"Q&A With Sarah Frier"

"Q&A With Sarah Frier"

Book: No Filter

Photo Credit to Jeff Singer

Author: Sarah Frier

Author Bio:

Sarah Frier reports on social media companies for Bloomberg News out of San Francisco. Her award-winning features and breaking stories have earned her a reputation as an expert on how Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter make business decisions that affect their future and our society. Frier is a frequent contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek and Bloomberg Television. She attended the University of North Carolina, where she earned a degree in journalism and edited the school paper before joining Bloomberg in 2011. No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram is her first book.”


1.  When did you join Instagram and what was it that made you like the platform?

I joined in early 2013. I got my first iPhone around then, and Instagram was everyone's favorite iPhone app -- at least among urban young people living in NYC like I was at the time. My first photo was of some bread pudding that tasted much better than it photographed, but I learned quickly how to post things that were more Instagrammable. I just loved how artistic it felt.

On Facebook everyone was touting their life accomplishments; on Instagram, you didn't have to be getting engaged or getting promoted in order to have something worthy to share. It was just more fun.


2.  What made Instagram such a compelling topic for you to write a book about?

I have covered social media companies for years and there's no other app that I can walk down the street and see the effect. You can see the impact of Instagram if you look at how our behavior has changed over the last decade, so we value experiences more than material objects. Businesses have changed how they sell to us because of Instagram. And I realized there was a gap in our knowledge. How did we get here? Who was behind this?


3.  What was your writing process like for this book? 

For this kind of book, you could keep reporting forever and never get around to writing. I asked a mentor of mine, Brad Stone, the author of The Everything Store, for advice. He said I’d be ready to write once I had learned 100 things that hadn’t been reported elsewhere. So I kept all my revelatory anecdotes organized and when I started writing, started with these scenes, then weaved them into chapters with context and analysis.  

When I was on a 3-month book leave from my reporting job at Bloomberg News, I tried to write at least 1,000 words a day — usually, about 500 during the day and 500 after my husband went to sleep. The vast majority of the time I spent thinking about what I was going to write and how I was going to write it. 


4.  It has been stated that due to social medias, like Instagram, “we are more connected than ever but more alone than ever”. What makes now such a pivotal time for a book like “No Filter” to be released?

We are indeed spending more time on Instagram than ever, because of the social distancing mandated during the pandemic. Instagram is now a pivotal infrastructure for our relationships. It’s important to understand the incentives baked into Instagram — how it’s affecting the way we perceive our relationships, whose updates we see, why we feel the way we do as we scroll


5.  What was your favorite thing you learned about Instagram, the company, while writing No Filter?

I’ve spent years covering social media companies and most of them — including Facebook and Twitter— describe themselves as neutral platforms, declining to have a human-led opinion about what kind of content is good or bad. Instagram is totally different. 

They have an entire editorial team shaping what’s popular on the platform, highlighting certain kinds of content, helping make some people famous, working with celebrities behind the scenes on their problems. I was totally fascinated by this power and how they chose to wield it.


6.  Why do you think the relationship between Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram co-founders, Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom, deteriorated?

Zuckerberg thought Instagram’s success would eventually chip away at Facebook’s dominance, and started restricting resources for the app. The founders felt like they were no longer able to lead the app the way they wanted to.


7.  In doing research for this book, was there a story that you wanted to share in No Filter, but were unable to?

I went to Lollapalooza with a bunch of Brazilian influencers and it was wild— watching them pose together in full hair and makeup, watching their Instagram strategy in action, even though I don’t speak Portuguese. It was this incredibly rainy day and all the influencers were in a plexiglass studio working on a video sponsored by Chevrolet, hair still perfect, while muddied fans pressed their noses against the fogged up barrier, trying to get a glimpse. It showed me how incredibly global the Instagram phenomenon is.  

I also learned about a Vegas trip Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom did in the fall of 2012, right after joining Facebook, where he DJed for 300 of his friends and then partied in Hugh Hefner’s suite, courtesy of a Saudi prince. 

There are really so many stories that didn’t make the book— but hopefully, that’s a testament to the quality of the ones that did!


8.  What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block? 

Get up and do something that’s not scrolling on your phone. Do the dishes, take a shower, go on a walk. When your mind is free, the right way of writing something will come through more clearly. If it doesn’t happen then, it’ll, unfortunately, happen right when you’re trying to sleep.


9.  Do you plan on writing more books in the future?

Absolutely! I loved doing it. But I don’t yet have a specific topic in mind.


Places To Find More From This Author:

Instagram: @sarahfrier

Facebook: @sarahfrier

Linkedin: Sarah Frier


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