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Instagram data and millennials

Measuring the experience city

(Freestate original text)


“When it comes to money, ‘experiences’ trump ‘things’: More than 3 in 4 millennials would choose to spend money on desirable experiences rather than a physical things.” How do we best measure the effects of this shift in behaviour in order to better design our cities?

“When it comes to money, ‘experiences’ trump ‘things’: More than 3 in 4 millennials (78%) would choose to spend money on a desirable experience rather than a physical things”

Millennials: Fuelling the Experience Economy

But how do we best measure the effects of this shift in behaviour in order to better design our cities?

Well, let me introduce international research organisation SPIN Unit who are interested in exactly that question. Not so long ago I met up with their co-founder Damiano Cerrone and over a little brunch he told me a story about one of their recent research projects which I found fascinating, here are a few paragraphs from Damiano about his team’s unique approach.

“We measure collaborations by mapping and analysing Instagram data to reveal the sense of place, or in other words, we classify images by categorising users (by gender, age, ethnicity) and activities (what people do and what people are attracted by). Closely observing these thousands of Instagram images allows us to better understand where and what activities attract people, where and what drives their dwell time, and where and what experiences and environments are the cultural and social triggers that have the potential to inspire ever greater interaction. Importantly this research allows us to understand what attracts millenials (of Instagram’s 200 million active users, 53% are between the ages of 18 and 29) who are a famously difficult group to survey.

Let me give you an example.

The City of Turku in Finland has strong policies to promote cycling. One of the outcomes of this policy was the construction of the Kirjastosita cycling and pedestrian bridge. The infrastructure was designed and built to speed up the commuting flow and the sides of the bridge were illuminated in accordance with the policy of improving public illumination along the river. Therefore the leading design concepts were transportation and illumination and they were certainly successful in that, but there was something else happening here, something unexpected. Looking at the Instagram Data and social media data (looking across Flickr, Twitter, Periscope and Facebook) we began to assess how the bridge was perceived and we discovered that the structure was not only seen as merely as useful infrastructure but it became an attractor, then a meeting a place, and ultimately a place of chance encounters. The data showed people being attracted, liking it, gathering there, the social mass drawing in others, pop-up food and drink places being drawn to the human honey pot, then bars opening to take advantage of the new audience. The illuminated bridge had become a social and cultural trigger, it’s transformation from infrastructure to attractor being revealed by the Instagram data of many thousands of tagged pictures.“

Hearing this I am reminded that in an age where we now value desirable experience over physical things, we must measure and understand the experience of places, as well as the environment.

SPIN Unit’s pioneering work talks about this in terms of understanding the attractions of the ‘Invisible City’ as it is glimpsed in social media data allowing us to learn more about cities than we could have by analyzing their architecture alone. This research shows us how analysis of geo-located visual social media such as Instagram images reveals connections between history, built environment, and self-representation, allowing us to better understand and better design what will actually attract, retain and grow new audiences which is surely critical to the success of any development.

So, my challenge to developers, their agents and their designers is that in order to better respond to the millennial mindset they must change their guiding mantra, no longer leading with the research and development of ‘LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION’, but looking at the invisible Experience City where we lead with a new, more activity based mantra of ‘ATTRACTION, ATTRACTION, ATTRACTION’ !

A question:

Does your strategic process begin with the question ‘What will attract people?” or “Why will they come here?’” ?? As ever, always really keen to hear your thoughts!