What is a “soft” or “hard” relationship launch? Explaining the celebrity-led trend

The days of quickly updating your Facebook status the moment a new relationship is formalized are long gone. In fact, the Facebook Relationship Update could be described as somewhat outdated, replaced instead by a new form of documenting social media relationships – the ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ launch.

Oversharing on social media has become a common occurrence – and the trend of PR creeping into the realm of relationships and intimacy is only growing. The soft and hard launch trend combines the two.

Love, work, and the consumer market have always been intrinsically linked, and the evolution of “public encounters” via social media documentation is worth studying. The internet and platforms like Instagram and TikTok are giving birth to a new visual language of relationship milestones. A very nuanced language, intertwined with semiotics, genre scripts and cultural capital.

You’ve most likely seen examples of celebrity hard-or-soft relationship launches discussed in the media and copied by everyday people on their own social media.

The ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ launch – a definition

For those unfamiliar with the relatively new celebrity-led trend of starting a soft or hard (mostly) relationship on Instagram or TikTok, it sees users either subtly (“soft”) or explicitly (“hard”) revealing a new relationship. via a photo or video and accompanying caption.

A soft launch might involve an image of two joined hands, think Kourtney Kardashian/Travis Scott intimacy, while a hard launch might feature the lucky couple locking lips (think Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck ). Zendaya and Tom Holland’s Instagram soft launch has been widely reported and speculated on – the use of the phrase “my Spider-man” is a subtle choice.

This trend made famous by perhaps two of Instagram’s biggest lovers and librarians – actress Megan Fox and musician Machine Gun Kelly – has ushered in a new era of seemingly lopsided and goofy lovers’ posts on Instagram by people ordinary.

It may seem like another weird social media phenomenon, but it’s a remarkable cultural episode. Not only is it a way for the media and tabloids to report on celebrity relationships, but it has become a tactic widely used by everyday people to broadcast their intimate lives to their families, friends, and followers.

Insta-Official Internet Guides

If you’re looking to dive straight into the new trend of social media relationship documentation – beware, you’re entering a maelstrom of complex relationship stages.

You might want to follow one of the many “Insta-official” internet guides that easily outline the best way to kick off and document your relationship on social media.

You may also want to think ahead about what to do with the content if the relationship breaks down – will it be evidence erasure? Or a public statement announcing the end of the relationship?

The digital dating breadcrumbs left behind require special attention.

PR talking crawling in privacy

Love as a tradable commodity is by no means a new concept. Nor the rooting of work and love. In Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating, author Moira Weigel writes that dating as we know it originated in the late 19th century, when there was a shift from private to public dating.

Romantic encounters have moved from cloistered exchanges at home, under the supervision of family and friends, to public and commercial spaces such as restaurants, bars and cinemas. Weigel writes, “Almost everywhere, for most of human history, courtship was supervised. And it happened in non-commercial spaces” – until the explosion of public meetings.

This public change meant that love came to be characterized by the consumer market. The signs, symbols and milestones of dating intertwined with consumption and the visual economy. The visual economy applies to being seen, that is, to engaging in the romantic spectacle of consumption.

However, the internet is giving rise to a whole new sharing of romantic road signs for visual consumers. In the digital realm, the language of love, the visual and the market truly intertwine.

Your Romantic Social Stocks

Use Instagram’s official plan correctly and your social stocks will likely skyrocket. Take for proof Kourtney Kardashian’s Instagram account which grew by 44 million in 2021 following her Insta-reveal relationship. Love is after all the most popular hashtag on Instagram.

Cultural theorist Lauren Berlant reminds us that when we are told to “have a life,” it usually refers to a person’s need to find an intimate relationship. The stage of finding a life partner is indeed seen as a critical stage that continues to have cultural and social relevance. When we narrate our lives, there are a number of acceptable avenues available, and the romantic union is highly recognizable, which has developed a certain visual formula in the social media space.

My own research on dating apps and intimacy demonstrates how users come to recognize these signs as an indicator that a meaningful relationship has begun.

However, one may wonder in this highly scripted realm, is there room for subversion? To experience intimacy outside the realm of super-saccharines and contrived Instagram moments?

My research would indicate that in the space of encounter and of the digital realm, there are ruptures, but there are also continuities. This means that new dating behaviors are emerging in the digital space, but for the most part the dating narratives remain the same — for example, a romantic propensity to find that’s why I wrote to you. Often these continuities reflect an update from an IRL (in real life) space to the digital realm.

The “soft” or “hard” launch of a relationship could be seen as an extension of a key courtship stage – becoming formal, leaning on and moving past more traditional stages like meeting friends or family or birthdays. However, the focus on self as a brand and self-love as a premium brand requires our vigilance.

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