This week I have witnessed both the good and bad influence social media has on community, as well as on human behaviour.
Last Monday night I watched an Instagram Story posted by Sara Tasker, a UK-based Influencer, about a social media app called Vero she had signed up to. I’d never heard of Vero, but having no interest in being on my phone more than I am now I didn’t give it a second thought. The next morning I woke to discover my Instagram stories flooded with posts from others in the UK, saying they had signed up too. Over the next twenty-four hours this began to include people in Australia too. At this point my interest spiked. Not because I was any more tempted to join Vero, but because of the human psychology behind what I was witnessing.
The billionaire son of a former Lebanese prime minister founded Vero in 2015. So why haven’t we heard of it until now? We haven’t heard about it because Vero was so low on the app store rankings you couldn’t find it on officially published charts. That was, until this week.
So what changed? Just over a week ago Vero ramped things up and ran a US-based campaign. A handful of Influencers, including Sara, talked about Vero on other social media platforms and suddenly it was the hot topic of conversation.
(At this point I do want to give a shout out to Sara. As far as I am aware she wasn’t sponsored by Vero to talk or write about them. She just shared with her audience that she had signed up. So you can see why she has built such a successful and strong brand, and why she is one of the best creative people and Influencers out there).
What I was witnessing was a brilliant example of FOMO (or the fear of missing out). How do I know this? Because alongside the pictures of people’s new Vero accounts they had written: I’m not sure what Vero is but I’m keen to join the party too! I’ve joined too but don’t know what to do next? I don’t know if I really want to be on another social media app, but decided to give it a go so come join me too.
The common words that stood out to me were ‘joined’ and ‘too’.
As more people posted that they had signed up, it felt like everyone was jumping off the bridge without thinking about whether it was something they really wanted to do. Apparently not only was the party too good to miss, but so too was the fact that the first one million people to sign up got their account for free, while those who signed up after that had to pay an annual fee. Scarcity tactic marketing at it’s finest!
What happened next was even more interesting.
Those that had given themselves space to think and do their homework on Vero then started posting. Instead of my Instagram stories being flooded with people signing up to the app, it was flooded with people sharing why they weren’t. Not only were Vero's terms and conditions questionable, the founder had a dodgy history. In his former life he had been the CEO of his family’s now defunct construction business. The business had failed due to executive corruption and mismanagement. It then abandoned 8,000 Filipino workers in Saudi Arabian labour camps with little services; nine months pay owing, and no legal way to return to their home countries. These posts all linked to articles and photos that seemed to back up the claims when I read them.
Then came the mass exodus. This was in part due to people having a social conscious, but also because Vero wasn’t ready for the sudden surge in subscribers. The app was a beta version. It was glitchy. People could sign up but had problems posting. Then as people tried to delete their account they realised it wasn’t as easy as just pushing a button. Vero had made it hard for you to untangle yourself from their web.
The other thing I found fascinating was that many of those signing up for the Vero social media app had businesses based around slow and simple living. Yet here they were signing up to spend more time attached to their phone. To spend more time observing other people’s lives, instead of living their own. And to spend more time influenced by the thoughts of others, rather than intentionally creating their own.
The whole Vero saga seems to have dwindled away over the past few days. It’s not being talked about the way it was. Maybe those that signed up are merrily scrolling away over there. If they are then I don't have a problem with that at all. People can choose to spend their time as they wish. As long as they chose to do so intentionally and with their best interests at heart. But for me what we witnessed with the Vero app was an example of the bad side of social media and it’s influence on our lives.
But I also witnessed a positive side of the social media community this week, although sadly it was tied up in a tragedy that no parent should ever experience.
On Tuesday I saw a post by a family here in Tasmania. Their beautiful and cheeky three year old boy was about to turn four this coming Monday. But in tragic circumstances his amazing Mum posted that her “darling baby boy grew wings and flew from this earth” the day before.
Little Alby had been playing with a bouncy ball that was in a parcel he had received that morning. The ball became stuck in his windpipe and within seconds he took his last breath on this earth, despite his mother’s frantic attempts to save him, and he died in her arms.
Tasmania is a strong, tight-knit and supportive community. Within hours a Go-Fund Me campaign had been set up to help the family. Simon, Alby’s Dad, is a relief teacher who doesn’t receive paid leave, and his mother, Anna, is self-employed and runs The Small Folk (an online holistic play store celebrating childhood). The campaign was picked up and shared on social media by friends, family and those that follow @the.slow.folk. The support, love and prayers for this family spread worldwide, and within days over $200,000 had been raised.
On Thursday Anna posted, "No words could ever express the depths of our gratitude for the outpouring of love we have received since our worst nightmare became our daily reality. During this time of immense grief, your thoughts, prayers, sympathy and tears have enveloped and uplifted us, and we could never thank you enough for your overwhelming generosity and support. Sweet Alby, forever three, forever free’.
This is the good side of social media. It shows that an online community can be as strong as one offline. It shows that it is possible to build a community that will uplift you, support you and be there for you through times that are both happy and sad. It is also the place where friendships are made.
These two different stories are the reason why it is important we simplify and slow our lives down. Simplicity and slowness create space to be intentional. To decide where and how we spend our time. To decide what type of community we want to be a part of.
When we wake in the morning we never know what the day will bring. Whether it will end in happiness or sorrow. Make sure you live each moment well and with intention. Slow down, make good choices and when you need it your community will be there for you to lift you up.
There is a good side to social media when we use it wisely.