Anniki Sommerville
Oct 27, 2016

A Gen X mum’s addiction to Instagram

An admitted instagram addict testifies to the power of the platform and points out that brands can't assume social channels are just for the 'digital natives'.

Anniki Sommerville
Anniki Sommerville

Just as we looked up to the cool girl at school who was the first to sport a shiny, bright pair of Adidas Gazelles, so we still admire the grown-up versions. Social media isn’t just a millennial playground. Gen X’ers are also engaging with content and following people who inspire them—be this in the world of beauty, fashion, home deco or parenting.

I’m a Mum. Let’s say in my '40s and leave it at that. I wear dungarees every day. I don’t want parenthood to define who I am. I came to Instagram relatively late; as a Gen X’er I feel like I have one shaky foot in the old world and the other in the new. I spend a lot of time making bad digital fails (when do you use the ghost emoji?) But once I joined, I quickly found a whole set of incredible women who shared the same values. Okay, they were shinier, better organised and more digitally savvy (the analogy of the cool girl works well). But I could relate.

Many of these women had made successful brands of themselves—turning their lives inside out and sharing the daily challenges of parenting, working, relationships and trying to look like you’ve brushed your hair. The combination of someone I could relate to, living a life similar to mine (but more aspirational) giving me recommendations on products and brands…well, it was highly effective. I started to screengrab the products they recommended. I often discovered the stuff I was chasing was sold out before I could buy it (just as well or I’d have been bankrupt). I realised I wasn’t alone in thinking these women were bright and shiny.

A recent article in The Times magazine: ‘Tennis Anyone? Why Are They All Wearing Stan Smiths?’, by Harriet Walker, talks about the increasing power of social-media personalities. Maks Fus Mickiewicz from The Future Laboratory says: “Influencer marketing is huge. It’s great when Kanye wears your trainers and they get a lot of views. But with somebody who isn’t a big name but has 10,000 followers, levels of engagement can be higher.”

One of the unique qualities of Instagram is the fact that it feels informal and there’s a strong sense of connection between personality and follower. Much has been made of the ‘rose tinted’ feel, but there’s a subtle shift happening. More often than not, it feels like real life but with a lick of nice paint. Okay, you’re unlikely to see a photo of a screeching toddler (though you just might) but you will definitely see a reflection of the challenges of the day-to-day grind. There’s also a lot of egging one another on, something you see through the sheer glut of positive affirmations that pop up in your feed every Monday morning. It feels like a club. This is why brand recommendations are so powerful.

This article is part of the Cultural Radar series

There’s been a great expansion in the area of parenting personalities and social media. In the UK in particular brands such as dresslikeamum, MotherPukka, selfish mother, peckhammamma and mothersmeeting are creating a new discourse. They’re using Instagram to publicise their own brands but at the same time they’re pushing their followers along. They don’t pretend to be perfect. If anything their message is quite the opposite. They make their followers feel as if they too can be part of the narrative, or create their own. Some also have their own retail platforms (selfish mother’s brand #GoodTees has donated £188,000 to charities to date).

The majority of these personalities won’t risk their social reputation by speaking up for brands that don’t share common ground. There always needs to be a natural synergy.

Helen Job, head of cultural intelligence at Flamingo, says: “I think the relationship between followers and these ‘Instagram stars’ is a very honest one. They feel an emotional connection to them. They trust in them and have a sense of shared values. As they are transparent about any endorsements, and not sneaky there is a feeling that the product must be genuinely good and relevant to their core followers.”

What’s interesting are the ways in which the wider brand world can potentially collaborate with these personalities. It might simply be about making them aware, seeking out the people who are singing from the same hymn sheet. Other times it might be about sponsoring a blogging competition or making a film that showcases a shared point of view. Events are another area where collaborations are rife, and you’ll definitely spot some of these social personalities on panels—talking about parenting, work, entrepreneurship and third-wave feminism.

We need to stay open-minded about social media and not assume it’s for the digital native. Before embarking on a project, make sure you know what people are saying, who these people are and what the brand’s status is. For just about every category or target there will be a group of influencers. These social personalities can also teach us about what it takes to be successful right now. They’re creative, nimble, respond quickly to change (it’s easy to see what followers respond to and what they’d don’t) and they know their followers inside out. They operate on gut feel combined with savvy research.

I looked up the ghost emoji on Wikipedia and it said it was “ambiguous without being evasive”. I’m still unsure what that means. I may be an ageing Gen X’er and going through what journalist Miranda Sawyer terms “mid-life dread”. But these women, these social personalities, these mothers, allies, innovators and encouragers, are offering up a powerful, addictive and intoxicating brew.

Like many other women, I’m pretty much addicted.

Anniki Sommerville is senior director with Flamingo London

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