Exclusive – welcome to Impactr, the app turning social media into social change

Thred has been given an exclusive, pre-launch peek at new app Impactr, the self-proclaimed ‘anti-Amazon’ about to revolutionise online interaction. 

What’s next in social media? It’s a question people have asked themselves since David Fincher’s The Social Network premiered in 2010, seemingly the swan song of a digital juggernaut that was fast losing its novel sheen and youth-centric flavour.

Throughout the 2010s, we’ve gone through various incarnations of the connected media experience. There’s been the impressive but not always sustained explosions that were Instagram, Vine, Music.ly, and now TikTok, and all the while Twitter, Linkedin, and numerous incarnations of Tinder performed functions in the middleground. And, like the proverbial hydra, Facebook has never gone away but simply reincarnated in a multitude of forms to suit its hyper-corporate, information-gathering aims.

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The world is still very, very sure it wants to stay connected in some form or another, but the note of collective agreement we all had in the initial days of Facebook, the knowledge that this was something new and worthwhile, hasn’t yet been recreated. Our approach to social media has fractured such that it’s no longer a great equaliser but a new, high-tech method of stratification. There are now various ways of inhabiting social media, all considered varyingly successful: the influencer, the brand, the social justice warrior, or the incognito trolling account. All of these prototypes attempt to achieve different ends such that ‘winning’ on social media could be translated in numerous different ways: likes, views, sales figures, or even doxing. Our online communities as they exist today thus feel less like empowering quorums and more like sticky quagmires, aimless and adrift. And yet, they still capture and hold our attention seemingly for lack of a better alternative.

It’s exactly this gap in the market that new social media app Impactr plans to fill.

Impactr is a highly international start-up (with founders based in Melbourne and Copenhagen, and affiliates based globally) that looks to insert purpose back into the process of social media engagement. The app itself incorporates many of the instant video sharing aspects of TikTok, and borrows from a number of platforms including Duolingo and Pokemon Go to create an experience that is wholly unique.

The self-stated aim of the Impactr app when it launches, which is also clearly the raison d’être of its passionate young multi-lingual team, is to ‘inspir[e] millions of small actions to make a big impact for sustainability’. It plans to do this through a video sharing platform where your feed, much like one’s feed on TikTok, is made up of short, snappy clips by other users.

The big difference? All content is centred around sustainability and social change.

Thred has been following Impactr’s evolution since the company contacted us in July, and recently I was lucky enough to interact with their prototype ahead of its October launch. Here are my thoughts:

Initially, I was impressed by the optics of the app interface. Of course, the Instagram generation will indelibly associate social media with aesthetics. Questions like ‘is this actually a cool thing to do?’ and ‘will other people do this?’ are answered for most within the first few seconds when it comes to new tech. Anything overcomplicated or daggy is likely to be rejected out of hand.

Impactr has avoided these pitfalls by taking leaves out of both Instagram and TikTok’s books. The design is chic and minimalist but still young – like Instagram, its colour scheme is vibrant without being overwhelming or full of childish primary colours: lots of warmth and gradients. Videos run to the edge of the screen for a sense of immersion and continuity.  What’s more, nobody who has ever used TikTok is in danger of being confused by the app controls. There’s a ‘feed’, an ‘inbox’, a ‘profile’ section, and a ‘home’ button; even a social media casual like me felt immediately at ease.

So, how can the app actually be used? Well, a user’s ‘feed’ will be their main touchpoint with the Impactr community writ large. Here you’ll find a number of short-form videos you can sift through with a swipe (standard). The thing is, these videos aren’t intended to be merely vapid moments of self-promotion, or pretty yet meaningless shots of your holiday in Spain. Each video shows a member of the Impactr community performing a socially conscious ‘action’ – some examples in the prototype are fairly simple tasks, like ‘add ugly carrots to your shopping list’, and other are a little more laborious, like ‘read David Suzuki’s Beyond Climate’.

All standard modes of interaction with social media content apply here – you can like the video, comment on it, or send the poster a message – but the main draw is the ‘action button’. Using this, you can add the completed task to your profile, and reply with a video of your own in the hope that the action will ‘take off’ among the community.

Under your profile, you can track your impact progress – how many actions you’ve taken that week, an archive of your posts, and how many people have acted on those posts. This is where you can find the ‘endorsements’ feature, a pretty snazzy piece of tech that I personally haven’t seen on any other social media platform. Certain users who have registered as ‘experts’ in the fields of social change and sustainability can mine the app for quality posts based on the actual weight of their impact. The more expert endorsements your post gets, the higher up in the feed it’s pushed. This means that, whilst the app is a community-based platform, there’s some epistemology behind what gets heavily promoted.

Another cool feature of Impactr is the ‘daily action calendar’, which can be found under the ‘home’ section. The app prompts users with a daily sustainability challenge (you can rest easy they’re probably not going to ask you to read a whole book in day) and you can add completed actions to a bespoke calendar that features exemplar videos from ‘top Impactrs’, or some of Impactr’s ‘trusted brands.’ Oh, you’re damn right there are Top Impactr Charts, as well as leaderboards. What’s the point of saving the planet if you can’t categorically be the best at it?

The ‘Trusted Brand’ section is an extremely unique selling point that speaks to Impactr’s desire to be perhaps the first social media with integrity. Qualified brands featured in the app, verified with a status badge, exist both as part of the community and as self-evident advice for users regarding their purchasing habits. It’s increasingly difficult to be an ethical, or even a neutral, consumer of both products and information in 2020, where brands take shortcuts to meet their bottom line and marketing is king. Impactr is volunteering to sort through the riff raff, unveiling a whole host of new start-ups and industry disruptors you can feel proud to support.

It’s very clear to me having seen the app prototype, and having spoken to the main brain behind Impactr Johannah Maher over Zoom, what these innovators are trying to achieve here. According to the Global Web Index, the average Gen Zer spends three hours a day on social media. The world’s most socially conscious generation dedicate a sizeable chunk of their time and energy to what’s not just a time sink, but an active trigger for negative self-image. So why not convert those hours into something that has meaning?

Currently, there’s a wide gulf between young consumers with the ardent desire to act on behalf of the planet, and those who feel it’s within their power to do so. Johannah Maher cites the famous ‘values/action gap’ that’s plagued statisticians and environmentalists alike, which here plays out to the tune of 80% of people acknowledging a need or desire to change their lifestyle to be more sustainable, compared to only 12% following through with said changes. Impactr aims to bridge this gap by putting the means for action directly (to use a tired cliché) at your fingertips.

‘In today’s socials there’s too much friction in between the moment where you’ve really tapped the source of people’s inspiration, that moment when they really want to do something… [and them] being able to it’, Maher explains. Impactr removes that friction by making action as instantaneous as possible. In fact, actions the team predicts will become popular can be done directly on your phone, such a switching to a green energy provider (a campaign they’ve already launched on Instagram). And for those that do require extra effort, like peeling plastic labels off recyclable bottles, a sense of community and an edge of competitiveness to the app function as motivators.

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As someone who spends a lot of her time buried in the Gen Z zeitgeist, where rhetoric is focused so sincerely on mending the planet for future generations, I’ve always been puzzled by the inconsistency social media as we use it today holds with these values. As shown by multiple studies, social media can very often be breeding grounds for hate speech and propaganda, and the encouragement of eating disorders, self-harm, and violence against minorities. These nefarious elements to the average social media experience are beginning to overshadow what’s always been good about social media – that feeling of cross-border connectedness, the chance for young people to explore their identity and find their tribe, and the coping strategies of satire and comedy.

Impactr is exploring the possibility that you can have your cake and eat it too. It’s possible to be part of an online community that unites people on their own terms in a manner that is, by definition, positive.

‘We aim to activate and mobilise this gap that exists for over half of the GenZ/Millennial population, to have them to be, without thinking, carrying out their daily tangible actions via Impactr’ says Maher when asked about the future of Impactr, ‘[this will] shift their mighty purchasing power into trusted sustainable impact outcomes.’

Social media has now become an indelible part of our lives. We use it to consolidate and maintain friendships, unite families, mobilise movements, and streamline our workplaces. It’s not going away any time soon. But social media doesn’t have to be a necessary evil. The next ‘big thing’ in social media could, if we play our cards right, be something that’s not only good for us, but good for the planet.

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