Social Media


If you were on Instagram before 2013, we’re sure you remember the golden age of casual content.

Back in the day, all we had was a chronological feed showing us everything all of our friends posted. We were just getting the ability to post videos, and if you wanted to see your friends’ casual stories or send disappearing photos, you had to make your way over to Snapchat.

Plenty of companies were on Instagram, but nobody really knew how to use it, let alone make money off of it.

Closeup on a smart phone

A Short History of Instagram Trends

Our feeds were friendly, relaxed, and unassuming. We posted photos of dogs, food (avocado toast hadn’t even hit the mainstream yet), our friends and family, or whatever else struck us at the time. The X-Pro II filter reigned king. Influencers were just bubbling up out of blogs and the revolution of advertising via Instagram (paid ads) was just about to begin.

Over the next decade, the way the individual interacts with Instagram would change dramatically. To compete for paid ads and sponsorships, influencer content became more and more refined and curated, and their standards trickled down to the everyday user.

Trends generally move like a pendulum to extremes. Instagram began as a casual photo-sharing app and swung to a hyper-polished (often paid) highlight reel. Now, people are tired of having to work so hard online, which has changed the entire digital landscape. So where does the pendulum swing from there?

Naturally, it goes to the blurry, hyper-casual imagery that comes with the term “Photo dump,” which you’re bound to have heard by now. This is the root of the #MakeInstagramCasualAgain movement, which is riding the wave of content trends.

This trend is led by Gen Z, whose cultural identity lies in not caring too much about, well, anything. Just as big, baggy clothes give off the impression that Gen Z doesn’t care too much about their image IRL, the blurry photo dumps of Instagram (not to mention their complete disregard of other major social platforms like Twitter and Facebook) show that they don’t care about their images online either—even when, ironically, taking part in these trends is evidence enough that they do.

How Should Brands Respond to This?

Now comes the big question in the marketing world—how do we swing with the pendulum to maintain our audiences? The simple answer is to get on board with the current trends—if it suits your brand identity—and here are a few ways to do that.

1. Create Sincere Content

After such a long stretch of staring at shiny facetuned images every single day, people want sincerity on their feeds, which looks a little different for every brand. One way to get on the causal train is to try to make your content a little less polished and a little more gritty.

If your content is people-heavy, make sure to avoid obvious Photoshop and emphasize natural beauty. Brands like the razor company Billie, for example, are making a splash by showing body hair in their ads and The Girlfriend Collective has some of the most diverse models in the activewear industry.

If your content is more graphic design-heavy or stylized, injecting some grit into your visual identity with a little bit of texture and maybe incorporating some clashing colors will give it the appearance of being more hands-on and personal. The zine aesthetic is on the rise, and it’s a whole lot of fun to play with.

Great examples of this tone include photographer and creative director Dana Trippe (who does work with Vans and Savage X Fenty) and even luxury brands like Celine.

2. Utilize Micro-Influencers & Real People

We’re seeing a shift away from giant influencers and celebrities leading the social media zeitgeist (i.e. the universal cringe at celebs singing “Imagine” at the beginning of the pandemic) and toward the public. Now that Instagram has finally given us a chronological feed option back, people are craving some sense of realness with who is on their feed.

Take Reformation, for example, who loves to repost people wearing their brand, especially while doing things they’re not supposed to do in expensive clothes (riding jet skis, sledding, riding a Vespa barefoot in a dress, etc.), or Vitruvi, an oil diffuser brand with high engagement with small creators. While there’s plenty of opportunity for growth with one post through a major influencer, working with a handful of small influencers will create a dedicated group of people who will happily tell their friends and family about your brand.

People want to see themselves represented in their brands, so do what you can to make your target demographic feel seen through your content.

3. Get #Casual with your ‘Gram

When you’re planning content for your brand, consider bringing the tone down to earth a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with high-quality, upscale content, but being a little more casual in the way you interact with your customers could increase engagement and trust in your company.

For the content itself, blurry photos (even big celebrities like Zac Efron and Bella Hadid are utilizing lower-quality images and video), a meme here and there, a #PhotoDump, or a screenshot could do the trick.

Keep in mind that this vibe isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach; if you’re working with a luxury watch brand, for example, and your target audience is the high-class businessperson, you’ll want to keep your content in line with that tone. If you do want to incorporate a more-casual approach, you can do so in your engagement with customers (in comments sections, DMs, and stories).

The Bottom Line

What all of this means for us as people who represent brands online is that we can make simple tweaks in our tones and voices on social media to get ahead. We need to show people that we can be fun and casual and carefree too, that we can relate to our customers.

This might mean starting a TikTok account and letting a young intern run wild with its latest trends, getting in the weeds with followers on Twitter, poking fun at those glossy trends on Instagram, and connecting with micro influencers to share your product.

In business, we adapt or we fail. If we don’t stay on trend in the social media world, we’ll miss too many opportunities to grow our brands to count. And if you need some help navigating this wild west of the online world, we’re here to help.

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