All the Feels: making sense of Snapchat and Instagram


Katrin Tiidenberg

This is another example of an argument we want to make based on the rhetorical and discursive analysis of some of the All The Feels material.

How do young people make sense of their own practices on and with visual social media apps? Answering that question through the lens of  networked publics (boyd 2010) means that to understand practices of socially mediated visuality, we need to understand the properties, affordances, and dynamics of visual social media. But affordances always refer to the potential of a given technology; they are socially constructed (Hsieh 2012), dependent on actor intentions (Majchrzak et al. 2013), or imagined (Nagy & Neff, 2015). Yet, how people make sense of visual apps and their affordances, shapes perceptions, practices and visual culture in the larger sense.

Snapshot practices have always had multiple functions – they help make memories, create and maintain relationships, and tell stories. Socially mediated images have added or scaled up photography’s functions as social currency, for impression management and interaction (van Dijck 2008). Thus, affordances that are interpreted as fostering sharing (scalability, searchability and duplicability in boyd’s 2010 model) lead to increased relevance of interactivity and relationality in how people make sense of their photographic practices. Further, specific platforms and apps have properties and affordances that are made sense of by users in different ways. Snapchat, with its ephemeral content and explicit control over audiences is experienced by users as a source of enjoyment (Bayer et al, 2016), whereas the affordances that foster attention economy (i.e. hashtagging and unidirectional following) on Instagram, make it particularly suitable for strategic impression management and self branding (Marwick 2013). Given the ubiquity of networked visuals, and their importance in constructing identities, social entities (i.e. families); attributing meaning or value to different categories or phenomena (i.e. what is beautiful, feminine) – it is important we understand how visual social media is made sense of by users.

Material, method, analysis

This presentation is part of a larger, collaborative project that analyses how college students make sense of their social media experiences. That project in turn is situated in one author’s ethnographic study, where she trained young people to become ethnographers of their own social media experience. For this presentation we discursively analyzed eight people’s multimodal (video, screen-captures, text narrative) auto-ethnographic reflections (instant reflections, analytical narrative, field notes, interviews). The focus of these reflections, including which apps they explore, are choices made by participants themselves. Thus, we analyze how young people, for whom Instagram and Snpachat are important, make sense of and articulate their visual practices, and how they frame and situate these visual apps in their lives.


In the following we present how our participants make sense of Instagram and Snapchat; how the affordances of both are explicitly and implicitly compared, and how the apps are rhetorically constructed as different yet important in their everyday lives.


Instagram is experienced and construed as an app where participation is effortful, driven by self-imposed rules, and occasionally depressing because of comparison to, and envy of strangers’ beautiful lives. Snapchat, in contrast, is experienced and construed as an app that is and seems casual and allows spontaneous, yet relaxed participation. Our participant Anna writes:

Instagram lets me portray my life in just the way I like it, how I know others like it, and in a way that is broadly accepted. On Instagram I am showing my desired life. However, I know it is not entirely accurate … I think that the identity cues I give via Snapchat might be the most accurate, since it’s both content about “the ugly truth,” and about the spectacular and special moments.

Yet, our participants do not frame either app as expendable. Instead, it seems, both are framed as important ways of visually experiencing their everyday lives. Why does there seem to be space for both, when Facebook, for example, was framed by participants as having completely lost its relevance for visuality? Returning to the framework of networked publics, it is worth asking, whether Snapchat and Instagram can coexist as relevant for the same user, because only one of them is (experienced as) a networked visual public (Instagram), while the other (Snapchat) might serve as something else. And what will happen as a result of Instagram incorporating My Story? Hjorth and Hendry (2015) proposed a transition from first-generation camera-phone practices or networked visuality (emphasizes sharing), to second-generations camera-phone practices or emplaced visuality (emphasizes place-making). Perhaps Snapchat could be positioned as another transition, a third generation of camera-phone practices for conversational visuality.


Bayer, J.B, Ellison, N.B, Schoenebeck, S.Y., Falk, E.B. (2016). Sharing the small moments: ephemeral social interaction on Snapchat, Information, Communication & Society, 19, 7, 956-977.

boyd, d. (2010). Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications. In Papacharissi, Z (ed.). Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites. New York: Routlege, 39–58.

Hjorth, L., & Hendry, N. (2015). A Snapshot of Social Media : Camera Phone Practices.

Hsieh, Y.P (2012). Online social networking skills: the social affordances approach to digital inequality. First Monday, 17, 4.

Majchrzak, A.; Faraj, S.; Kane, G.C; Azad, B (2013). The contradictory influence of social media affordances on online communal knowledge sharing. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 19, 1, 38–55.

Nagy, P., & Neff, G. (2015). Imagined Affordance: Reconstructing a Keyword for Communication Theory. Social Media + Society, 1(2), 1–9.

Van Dijck, J. (2008). Digital photography: communication, identity, memory. Visual Communication, 7, 57–76.

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