Last week I had a half-hour chat with @TheSouthernishMama, Brooke, who I have been following for years and have spoken to several times over the phone. She’s great to chat with and has been incredibly generous with her time — she once explained the widespread use of letterboards in a way that satisfied me deeply. Thanks for that Brooke, I’ll write more about it here sometime.
Anyway, earlier this month she and her family (husband Ryan, who is a lawyer in DC, and three sons Vance, Rhett, and Beauden) welcomed a fourth son to their family, named Quade.
Brooke spent several days drawing out the birth announcement on Instagram. First she announced that she was in labour, then she posted a photo, then she announced the sex, and finally she shared the name they chose. Watching this unfold, I assumed she was drawing it out to boost the engagement metrics on her page, which is basically a “best practices” approach to present-day Instagram. I nodded to myself sagely while observing her posts, feeling pleased with myself for knowing what was going on behind the scenes.
The “reveal” industrial complex
Over the last year or more, engagement numbers have become more important than audience size when it comes to the gram’s algorithmic rewards system. The algo wants users to vote, share, save, and comment. Have you noticed that momfluencers are doing tons of AMA-type stuff in their stories lately? It’s because this kind of engagement is what matters most for the success of their pages. (Sure, they enjoy “connecting with their community,” but there are always multiple boxes being ticked when momfluencers post.)
The algorithm is Oz. It’s the man behind the curtain. It tells influencers of all kinds when to jump, and exactly how high. As any influencer will tell you, the algorithm is a mysterious, omnipotent taskmaster, but if you want to run a business on Instagram, it’s your boss, no questions asked.
Meanwhile, milestones — births in particular, but also pregnancy announcements, “reveals” of house redecorations, that kind of thing — are reliable engagement-drivers. So I just assumed that Brooke, being goal-oriented and strategic overall, was simply making the most of a rare announcement opportunity (the birth of her fourth kid) to get her engagement boosted way up and, yes, attract better partnership deals in the coming months. This is her job — these are her opportunities.
My bad. I assumed wrong.
But when I asked Brooke if this was indeed what she was up to when she spent four literal days doing a drawn-out soft-opening style announcement of her child’s birth, she set me straight. No, in fact, she was spreading it out to buy herself some time away from engaging with her audience, a small but vocal group of whom had worked themselves into a hate-lather over the possibility of her having a fourth boy. As Billy Currington once said, people are crazy.
Brooke had plans for how she wanted to announce Quade’s birth (they had not found out the baby’s sex beforehand), but ultimately she said she held off because she wanted to buy herself time. “I’m a perfectionist, and part of my Instagram, from my perspective, is posting aesthetically pleasing images,” she told me. Basically, she didn’t want to post until she could make the photos exactly how she wanted them, which meant she had to buy herself a few days between announcing she had gone into labour, and sharing photos. This might seem like an obvious thing to need to do, but in the mamasphere, followers demand content, and they are impatient.
After announcing the baby’s sex, Brooke basically took leave of the comments completely – which is not her usual style given that overall she has a pretty supportive audience. She told me that another successful momfluencer with multiple boys, Ariel Tyson, contacted her privately to check in and see how she was holding up. Apparently when you give birth to multiple boys in the mamasphere, there’s a medieval-style horde of naysayers that materialize in your comments to spread bad vibes. Multiple boys, with no girls to make things nice? You’re doomed. OK!!
But then, as the boy-child thrives past the first weeks of his life, these soothsayers dissipate like fog. Brooke lost about 10k followers immediately after Quade’s birth – they just vanished, having satisfied some nameless need. Brooke was happy to see them go.
A chill, somewhat tangential question to leave you with: If the algorithm is such a powerful determinant of a page’s success, and momfluencers whose incomes rely on their pages’ success have to play by the algo’s rules… how do we know if we’re looking at the demands of the algo, or candid pics of motherhood? At what point do they overlap?
I just popped over here from Anne Helen Petersen and I can already tell this is going to be my new favorite substack.
I am *dying* to understand the letterboard in pictures phenomenon.