View profile

Instagram Experiments, The Age Of Emulation, AR, & 30 Day Countdown!

How’s your summer been? Hopefully you’ve had some downtime, and some precious windows of time to thin
Instagram Experiments, The Age Of Emulation, AR, & 30 Day Countdown!
By Scott Belsky • Issue #6 • View online
How’s your summer been? Hopefully you’ve had some downtime, and some precious windows of time to think. Here’s another edition of the ~monthly (quarterly?) newsletter, with five topics:
  • Book Launch: ~30 Days Away
  • Adventures In Instagram Experimentation & Analysis
  • Emulation vs. Self-Discovery: Thoughts On Pinterest
  • The Coming Age Of Augmented Reality
  • Some Investment Portfolio Shout-Outs 

Since It Is ~30 Days Away...
This is what the book will look like, but it's a rendering (i've only seen galleys and PDFs so far, one of which I shared with Tony!).
This is what the book will look like, but it's a rendering (i've only seen galleys and PDFs so far, one of which I shared with Tony!).
The launch of The Messy Middle is rapidly approaching. 5+ years of interviewing founders and product makers, jotting down insights, synthesizing and getting feedback…all down to this. Just gonna get this out of the way: I hope you’ll pre-order a copy now [Amazon Page]. If you’re getting this newsletter you’re probably interested in the intersection of technology, design, leading teams, building products and experiences - and the challenges along the way. Well, i think (and hope) you’ll get a ton out of The Messy Middle. And highly suggest the physical copy, as it was designed to be a reference book of sorts.
I just announced the “book within the book” about building great products in the messy middle.
“For the last decade or so I’ve been fascinated by the trials and tribulations that product teams face in the messy middle. I’ve come to believe that the volatility and challenges a team faces are the ultimate source of their product’s complexity. While a product’s simplicity is its advantage right out of the gate, solutions made — and customer requests addressed — under duress in the middle miles introduce complexity. When you rush to build features for “power users” or your most important customers, coupled with your own anxiety, the product becomes less accessible to new customers…” READ MORE
I actually designed this section of the book with its own shading/font because I know some people will skip it, and some will skip to it. Hope you find it helpful. 
Adventures In Instagram Experimentation
While i’ve written about “micro brands,” invested in a number of new brands over the years, and thought about how brands are built on Instagram and acquire customers with promoted posts, I have never actually tried it myself. So, I set a small budget, created a separate Instagram account for the new book, and have started creating posts using one of my team’s products for social media marketers, Adobe Spark Post.
All the posts were created using Adobe Spark Post, usually on my iPhone when I had a free moment. But here's the web view.
All the posts were created using Adobe Spark Post, usually on my iPhone when I had a free moment. But here's the web view.
Here are a few of the final posts that made the cut.
Here are a few of the final posts that made the cut.
What have I learned from these experiments?
  • Instagram automatically warns you not to promote posts with text due to performance concerns, but my round of experiments converted viewers to click-throughs to the Amazon book page at just under $1 each. While I can’t determine how many visits to Amazon convert, I think under $1 to make that happen is decent performance.
  • I learned that “Learn More” as an action performed better than “Shop Now” (which curiously is the wording Instagram offers, as opposed to “Buy Now” which is what I would have preferred). 
  • I was reminded that explicit outperforms clever. Of all the tests with some of my favorite lines from the book, the image of the book itself converted best. Yes, the others may have elicited more comments and engagement, but when you’re selling something, people are mostly likely to act upon something explicit.
  • Selling a product on social and building a brand on social require different playbooks. I frankly didn’t have much time in my experiments (often done while in the back of an Uber between meetings), but I’ve admired how some brands are able to define themselves through content beyond their own product. A good example is how Baboon, another company I supported, has built an “adventure brand” without over-saturating their feeds with their own product.
In The Age Of Emulation, Where Is Self-Discovery?
Speaking of Instagram, it is striking how social media has evolved (devolved!) to become a medium that encourages participants to portray a surreal narrative for how they live. Modern social media seems to breed envy more than inspire. Instagram has spawned a new form of celebrity admired more for their lifestyles than their contributions to their field or community. Scanning the comments - and the Instagram profiles of those behind the comments - it feels like people are emulating these personalities. Is social media just a funnel for pop-culture that ultimately makes everyone aspire to be more similar? Or can social media be something that ultimately makes us proud to be different.
This general trend in social media makes Pinterest really stand out, and I talked about this recently with Ben Silberman, Pinterest’s co-founder and CEO. I have always admired Ben’s perspective (and also included a number of his insights in my new book). He doesn’t consider Pinterest to be a social network, and the way he talks about the product and its intentions, it feels like the opposite of Instagram. Rather focus attention on celebrities, Pinterest is geared around people exploring their interests. A successful experience in Pinterest happens when you discover something unique about yourself through your interests, whereas a successful experience on Instagram seems to be getting users to the point where they are fawning over the success of others. More than any other social network out there, Pinterest yields a unique form of self-discovery.
I’ve been excited about Pinterest since its founding, but I am excited by the growing relevance of its product and mission.d
The Coming Age Of Augmented Reality
This was shot at Palais Tokyo in Paris, AR was a big topic across Europe.
This was shot at Palais Tokyo in Paris, AR was a big topic across Europe.
Coming off a tour around Europe discussing “The Future Of Design” with Adobe customers and sharing some of the work we’re doing, the topic of Augmented Reality came up quite a bit. I think AR is often (and unfairly) lumped together with virtual reality or is cast aside as something solely dependent on future hardware that doesn’t yet exist. Instead, I like to think about AR in the context of our every day life.
What the web does for us now, I believe Augmented Reality will do in the future, but in the context of our physical world rather than a screen. From how you navigate a new city or review the menu in restaurants to dating and how you get help fixing appliances in your home, AR will enrich experiences in ways we can barely imagine. However, none of this is possible without designers creating compelling three-dimensional interactive content and being able to collaborate with developers across platforms. At Apple’s recent Worldwide Developers Conference, my team debuted Project Aero, a new tool for creating Augmented Reality experiences. Through our collaboration with Apple, Pixar and other partners, Project Aero will give creative professionals the ability to create compelling AR experiences with tools like Photoshop and Adobe Dimension that they already use every day.
The prospects of AR will be either restrained or catapulted forward by the creative content within the medium. It’s early days, but I am optimistic.
Some Investment Portfolio Shout-Outs
I continue to preserve time to meet with entrepreneurs getting their companies started as well the teams that I already work with as a product advisor and investor. Here are a few timely shout-outs:
  • Airtable will do for spreadsheets what Slack did to office communication. Howie and team have built something that is relevant to everyone - from wedding planners to enterprise marketers and everyone in between. In addition, the Airtable team is building some compelling integrations into AdobeXD, so designers can quickly integrate data into their designs among other ideas.
  • Collective Retreats has pioneered a new kind of hotel experience - pop-up “glamping” hotels in all the right places - that I got to enjoy a few times with my family this summer. The team sold out a number of their locations, and I think the experience offers the right balance of adventure, luxury, and the great outdoors.
  • Pinterest is perfectly positioned for the whole micro-brand phenomenon, and brands are starting to understand why. The site’s recommendations based on image recognition and analysis have become quote powerful. And rumor has it the company will pass the $1B revenue mark this year.
  • Outdoor Voices, Roman, and Warby Parker are a few examples of the modern “direct to consumer” brands that I’m excited about. Most of them are navigating the balance of conventional tactics (physical presence, traditional advertising, etc…) with modern techniques (subscriptions, customer acquisition on social media, novel bundling and packaged offerings, and replacing antiquated practices with new tech). I admire how these companies prioritize their brand before all other considerations and are building their own blended playbooks of old and new tactics. I have been learning a lot about modern brand development and go-to-market, and hope to share more thoughts in a future newsletter.
Until Next Time...
Fun shot of the month/year may be my visit with the kids to THE COLOR FACTORY, a pop-up museum of sorts that visited NYC. Highly recommended.
Fun shot of the month/year may be my visit with the kids to THE COLOR FACTORY, a pop-up museum of sorts that visited NYC. Highly recommended.
And that’s issue #6. Writing is how I synthesize my own thoughts, and sharing with you has proven to help me connect the dots over the years. Thanks for participating (and hope you enjoy The Messy Middle!).
Did you enjoy this issue?
Scott Belsky

Insights on technology, design, and making ideas happen, delivered ~monthly-ish. Thanks and feedback welcome. -scott

If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here
Powered by Revue
Scott Belsky, NY/SF