How social media platforms shape watch community culture

Instagram has undeniably risen to become the chief forum for watch collectors globally. While some remain loyal to internet forums of the early-to-mid 2000s, more have migrated to the image-sharing social network. However, one platform that is remarkably similar to the traditional internet forums stands out as a bulwark against Instagram’s domination of the community; a rejection of its image-led and often commercial nature. Today, I want to look at the key differences between Instagram and Reddit, and what we can take away from both to improve our experience within the online watch community. Having been active in both communities since getting involved in the world of watches four years ago, I began noticing key differences which can tell us more about our own behaviour as collectors.

Reddit’s slogan is “the front page of the internet”. Users subscribe to particular Subreddits (this could be anything from a video game, to watches, to macroeconomic policy) and participate in discussions, much like in a traditional forum setting. Some of Reddit’s unique qualities are the upvote system (where comments and posts are voted up or down by other users which affect its prominence in the forum) and the fact that users only need one account to access a plethora of interests.

The cultural differences are stark

Reddit and Instagram vary hugely in terms of culture, which come as a result of different user bases as well as the structural characteristics of each community. Reddit users tend to be younger, more technologically savvy and less affluent than those using Instagram. The latter point is the most important and governs what watches are popular and discussed most. On an average day, the front page of /r/Watches (the most popular subreddit for watches) will feature a mix of Seikos and Tissots with a sprinkling of steel Rolex and Omega. High-end luxury brands are less common, while independents are almost unheard of. In contrast, Instagram rewards the rare, the luxurious, and the exceptional.

Anonymity plays a big role in determining social dynamics between users. On Instagram, comments are connected to your permanent online presence – your account, with all your followers and content, is an extension of you. On Reddit, the inverse is true. While you have a profile, it only serves as a means for participation. Participation takes place in isolation – your contributions are generally evaluated by other users without knowing your interests and expertise. This means that even though Reddit allows users to follow each other, there are no self-proclaimed experts or watch celebrities on /r/Watches. As a result of this, your experience as a user on Instagram is very much one of “the individual”, whereas on Reddit this concept of individuality is almost absent in lieu of a communal mindset that places the community ahead of individual users.

Compared to Instagram, Reddit’s culture is more insular. While it is relatively easy to come across a watch on Instagram’s Explore function, posts from /r/Watches are much less likely to appear in an average user’s feed. This means that users on /r/Watches actively seek out the subreddit and subscribe to it in order to actively participate and view content, suggesting a certain level of interest required. Meanwhile, celebrities and influencers promoting watch brands are commonplace on Instagram, even where the user has demonstrated little interest for said content.

Like other subreddits, /r/Watches is regularly moderated. Unlike Instagram where the only rules lie in the user agreement, /r/Watches has a set of well-enforced rules about what can and can’t be posted which range from stolen images to prohibiting pictures taken while driving. As a result of these two key differences, /r/Watches’ culture is determined by those who self-select to join an actively moderated community, whereas the Instagram watch community is a more organic amalgamation of people who may have a tangential interest in watches.

In /r/Watches (the subreddit for watches), there is a rule that photos must have a 500-character comment underneath in order to spark discussion and debate. Combined with the generally narrow range of watches featured, this has led to the “story” behind a watch taking precedence over the actual watch itself. While a good ownership story is appreciated by Instagram, it is revered on Reddit. The top-performing posts on /r/Watches are overwhelmingly based on an experience – often a very personal one.

Behavioural differences manifest in interactions

/r/Watches also sees far more engagement between users within the comments of a post, whereas it is rare to see more than two levels of interaction within Instagram comments. However, comments aren’t necessarily cordial – the fascination over personal stories often takes a toxic turn. To take a recent example, a user posting about their graduation gift was immediately met with intrusive comments and questions. One fellow user commented:

“How do all these people afford to buy watches for themselves at graduation? I’m in my last year at uni and I’m poor as fuck”

Another user posted:

“Fuck man all I got was a handshake.”

Bear in mind that both of these comments were more highly rated by other users than the original post’s caption. Meanwhile, comments merely congratulating the poster were much less highly-rated.

In contrast, a post on Instagram announcing a new watch is far less likely to attract the same kind of comments. In my most recent post about a new watch, nine out of twenty comments consisted either of solely emojis or one-word responses. At the same time, only four comments showed engagement with the caption and photo itself. This comparison is a clear example of the three key characteristics found in Reddit that’s absent on Instagram: an extremely critical view of conspicuous consumption, the obsession over a “worthy” story, and the debate-led mentality of users.

Learning lessons from the platforms

While the two communities are very different, we can see the benefits of both styles. While Instagram could be seen as shallow and insincere, Reddit perhaps lacks the cordiality of an organically grown community. Comparing both communities shows what they can improve on – Instagram’s community would benefit from more meaningful engagement and debate, while Reddit’s tribalism and hostility could be toned down by making users more recognisable and therefore a permanent part of the community.

Throughout the next weeks and months, I plan to further explore Reddit’s role in the watch collectors’ community, which will include analysing why brands either fail or refuse to engage one that platform, as well as taking a closer look into demographics of each platform. Ultimately, Reddit is a community of 1.1 million unique users who exist almost in parallel with the Instagram community as well as more established forums. While many of us see Instagram as the “default” platform for the community, it’s undeniably important to understand and appreciate why /r/Watches thrives. Both communities’ structures impart vastly different behaviour upon their users, and it’s important to see how and why the experience on Instagram differs from that of Reddit’s. My final takeaway point is this: while many of us on Instagram lament the lack of critical thinking and meaningful engagement, it is perhaps a price we must pay in order to maintain the civility we enjoy.

@edinburghtimepieces is an enthusiast and collector living in the UK. Growing up in a family of collectors meant he often spent weekends peering over the counter at familiar (and some not-so-familiar) names in watchmaking, picking up knowledge about movements, bezels and other things a 10-year old had no business knowing about. Since then, he has developed a passion for independent horology, but still retains an interest in vintage and contemporary watchmaking. As a university student, he enjoys converting his casually interested friends into full-fledged watch fanatics.

Leave a comment

Or join the discussion on Instagram