Instagram: The Digital Halo Effect
In the flesh and blood world, the halo effect is a psychological phenomena that can either be annoying or helpful, depending on who you are:
Halo Effect: The halo effect is a cognitive bias in which an observer’s overall impression of a person, company, brand, or product influences the observer’s feelings and thoughts about that entity’s character or properties. It was named by psychologist Edward Thorndike in reference to a person being perceived as having a halo.
It’s usually referenced as being strong around beautiful people. People will assume that attractive people* are smarter, faster, nicer, better, and just generally wonderful people but can’t pinpoint exactly why. This is of course not true, but it results in a weird cascade of psychological effects that benefit the said person in the form of social and professional opportunities.
*If you’re TOO attractive, this effect is reversed and people assume you’re stupid. You basically have to be more attractive than average but not mind-blowingly hot to get the full benefit
This effect also plays out on the internet in weird, weird, ways. Not necessarily because people think you’re attractive, but because they see you have a lot of followers so they assume that you know what’s going on.
The Many Forms of the Digital Halo Effect
I like to think I’m pretty great and know a lot of things, but there are somethings that I really just can’t help you with.
“Hey, what do you think about…”
I appreciate that people think I can help them with things, but even though I have a degree in Computer Science and have worked full time there’s no way that I can help with any technology under the sun without doing some major research. I used PHP in college but haven’t touched it since (the last time I used C++ was three years ago and I think I’ve looked at C maybe once). In spite of all this (and without knowing anything), people are still coming to me.
“Do you have any work for me?”
I never really know how to take these. I’m a 23 year old working at a consulting firm, and while I can absolutely pass on candidates who seem like good fits, I can’t actually give people jobs. These requests are less common, but they’re frequent enough to deserve their own category.
“So, I have this idea and I think you could make it happen…”
Honestly, I could just be a random person taking photos on Instagram. For all anyone knows I’m just a photographer with a boyfriend who programs, or maybe I was a D student who’s just really good at marketing. I really don’t suggest hiring people you don’t know on Instagram to do things for you unless they’re in your city and you can meet them in person or it involves taking photos.
“A random act of website guideline enforcement happened, can you fix it?”
This one is my favorite because I don’t understand why it happens at all. Having a high(ish) follower count unfortunately does not give me special Instagram administrative powers, and it doesn’t give me any more access to most companies than your average Joe – even though it would be super cool if it did. I would love to know why people are messaging me asking if I can get their Instagram accounts for them, but when I’ve tried asking there’s usually some communication barrier or they don’t respond after I tell them that I don’t know.
As your following grows, people will start making assumptions about who you are and what you’re capable of. You won’t have a say in the matter, people will just decide this for you. They might want to work for you, hire you, listen to your opinion, and they might even think that you have some super powers on the side.
If you’re following someone who you think is the bees knees, remember that they’re really just a human-person like the rest of us. If you’re asking about something they’ve never talked about publicly then there’s a pretty good chance that they won’t respond or that they won’t be able to help you.