We did it for the ‘gram and went LIVE!

Wow, these were intense live sessions in the Haniel Summer School so far! After a quick wrap up about the way we have been working together and a short brainstorming session to understand how we can improve the way we interact virtually, we started to dig deeper into liveness on Instagram. So, we actually went “live”.

My first netnography experience while hosting a live session

After a long discussion about who was going to go “live” on Instagram to get the whole experience of netnography, I was only one click and less than five seconds away from being “live”. I was scared but at the same time I had my group in the back, supporting me with questions, which made me feel less alone and exposed. As fast as I got online, people started to join and leave “our” live session continuously. I thought this is going to be a very social experiment with real time interaction and enhanced positive emotions, which are able to fight the negative emotions we experienced during COVID-19 so far. However, at the beginning I felt terribly exposed and lonely and started to giggle around because it was uncomfortable. Even when I was “live” with 10 other people, I felt like I was alone, talking to a device or to my image and not to my social network. So I started to interact with the people to understand how they experience the liveness of Instagram by asking questions. However, even if I was asking questions, this made the whole social experience even harder because I felt there was a time shift between my questions and the answers slowly popping up in the comment section. I was very thankful for these few people trying to interact with me over this “live” session by commenting. At this moment, I tried to directly address the participants to feel connected to them and less alone but it did not work. However, even if I should have felt connected to the social, I felt very disconnected at this moment.


The feeling of the “live” guest

Being a “visitor” in the live session of my group member and this time paying attention to my feelings as a guest, made me aware of how “intouchable” one becomes when the spotlight isn’t on oneself. All the pressure is on the host. I felt particularly connected to the host during the live session as we were directly in contact through the Zoom meeting. Yet, I didn’t feel the urge to directly interact with her. The fact that the guest isn’t able to talk, be seen and only write, makes one quite invisible within the crowd. In a way, the host is interacting with the crowd and not with you directly, thus reducing the need for any specific interaction. Some guests might think “someone else is going to answer the question” or “let’s see what people say”. Hence taking any spotlight away from oneself and leaving the responsibility to others.

From my perspective the meaning of social interaction is very unclear. The word “inter-action” rooting from the term “between” and “action”, loses its sense here. When being a guest, the “action” is taking place on the other side of the screen. In that sense, the action isn’t taking place where I am, but solely where the live host is. Thus, blurring the sense of “social” and giving loneliness and interaction another meaning. 

Being a guest in a live session feels similar to watching a live show on TV, you feel closer to the show than if it wasn’t “live”, however you aren’t part of it. The host’s emotions are difficult to grasp and so is the feeling of empathy and connection. 

Instagram has made the interaction easier for the public. It is however still a work in progress until people feel comfortable with interacting directly with the host. I think it is still too new and unknown and will probably take some time to become a normality.


Live sessions as a dichotomy?

In the last few weeks and months of the pandemic, there has been an increased use of live sessions on Instagram. On the one hand, the focus is on the participation, motivation and connection of users and therefore live sessions do function as a link to the feeling of community on Instagram. While they offer access to a broad range of topics, most of the live sessions are used particularly often to e.g. organize cooking events, reading lectures, watching series together or doing sports and yoga classes. It is striking that these are mostly very everyday and relatively unspectacular activities and it feels as if these sessions are intended to serve, among other things, as a replacement for lost leisure activities, entertainment and to increase a community feeling. In addition, live sessions are supposed to offer the opportunity to engage in a direct exchange with the audience and convey emotions in “real time”. Furthermore, it should open up a deep insight into the privacy and the premises of the live-host vis-á-vis. 

Because the live hosts are always in focus, even if they add someone to the session, they have a central position with a lot of influence, power and responsibility. It remains to be discussed whether this might even give them the status of or be compared to “a priest in a sermon”.

On the other hand, it is an opportunity for companies and entrepreneurs, such as musicians, comedians, personal trainers and many others to continue working despite the pandemic. The actually necessary physical presence of the user and worker is replaced by a virtual presence.


Watching a live training session

Before COVID-19 came, I used to go two to three times a week to the gym; after a few weeks of stopping it, I decided to try to follow a “home training session” through the Instagram live function. I chose to follow Kirsty Godso’s live workout, pushed by positive feedback that I have read about her kind of training. A lot of people said that she was very motivating and they have started to train at home thanks to her Instagram lives. What I felt was against expectations. She was really good at explaining how to make the correct positions in every exercise but I didn’t find the motivation that I have, when I go to the gym. In fact, I felt very lonely even if thousands of people were watching the same live session with me from all different parts of the world. As a matter of fact, I didn’t see anyone performing with me but I just imagined it happening. Moreover, I found the home environment distracting, like the sound of the doorbell and my dog that thought I wanted to play with her. For those reasons, I personally believe that in a fitness studio it is easier to find motivation and be inspired by other people who are sweating with you. Nevertheless, reading the feedback of some live training sessions, I have understood that many people who have never trained in their life have found inspiration from these “virtual trainers” to approach sport.

From the point of view of the trainer, I think live sessions have been a sort of “salvation”. In fact, trainers could not work since all the gyms were closed, giving them a lot of free time to spend with “virtual class” of people who wanted to be trained. They had the possibility to show their capabilities and, in some cases, after the reopening of the gyms, they started to do online training sessions in other platforms requiring a small sum of money, which, of course, is not comparable with the amount required by a personal trainer physically present. This formula seems to work also because there are people who are not feeling already prepared to come back to the gym since the virus is still circulating. However, we don’t know what will happen once it will be over.


The business live session

Being on the side of the spectator is quite always easier than being the “leading actor”. Even when we are talking about business topics, as in the other Instagram environment such as Politics, it is sometimes difficult to perceive which is the leading point of view of the spokesman. The first feeling is like “I have lost myself in some dark place, I cannot understand what they are talking about”. In the first instance, even for a management expert, it is not so easy to identify the leading thought / idea. On the other hand, it seems paradoxical but Instagram has helped to create during business seminars we can hear complex and specific terms such as “Innovative management”, “leading strategies”, “target price oriented”.  The first time I followed a business stream on Instagram I noticed that many terms had been simplified. In fact, Instagram has facilitated the spread of streams, simplifying their content even for those who are not experts in the field. Or better, spokesmans have simplified their seminars content, adapting them to everybody. It is very interesting and useful participating in live streaming in which in a few minutes you are updated about stock exchanges trends, news about Zoom exponential growing value of shares and so on. Another key aspect is that Instagram business lives do not replace business seminars, lessons ect. They are useful for being updated about world business news. The question is, how will this change after the “COVID-age”?  Will instagram also be implemented to make room for the business world too?


At this point, we would like to invite you to share your Instagram “live” experiences with us and tell us how this socio-technical moment has affected you? Comment in the section below!

Aurora De Martin, Emaele de Quatrebarbes, Lara Schulte, Marco Ubalducci & Selma Vuckic