22.4 C
New York
Thursday, October 5, 2023

From Podcasts to Zoom Workshops, Friendship Is Big Business

My close friends and I like to spend time together. Of course, we’re all keeping pandemic precautions in mind these days. But we eat, go on walks, and talk for as many hours as our schedules allow. All the while, we could be doing so much more with our friendship—like building a brand around it and making money.

Look around on the internet, and you’ll see pairs of high-profile best friends doing just that. They’re starting successful podcasts about friendship, then writing best sellers based on those podcasts. They’re leading workshops on creativity and collaboration, and even propelling each other into political stardom. Pre-Covid, these twosomes were also popping up at conferences—primarily women’s gatherings—to talk about building friendships, but also building careers.

2020 has been hard for friendships; the pandemic, with its enforced lockdowns and painstaking pod-planning, has put a strain on even the closest relationships. If there’s anything this year has made clear, it’s that friendship, especially in challenging times, is a never-ending project, a work in progress. For a lucky few, friendship is also shaping up to be a profitable business.

The link between friendship and revenue may have started with the seminars and self-help books of past decades, but it has blossomed on Facebook, the unsexiest of social networks, which co-opted the sacred relationship into likes, data, and algorithms. It currently lives on with friends trying to sell you stuff in DMs, courtesy of multilevel marketing plans. And, of course, there’s always an option to hire a friend on your next trip to Japan, online, through Client Partners, a firm specializing in hired guides and hosts that can give clients advice, have uninhibited fun with them, and comfort them if needed.

In the tech world, many investors are more quick to give cash to startups born from a friendship, believing two cofounders are better than one. In consumer goods, businesses owned by friends are media catnip. (A fun bonus: Friendtrepreneurs make for perfectly symmetric imagery to go with the articles, which, thanks to the adorable friendship origin stories, practically write themselves.) On social media, #squadgoals—a hashtag describing glamorous friend groups, once culturally appropriated and popularized by Taylor Swift’s glamorous posse—was born and then died, but the notion that friendly hangouts make for marketable, sexy Instagram Stories remained, yielding engineered influencer friendships and branded collaborations. It is now a common practice for influencers to join forces to amplify their reach when creating sponsored content for brands. Exhibiting friendship appeals to followers.

A looping video of influencers "selling" products to adoring fans.

The WIRED Guide to Influencers 

Everything you need to know about engagement, power likes, sponcon, and trust. 

By Paris Martineau

All this is to say that the commodification of friendship has been with us for a while. But this time around, we’re witnessing its most user-friendly—or most annoying—iteration yet: best pals joining forces to market and sell an elevated and aspirational spin on friendship itself. As always, technology is there to help.

Best friends and writers Aminatou Sow and Anne Friedman launched the podcast Call Your Girlfriend in 2014. Each weekly episode is filled with the fun long-distance chatter (Friedman lives in LA, Sow in NYC). Now the duo have written a new book called Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close. In it, a perfect quote showcases how naturally grown creativity can be packaged for consumption: “It was a small slice of our friendship, removed from its context and polished up and published,” they write. Big Friendship, which was based on the duo’s podcast, became a New York Times bestseller shortly after coming out in the beginning of the year. Sow has over 90,000 Instagram followers; her feed is peppered with comments from Kamala Harris’ niece Meena Harris and pictures with celebrity author Zadie Smith. Friedman is a frequent guest speaker at tech events and media conferences. While the book chronicles the pair’s friendship, with its ups and downs, and attempts to capture a universal experience, much of Big Friendship is dedicated to the women's specific stories and career paths.

Best Friends, a podcast by Saturday Night Live star Sasheer Zamata and her real-life best friend, comedian Nicole Byer, debuted on Earwolf in the summer of 2019. Like Call Your Girlfriend, it’s a catch-all of a podcast, in which the friends’ bubbly dynamic and inside jokes take center stage. This enviable air of the “right” friendship—between two individuals too interesting and creative to keep it to themselves—has been celebrated recently by lifestyle brands and tech products alike.

Marigold, a popular San Francisco flower boutique, photographed and interviewed couples of influential and creative friends for its blog. These friends talk about how they “inspire” each other and “balance” each other; they own businesses together and collaborate on projects. The Nudge, an app that sends subscribers reminders about making and keeping plans, exercising, and partaking in activism, markets itself as a digital “friend” and features real-life friends doing amazing things together on the app’s Instagram feed.

Author and speaker Shasta Nelson has been studying the topic for the past two decades and actually wrote a book called The Business of Friendship, about creating friend-like relationships in the workplace. Ten years ago, she says, it was all about enviable romantic relationships, but recently friendships have become the hot commodity everyone wants. The current business of friendship, she says, is built on “having an asset that other people want or crave, possibly flaunting it. More and more people are modeling it and kind of casting a vision for it, showing how it can be done.”

1 / 9

Photograph: NASAAWESOME IMAGES OF THE EARTH AT NIGHTFloat through the night sky and gaze upon our planet twinkling through the darkness.

In October, aspirational friendship was in the center of the virtual Sisterhood Story Sessions hosted by Today at Apple, the free educational series from the Silicon Valley megabrand. One workshop, named Better Together, was emceed by a San Francisco duo, photographer Anna-Alexia Basile and neuroscientist and meditation guide Nkechi Njaka, best friends who often travel together and collaborate on creative projects. After talking about their own sisterhood story and their resulting shared creative vision, the two presented individual portions; a meditation session by Njaka and a self-portraiture workshop by Basile. The friends’ genuine affection and enthusiasm for each other lent the whole thing an infectiously joyous feel.

Such phenomena “show how female friendship gets entangled in brand culture in complicated ways,” says Alison Winch, a researcher of interpersonal relationships at Middlesex University in the UK. In 2013, Winch wrote Girlfriends and Postfeminist Sisterhood, a book that investigates how the media cynically encourages “strategic bonding” of women, an undercurrent of which is controlling each other’s body image.

The current trend takes things one step further by rising above the exploitation of women, instead embracing their agency; the practice of branding and marketing friendship is seemingly empowering, but at the same time somewhat exclusionary. Similarly to awe-inspiring women’s conferences, co-branded endeavors by friends market a sense of community, while setting hard-to-follow standards. Looking at Basile and Njaka’s color-coordinated Apple presentation slides, or reading the accolades for Sow and Friedman’s book, it’s easy to wonder whether your own friendships, fueled by joyful gossip, tasty carbs, and blissfully pointless conversations, are living up to their full potential. But then, why should friendships be subjected to such examination at all?

article image

Should I Delete My Tweets?

Our in-house Know-It-Alls answer questions about your interactions with technology.

By Emily Dreyfuss

Concerns about the quality and the longevity of friendships have been peaking during the pandemic, according to Nikel Rogers-Wood, a Tampa, Florida, psychologist who often focuses on friendships. “Oftentimes, people wonder, am I going to have any friends left, when Covid-19 is over,” Rogers-Wood says. At the same time, aspirational anxiety—the well known byproduct of social media usage—is at an all-time high. In fact, it’s the most repeated theme among her clients. “It’s based on looking outward,” she says, “and the input is that I need to aspire to something I’m not, or can’t be.” How do projects like Better Together and Big Friendship affect anxiety? They can, says Rogers-Wood, increase the stress level around the quality of your relationships, especially if things are tougher than usual “It’s a little next-level,” she says. “If you’re doing friendship right, so to speak, you should be able to work together, create art together.”

Nelson similarly says that while a strong bond of friendship can elevate a creative project, both friends need to commit to exposure and vulnerability in order to publicly create and flourish together. “If you’re not comfortable with that, it can create unnecessary pressure,” she says.

Even though pandemic-induced social distancing is causing strain on relationships of all types, it doesn’t look like publicly glorified friendship is going anywhere. Instagram is still flooded with glamorous duos to envy and endure. There are still more adorable banter-filled podcasts to listen to. It might be impossible to look away, but a reality check can help.

Winch recommends a sober, balanced approach. Looking at Big Friendship and Best Friends, she admits, “I am attracted to brands like these, while also being aware that it's mediated. Yet it's not a path that I could ever go down, maybe because I enjoy the privacy of friendship as a way to escape from work.” Could your own friendships benefit—financially or otherwise—from some creative ambition? Should you shout your bonds from the rooftop and launch a blog, a pod, or an app together? Or, given that it’s 2020, the year of over-extending, bracing for impact, and over-worrying, is it more than enough to just eat, walk, and gossip together? Perspective, Rogers-Wood says, is key: “It’s helpful to think of our friend relationships in terms of, who am I as a person? What builds me up?” she says. “Disregard the toxic shoulds and musts.”

Related Articles

Latest Articles