Think social media platform, and pithy posts, idealized lifestyle shots, and a preponderance of likes comes to mind. With those “likes,” though, also comes bullying and unwelcome criticism, especially for teens. The VSCO platform is changing that negative dynamic. Its new VP of Communications, Julie Inouye, and head of Trust and Safety, Tiffany Graham, spoke to Parentology about the app’s power and potential for creative freedom.
VSCO Doubles As Social Media and Powerful Photo Editing Tools
In order to appeal to creative people, the app itself has to work brilliantly. VSCO’s photo editing tools are excellent, which is what probably draws many teens to the app. What keeps them on the VSCO platform, though, is the gallery-like, non-judgemental environment.
For instance, VSCO isn’t a popularity contest. “There are no public likes, no public comments,” Graham explains to Parentology. “We intentionally have a public by default approach to profiles. So, it’s very difficult to collect a lot of images that you would not necessarily want everyone to see.”
The public nature of the postings, but without likes or counting followers, creates a radically different set of images from, say, the perfection of Instagram. “It’s not somewhere you’re going to come to mass distribute something or gain a following,” Inouye says. “There’s just no mechanism within this product that encourages that behavior, nor is it really possible.”
VSCO has made very deliberate decisions over its eight years in business. “From our origins, as a company, we’ve thought about the issues that have taken place on other platforms and tried to be really thoughtful about limiting the ability for those things to take place on VSCO,” Graham adds.
It’s paying off. According to VSCO’s own 2019 user survey, a whopping 85% of the app’s users (of which 75% are teens) have either rarely or never felt pressured or judged on VSCO. That’s a pretty positive percentage.
The possible exception might be the VSCO girl meme, the idea that the typical VSCO user is a teen girl in big t-shirts who likes environmental activism while remaining very hydrated (HydroFlask in tow). It’s probably proof that people will mock even the most innocuous images, and the meme is fading rapidly.
Inouye points to a teen with a very active social media presence, Hannah Meloche, as a good example of the difference in social media presence. Meloche’s Instagram feed is filled with idealized images and bathing suits, her YouTube channel skews personal and travel-based. Her VSCO feed, however, is more experimental, with very few selfies, but a lot of atmospheric and experimental mood shots instead. It’s strikingly different in theme.
Like All Things, VSCO Is Growing
Some parents have criticized VSCO for its lack of privacy settings; they worry about the public nature of it and the tagging of young girls and their locations. But, the lack of privacy settings also means posting nefarious or illegal material (like porn) is counterproductive. Plus, Graham points out that, “You do have the ability to block other users. You do have the ability to not share any location information or data.”
Another difference: VSCO is subscription-based (it has no ads). Teens pay to use the app, about $20 per year. Inouye says for many of them, it’s their first truly personal creative purchase: “With their own money, not on a family plan.” There are over two million active subscribers now, and VSCO hopes to grow into the next logical step in visual creativity.
“One of the areas we are obviously investing in heavily is video. So, a few weeks time, you’ll see more coming from VSCO related to video tools that are easy to use, but also more high-end sophisticated tools to be able to creatively express through the making of video,” Inouye says.
The lack of public commentary and followers on VSCO is now bleeding into other platforms: Instagram appears to be following suit. It’s a big step toward acceptance and positivity online.
VSCO’s CEO Joel Flory uses the phrase “creativity is a global language.” Thus, you don’t have to be an artist to post on VSCO. There doesn’t have to be a point or an end game. And, in today’s teen pressure cooker environment, that safe space for expression is vital.
“There’s just this generational construct that we always have, which is just trying to understand that the way in which we communicate and interact with one another is meant to evolve with technology,” Inouye says. “And hopefully, it spurs on a very different conversation for parents.”