Instagram Campaigns: Do They Actually Work?

Post a picture of your pet and we’ll plant a tree! We are a nation of self-confessed dog lovers; is this a save the planet match made in heaven? To the dismay of millions of users, the post that recently circulated on Instagram turned out not to be fraudulent, but the creation of a group far too small to fulfil the promise of a tree for every pet posted. Tails between our dog’s legs, we are back to square one trying to engage the nation with saving the planet. So, what exactly went wrong? A campaign that becomes too big to deliver on, surely that should not be possible. Anyway, it raised awareness, didn’t it?

The first issue that rises from this situation, is awareness of what? It is near impossible nowadays to ignore or be unaware of the climate crisis we face. Even those who are in denial about the crisis are aware of the public and international discussions currently taking place, with world governments scrambling to halt the soon to be irreversible changes. Cop26, Greta Thunberg, deforestation – we all know about them in one way or another (perhaps not in detail, but awareness of the issue definitely exists). So whilst I appreciate that the group were unable to physically plant nearly 5 million trees, I’m skeptical that the ‘awareness’ they raised will actually propel the majority of Instagram pet owners into action. For many, it was nothing more than a fun gesture which allowed people to feel like they’d done something and move on with their day. Plus, an opportunity to show off their adorable animals.

Similar issues arose with the Black Lives Matter movement that took place in 2019, following the brutal police murder of George Floyd. This incident sparked international level discussion, protest and potentially one of the biggest political Instagram campaigns ever seen. The campaign was immensely successful in highlighting that racism was and remains a deeply multi-faceted issue, spanning from a complete lack of education on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to the horrors of mass incarceration and institutionalised police brutality.

However, like the Plant a Tree campaign, the Black Lives Matter social media train lost momentum with the immense over-saturation of information on Instagram. Everybody posted and re-posted anything and everything, with little consideration to the fact they were in most cases operating in an echo-chamber of their own followers, also sharing and re-posting the same pictures and infographics. Moreover, the reposting of infographics does not denote active allyship, or guarantee that the information they show will be engaged with and taken on board.

Undoubtedly there were individuals who entered a more active form of allyship and did engage with the BLM movement, but for many, a pretty infographic was enough and a chance to be seen to be doing their bit.  This concept of “slacktivism” came to a head on Black Out Tuesday, when the music industry and other companies were asked to stop trading and releasing music in solidarity with BLM. The reposting of plain black images resulted in an Instagram inundation of black squares which offered no information whatsoever, and blocked access to any valuable information there was. Visual performativity overwhelmed Instagram, and in the process disguised the meaning of the campaign.

And yet the campaigns continue. It is easy to argue that Instagram as a global platform provides an immensely accessible way to share information and garner support for many campaigns, and this makes it unique and useful. But it also provides an echo-chamber for slacktivism, and unfortunately, an Instagram a day will not make the issues go away.

– Ruth Hetherington

Featured Image Source: Pexels

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