not something I want or need in my life. I thought I’d try removing it — for a year — and it worked out OK.

More than OK, in fact. I didn’t miss it.

And I doubt very much that it missed me.

One more post this year and then I’m out for good.

Your mileage may vary.

Social Media Trends for 2015

2015 trends, innit.

Republished [with edits] from Social@Ogilvy.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 15.23.39

Back in December 2013, Managing Director of Social@Ogilvy EAME, Marshall Manson asked me to co-write some kind of trend prediction document for 2014. I think his words at the time were something like ‘Look, everyone does them, and everyone slags them off but Ogilvy should have one and I think we could put something decent together’.

We laughed. We agreed. And then we got to work.Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 22.05.11

A few emails back and forth and a couple of working meetings inbetween and Marshall and I came up with a fairly decent document covering off our shared trend predictions for the year ahead.

Such was the feedback of said presentation, we decided to it again for 2015.

WOOP WOOP.

So, at the bottom of this post you’ll find our latest work. It contains a brief overview of our predictions from last year as well as a more in-depth look at the thoughts, trends and predictions for the year ahead. However, if you’re a big cheat and don’t want to read the presentation (seriously, what kind of monster are you?) here are the cliff notes:

TREND PREDICTIONS FOR 2014: REVIEW

Marshall and I scored four for four with, ‘Disposable Content’,Brand Banter’, ‘Facebook as a Paid Media Channel’, and a little thing called ‘Sub-dividing Communities’. Each and every one of them came true and, well, we’re pretty chuffed about that (and the evidence is in the deck below – you didn’t think I was going to give it away that easily, did you?)

Without further ado, let’s move on to our:

TREND PREDICTIONS FOR 2015

Trend 1. Twitter Zero
Algorithmic content serving is coming very soon and, when it hits, and very much like Facebook before it, brands will need to understand not only what paid products are available but also how to use them.

Trend 2. The Video Battle Royale
‘Video’ was one of my ‘things that are not trends for 2015‘ however the BIG BATTLE FOR VIDEO AD DOMINANCE is 100% going to be a thing next year. With Facebook and Twitter both going all in on video-based ad products, we’re also predicting that Instagram’s existing ad products will also soon include video. Did you know Facebook outdid YouTube, on the video front, in 2014? We don’t think Google will let that lie… do you?

Trend 3. Teens & Anonymous Platforms
Less of a trend prediction more a piece of social / anthropological commentary, this section is about there now being a generation of teens who have grown up not knowing a world without an Internet. So what does ‘youth Internet’ look like? And why?

Check it out, you’ll see.

And hey, tell us what you think on Twitter (@whatleydude or @marshallmanson) – we’d love to get your feedback!

 

2015 Digital Trends (not)

You keep using that word but I do not think it means what you think it means.

Or – ‘Lessons on how to avoid being crap’

Nope.

At the end of last year I was tasked with putting together some ideas for the Ogilvy 2015 social media / digital trend document. To prevent said document falling into the same trap as every other prediction paper out there, I decided to publish a top 20 list of things that are NOT trends for 2015.

When people asked why, I half-jokingly reply ‘To f*** myself’.

Seriously though, what better way to push yourself out of mediocrity than by publicly declaring what you think the non-trends are? Well, I did – and it helped.

Said list should be embedded below and the trends we put to paper thereafter will be in the post straight after this one.


Five things on Friday #80

Things of note for the week ending July 11th, 2014.

I AIN'T PLAYIN' SON

1. Village Buildings as Art
In Burkina Faso, near the bottom of a hill over looking the sun-drenched West African savannah, there’s a village where every house is its own individual work of art.

Burkina Faso

Its residents, the nobility of the Kassena people, have lived in the region since the 15th century and are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the Burkina Faso. Keeping itself fairly isolated from the outside world (the photographer negotiated for a year before being allowed to enter) the village comes with strict rules, such as ‘only the most noble family is allowed to carry an umbrella’.

I doubt it rains much there but still.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 12.39.37

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 12.39.47

More details, as well as more photos, over on Messy Nessy Chic.

2. My Life as a Tech Evangelist
I first met Myriam Joire – aka ‘Tnkgrl – way back in September 2008, and since then she’s gone from a self-made mobile blogger, to technology news reporter at Engadget, to Tech Evangelist for the ‘original’ (and best) smartwatch, Pebble. This post, entitled ‘So what is it you do anyway?’ an,d published on Medium last Saturday, goes into the detail of what it means to be a Tech Evangelist at a start up in the one of the newest and most exciting product categories today.

Quote:

“How do you become a tech evangelist?” I get this question a lot. First, you need to be an extrovert who loves tech. You have to be comfortable talking with people — whether individually or up on stage, in front of thousands. It’s also important to have a solid understanding of the tech world and how it operates. You want be familiar with the products in your market and beyond, including the competition. Relationships are critical — start building connections with as many people in tech as possible, especially the media. Attend conferences and events, and have a strong presence online (social media, blog, etc…) Be yourself, be honest, be critical, be fair, and — most importantly — have fun!

Myriam is a great person, Pebble is a great product (trust me, I know), and this is a great post.

3. Toilet Tennis
Wimbledon came to an end last week and, as Djokovic enjoys his well-deserved championship, the New York Times has a great article about the uncertain protocol around Grand Slam toilet breaks.

Toilet break tennis

Not the most exciting of topics you might think, but brilliant reading (and trivia).

As Djokovic and the restless crowd waited, Murray stood alone in a tiny, one-toilet bathroom just off the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
.
“I stood in front of the mirror with sweat dripping down my face, and I knew I had to change what was going on inside,” he said the next spring. “So I started talking. Out loud. ‘You are not losing this match,’ I said to myself. ‘You are not losing this match.’ I started out a little tentative, but my voice got louder. ‘You are not going to let this one slip. This is your time.’
.
“At first, I felt a bit weird, but I felt something change inside me. I was surprised by my response. I knew I could win.”
.
He did not say whether he used the toilet.

Ha!

More.

4. 100 Social Media Content ‘Ideas’
This Forbes article lists off 100 different things you can do in social.

idea

Rather confidently named ‘100 Killer Ideas For Your Social Media Content‘ it is a little disingenuous in its pitch however, given that the article reels off a century of tactical things you can actually do with your social media pages, I’m willing to give it a pass.

Where it lacks in strategy (e.g.: ‘Share a Reddit topic!’), it makes up for in sheer volume.

Bookmark it for when you need to mainline some CONTENTIFICATION.

5. WOLFCOP
I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this already. I honestly thought I had but it must’ve been a dream. In short, WOLFCOP looks AMAZING. io9 is calling it ‘The best 80s film ever made in 2014‘ and, while I haven’t actually seen it yet, the trailer is a BLAST.

I’ll put it out there, I love love love werewolf flicks. I’ve seen ’em all. Twice.

Wolfcop is next on my list.

I reckon it should be on yours too.

WOLFCOP

RAAAAARGH!

—- Whatley out.

Bonuses this week:

How to: set up Lead Generation Twitter Cards

Lead generation cards are free to use and set up.
This is how you do it.

Lead Gen Twitter Cards of WIN

Regular readers of this website will know that every Friday I put up a collection of the five most interesting things I’ve seen that week.

The posts, imaginatively entitled ‘Five things on Friday‘, are relatively popular. So much so that recently I decided I’d turn them into a weekly newsletter, so that a) folk can get the good stuff delivered to their inbox and b) I could learn how to do it.

And how am I going to get subscribers for this newsletter? From the lead-gen Twitter card!

What is a Lead Generation Twitter Card? Twitter itself expresses the definition thus:

Twitter Cards let you bring rich experiences and useful tools to users within an expanded Tweet. The Lead Generation Card makes it easy for users to express interest in what your brand offers. Users can easily and securely share their email address with a business without leaving Twitter or having to fill out a cumbersome form.

And they look a little bit like this

Lead Generation Twitter Card Example

Fancy, right? It’s a one-click sign up. EASY.

What I’m going to walk you through today is how to set up not only how to set up lead-gen Twitter cards but also linking them to a Mailchimp mailing list and WordPress blog feed.

I’m good to you.

STEP ONE:
SETTING UP THE TWITTER CARD

First, go to Twitter. Well, not strictly speaking. You need to go to ads.twitter.com.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 12.16.41

EDIT: THIS HAS NOW CHANGED

Before you can see the screen below, you will need to enter your credit card details. Twitter will no longer let you create Lead Gen cards (or Website Cards for that matter) without your credit card details.

I’ve entered mine and have steered VERY CLEAR of hitting the ‘promote’ button.

Without entering these details you will not be able to see the buttons demonstrated from this point onwards.

FYI.

Cards_-_Twitter_Ads

Sign in with your Twitter account (you don’t need to be an advertiser to do this), click on ‘Creatives’ in the top nav, and then ‘Cards’, hit the big blue Create Lead Generation Card button on the right and you’re away.

Most of this first part is pretty simple: you need a description, an image (650 x 150) and a privacy policy. This last part is a little ridiculous, but I’ve created a special page that says I’m not going to sell your email address etc. But there’s no policing around this, so feel free to put a big ‘F U’ in there instead and see if anyone actually calls you on it.

Finish that bit and you’re pretty much ready to go with your first Lead Gen Twitter Card.

Hurrah and hurrah again.

BUT!

You probably want to do a bit more once you’ve got those lovely email addresses. If, like me, you [want to] run your mailing lists through Mailchimp, then this is what you need to do next.

If you scroll down a bit on your lead-gen card page, you’ll see a ‘Data settings (optional)’ section. This is where you add in your Mailchimp id details.

STEP TWO:
SETTING YOUR TWITTER CARD TO TALK TO MAILCHIMP

When you get to Mailchimp (assuming you already have a Mailchimp account), set up a List in Mailchimp. I call mine ‘5 Things’. You might call yours ‘Magic Beans’ or ‘Web Curios’.

Lists___MailChimp

Go to your Lists section, click on the drop down arrow (next to Stats) and head to ‘Sign Up Forms’, then ‘Form Integrations’, and then – oh look, here are the bits you need for your Twitter Card.

And that’s it, you’re done. Anyone that clicks on your Lead-Gen Twitter Card ‘Sign Me Up!’ button will have their email address delivered into your Mailchimp mailing list.

STEP THREE:
SETTING WORDPRESS TO TALK TO MAILCHIMP

WordPress_›_AutoChimp_«_WordPress_Plugins

This part had me going around in circles for a good couple of hours and y’know what? It’s EASY. Go download a plugin called ‘AutoChimp’, boot that up, and pick what tag/category you want to publish (again, for me it’s ‘5things’) and that’s it – you’re done!

It’s not a short process but it’s a relatively simple one.

Some examples –
Test.
The Voicemail.
Mat Morrison.
WWF.

Did you enjoy this post and/or find it useful?

If so, let me know in the comments and maybe consider sharing it with the buttons below.

Five things on Friday #67

Things of note for the week ending April 11th, 2014.

egg

1. Useful [and timely] Social Media Tips
The Easter break is coming up and, one week out, if you’ve not made the right prep for your social channels, now might be a good time to sort that out. This post, from the endlessly-knowledgeable Stephen Waddington, is a good place to start (and bookmark for future use).

2. A 9hr trip into SNES history
Did you ever own a Super Nintendo? Then you need to [at least attempt to] watch this nine hour epic, showcasing ALL OF THE START SCREENS FROM EVERY SNES GAME EVER.

ZOMG.

Yes, they’re in alphabetical order. My personal favourite, Streetfighter II is at 06:45:50 and if, like me, nearly all your old games started with ‘SUPER’ (Super Bomberman, Super Mario World, Super Street Fighter II etc) well they all start at 06:52:45 – enjoy!

3. Sony ad of colour
I’m in the final throes of completely Sony-fying my life (a new TV, amp, and console, with the matching phone arriving next week), so it seems only fitting that we celebrate this gorgeous ad –

4. RANKING EVERY WWF/WWE WRESTLEMANIA MATCH EVER
You need a day to read this.

EDIT: I wrote this list of five things at the start of the week. Between then and now however, it was announced that just days after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, The Ultimate Warrior had sadly passed away.

In the list linked above, the first match I ever saw comes in at No. 33. That was Hulk Hogan vs The Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania 6 (World Championship vs Intercontinental Championship), it was an amazing match and the image of Warrior Gorilla Pressing Hulkster up above his head became seared on my mind forever.

RIP Warrior.

Your fans thought you were the best thing in the world.

5. Good list of interesting upcoming films
I like films. If you read my blog, there’s a good chance you do too. iO9 has put together a list of upcoming genre movies that aren’t sequels, remakes, or reboots. Stuff to get excited about.

Go read it.