Instagram Close Friends, Twitter Circle, and the magic of restricted access “I post a lot of Stories on Instagram,” says Kanishka Thakur, a 24-year-old digital marketing professional from Nashik. Aware that her stream-of-consciousness uploads can come across as spammy, she is often concerned that her serious Stories might be overlooked by a portion of her 20,000 followers on the platform. So, she tries a hack sometimes: “Every time I have to post serious content as a Story, I post a Story for the close friends shortly after. This way, it ends up getting relatively more engagement,” she says. Kanishka has a few hundred users in her close friends’ list on Instagram. When you post a Story to be shared only with your close friends, they see a neon green ring around the Story as opposed to the gradient ring that you see around regular Stories. Instagram pushes the green-ringed story ahead in the Stories carousel on top of the app. “If I post a Close Friends story after a series of regular stories, the followers who haven't been checking stories through the day have to go through all other stories to get to the one that only they can view,” says Kanishka. “This way, even my regular stories end up getting more views,” she adds. Kanishka is the founder & CEO of Create An Influence, a digital marketing agency. Close Friends–introduced in 2018 to help users interact with their close friends on the same account instead of maintaining a separate finsta (fake IG account)–is now a growth hack. At the heart of this hack lies a shift in user behaviour: we’re prioritising checking Stories with a green ring around them every time we check the app. Why? Because there’s a Story overload, so we’re unconsciously tapping on the phone to skip most of them. “Regular stories have become rather predictable because they’re often dictated by Instagram’s algorithm instead of people’s innate need to share their lives now,” says Aparna Upadhyay, 29, a branded content lead at a digital media company. However, a green-ringed Story piques our curiosity, she says. “It breaks the monotony and makes you wonder what this person may have posted that they chose not to broadcast to everyone.” A digital subscription to Mint premium can be yours at just ₹213 per month. Check out the convenient and affordable plans we have for you here. There are different layers of intimacy we share with people in our real lives. “Through the close friends' list, we’re trying to replicate that within the confines of social media now,” says Anshuma Kshetrapal, a creative arts psychotherapist from Delhi. Since curation is a big part of our social media lives, this feature enables us to step out of our body and look at the content from the gaze of the audience viewing it, she adds. “I might be curating the same content for a mass audience but leave out vulnerable details and share them with close friends, for instance.” Higher engagement, therefore, is an incidental advantage of the feature. “You’re prioritising green-ring stories simply because you have more insight and context to keep track,” says Anshuma. However, if the green ring comes from someone we may not be close to IRL (in real life), it makes us feel special and trustworthy, often leading us into checking their story purely out of courtesy. Kanishka has used this as a hack to approach popular creators for brand collaborations. “I add them to my close friends' list and post a story for this set of people. Then when I message these creators, they see a green ring and get curious and it often elicits a reply from them,” she says. Aparna feels “extremely privileged” when she makes it to a girl’s close friends list, she says. Because women post on close friends’ stories what they want to otherwise hide from the world. It’s a safe space for them “Even though it’s not the same as being a part of a girl gang on WhatsApp, you feel like a part of a community,” she adds. The feature has helped many, including Aparna, connect with long-lost friends because the exclusivity element allows for longer chats in the reply section. Thanks to the feature, Aparna feels she doesn’t have to create a separate finsta. However, unlike private accounts where you get to accept/reject users, a close friends list is built on top of Instagram’s recommendations, notes Shilpi Agrawal, a Dublin-based product manager. Ergo, it’s not directly comparable with finstas. These lists are more about ‘who should not see my Stories’ than who can see them. The bar for who makes it to these lists is at ‘who seems like they won’t harm me or try to use this unfiltered post against me?’. To that effect, “the close friends feature feels analogous to Facebook’s lists that allowed you to hide your pictures and updates from a certain set of people,” says Shilpi. Twitter Circle, a feature that was introduced just a couple of months ago, is similar to Instagram’s Close Friends but has its differences. For instance, “you don’t get a notification for a Tweet that’s accessible to you as part of someone’s circle,” says Veekay, a 20-year-old web3 community builder. “If you’re lucky, you’ll spot it on your timeline.” Yet, that discovery brings a lot of validation for you, he says. Veekay has about 60 users in his own Twitter Circle. “There's a basic level of trust with these people because you’ve either met them offline or have forged a strong bond with them via online correspondence. I prefer interacting more with these people anyway,” he adds. While Twitter Circle users also note that a higher percentage of users from the circle engage with these restricted-access tweets than the percentage of overall followers that engages with their regular tweets on average, here the feature is being used more as a safety hack than anything else. “I feel Twitter Circle lets you openly discuss certain things–which many may consider controversial–with people who will genuinely like to engage in a conversation instead of dogpiling on you,” says Monica Yadav, a Mumbai-based entertainment journalist. It’s still early days but Twitter Circle is also being talked about as a means for certain users to spread hatred against individuals and communities which could become a bane soon. For now, it seems like Twitter Circle can definitely be a “boon for web3 companies building communities”, says Vishakha Singh, co-founder of WazirX NFT Marketplace. “Once vetted, legit NFT creators and collectors can be added to close circle lists, and announcements of exclusive NFT project launches can be done via this feature,” she says. “It is bound to create FOMO and get the value of a project up.” Speaking of FOMO, Vishakha, who is also an entertainment producer, has noted that women in her social circle often use Instagram’s close friends feature “to keep a tab on which men are showing interest in them, and sometimes to check if their partners are still checking on them after a fight”. Sadly, you can’t view who has seen your tweet in a Twitter Circle unless they directly respond via emoji or reply. Difference aside, both Instagram’s Close Friends and Twitter Circle use green colour as a signifier, notes Sindhu Biswal, a 27-year-old digital marketer from Bengaluru. What could this mean, we wondered. “As an art therapist, I can tell you that everyone has their notions about what a particular colour means to them,” says Anshuma, all while adding that it could imply “go”, as in the person is okay to let you in. It goes well with Sindhu’s theory that these close circles are essentially creating a tier system for macro influencers, quite like the different Discord rooms for major YouTube streamers. “On Instagram, creators use the feature to get more engagement for their posts because the platform prioritises Stories for Close Friends list,” says Sindhu. “If I add 3/4th of my 12,000 followers into the close friends' list, my story engagement rates will automatically go up,” he adds. “It is akin to building an exclusive email list as a lead generation,” says Gaurav Jain, founder & CEO of Creators Gram, an influencer marketing and talent management company based in Delhi. “If Instagram allows creators to create multiple lists, influencers will be able to create different lists according to interest buckets and target specific consumers and charge brands a higher price accordingly,”. It can be a game changer for lifestyle content creators as they cover multiple consumer segments," he adds.