“Visibility is a Trap”

Social media theorist, Nathan Jurgenson, came to speak at Stevenson University last night as our Artist-in-Residence for the spring semester. Let me just say first and foremost that his talk was not quite what I had expected. Our previous Artist-in-Residence’s that I have attended have been by illustrators, photographers, graphic designers, and the like. They usually talk to us about their projects, inspiration, creative thinking, and their design processes.

Now we have this sociologist who researches for Snapchat come into the mix, and he talks to us about social media. But he didn’t necessarily talk about the design of it in terms of layout and typography and what have you. He spoke in more indirect terms, by means of the theory behind it all. I ended up leaving the banquet room slightly mind blown.

The main point of his talk was “on the trappings of social media visibility.” We put our lives out on social media, and this makes us more visible to the world today in different ways than we have ever been before.

He informed us about a circular style prison, called the panopticon. The structure of this consists of a circle of cells all facing inward, and then a guard’s tower in the middle. This puts all of the inmates on display all the time, and they will behave differently whether a guard is there or not because of the notion that someone might be watching. It operates on the idea that people act differently when they know they’re being watched. The point of all this was that Nathan Jurgenson sees social media as panoptic—the few are watching the many, and because of this people are going to behave differently.

He went on to say that the panopticon is not the only way to understand the trappings of your online visibility. Social media can trap our identity. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter were created around listing our identity in a stable profile. We post something, share something, list our interests and it all remains there. Posts build up and soon our past is trapped there on our social media profile. He sees storing the information of our past as limiting to who we can become in the future.

I found the points about the panopticon and our identity along with the couple others that he mentioned really interesting because I had never really considered social media as trapping before. But it’s true. All of our information is out there for people to see. We define ourselves by our followers, our likes, our favorites, etc., and this limits us in the long run. We live our lives looking for what will make a good post or a popular tweet. We “see the present as a potential future past” and want to freeze moments on our profile for everyone else to see. But it doesn’t have to be like that, and it shouldn’t. Visibility is not necessarily the trap, it’s what we do with it that defines it.

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Designing for Social Media

Social media is a growing component of the web and our everyday lives. Rarely do you meet a person nowadays who does not utilize at least one type of social media site to connect with other people or follow interesting topics. The growth of social media creates the perfect opportunity for companies to reach a large number of consumers. If utilized to its full potential, social media can become an essential marketing tool for a company, organization, group or individual. A big part of this lays in the success of the design.

Trends change often and are big influences in social media and their design. Some upcoming design trends to look out for on social media profiles include:

  • larger scale higher quality images. These are eye catching and often display as banners or backgrounds on company profiles. Notice how JetBlue uses one to showcase their airlines on Twitter.

jetblue twitter

  • the expansion of simple line drawings and flat design, often in the form of infographics. Simplicity is where it’s at. It makes things seem more clean and straight forward. Oreo utilizes flat design on their social media.

oreo twitter

  • improved typography, including bold fonts, unique typefaces and established hierarchy to create stronger statements, like on Eat24’s Twitter.

eat24 twitter

Check out more creative trends that are predicted to impact the design world on HubSpot Blogs.

Social media is pointless for a company unless they acquire followers and develop a fan-base. A few ways to gain followers are:

  • post often and mix it up with images, videos, links, and text. Make sure you take time to respond to your followers as well. People like when a company is engaged in social media and create a conversation with them, like Nature Box did with me and my friend on Twitter!

nature box convo

  • use incentives to get them to follow. Create hidden elements that are only visible to followers to make them want to unlock everything you have to say or offer certain deals only to followers. Wendy’s did this a couple years ago through Twitter, asking for follows and participation to unlock special prizes and they found success!

Wendy's twitter campaign

Learn more about obtaining followers on HubSpot Blogs.

Once you have a solid following, you need to constantly engage consumers to keep them interested in what you have to say and what is going on. A couple strategies that have been successful in keeping followers engaged include:

  • using pictures in your posts. According to Social Caffeine, photo posts get 53% more likes, 104% more comments, and overall 120% more engagement. Starbucks often posts pictures of their products, gaining thousands of likes, favorites, retweets, and shares.

starbucks twitter

  • launch campaigns via social media. All your followers will see it, share it, comment on it, and spread the word…especially if you specifically ask for their participation and a response. Everyone remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge?

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Read up on more strategies for engaging your followers at Social Media Examiner.

When all of these elements are designed to work together, a company can make a huge impact through social media. Pizza Hut and Sharpie are examples of companies that have found success through well-designed social media accounts that have been utilized to their full potential. They each have millions of likes on Facebook and hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter. Pizza Hut uses consistent high quality imagery and similar messages across both platforms, reinforcing the brand image. They use humor and play off of trends and hashtags to relate to their fans. Sharpie creates a different feel for each site, but still has consistent elements, like to logo, to make it all relate. They utilize a mixture of videos, images, and fan interaction to engage consumers. Check out their sites below:

Pizza Hut Facebook and Twitter

pizza hut facebook

pizza hut twitter

Sharpie Facebook and Twitter

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 3.02.13 PM

sharpie twitter

Good design can go a long way, even on social media.