What exactly is a 'Soft Launch' on social media

close up group of asian lover sitting in dining room to talking with happiness and use smartphone to take picture and upload on social media application for lifestyle in vacation concept
Having a great time? Should I post it on social media or not? (Photo: Gettyimages)

Welcome to A Millennial's Dating Diary series, where we explore real-life interactions and the hurdles of dating in Southeast Asia. The series will feature the dating stories and misadventures of Arika – a 26-year-old, straight female marketing manager with a penchant for over drinking — and fellow millennials.

The setup is familiar: You’re out on a date at a nice restaurant with someone you recently started seeing but instead of panning to show who you’re out with, you take an Instagram story that hints at you being out with someone.

The relationship (or whatever you choose to call it) is new but not too new.

You’re confident enough that things are going somewhere but not confident enough to show his or her entire face — much less tag them. God forbid someone actually knows who you’re seeing.

Whether it’s their arm or that second glass of wine carefully positioned to incite some level of curiosity, you’re giving your followers a glimpse at this very personal side of your life.

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, chances are, you’ve done it before or seen someone on your feed doing something like this.

They might even throw in some cryptic captions. “We had such a nice time!” or “Having wine at (insert fancy restaurant name)!” followed by a partial pic of their boo.

The trend is known as soft launching and we aren’t the only ones doing it.

For years, celebrities (most recently, the queen herself, Adele) have done it. This is exactly how gossip mags speculate who our favourite celebs are seeing — with some cross referencing on social media, of course.

So, why do we — regular folk — do it?

“It’s a major risk! When you post a story of someone you’re seeing, you’re informing your closest friends and acquaintances that you’re off the market. Once it’s out on social media, that’s it, it’ll be there forever, even if Instagram says it’s for 24 hours,” says my best friend *Natalie, 25. “Stories last 24 hours but screenshots last forever!”

Reflecting on this, I wonder if we’re taking social media way too seriously. After all, as non-celebrity plebs, why does it really matter who we’re seeing?

The truth is though, everyone talks and despite my carefree attitude towards social media, and my inability to own a curated feed, I’m fully aware that once you post something about the person you’re seeing, in some ways, you’re expected to continue.

Take for example a local influencer and acquaintance I have on Instagram. She recently went on a trip to Germany through the VTL, and while her photos looked great, I couldn’t help but notice she almost always had a man’s hand, arm, or shoe in one of her pictures or stories.

At one point, she even posted a picture of her travel companion in a slideshow sans tag, mention or comment.

“WHO IS THIS??” I immediately thought while zooming in on his face.

Instantly, I hoped my acquaintance continued posting about this person so I could find out other details about her mystery man.

If this was a marketing campaign, consider this a success. I was intrigued, hooked, and I was ready to lap up the product.

Soft-launching isn’t reserved for just when you’re dating someone though. “It can also be used for when you’re going through a breakup or a big phase in life and want to make that transition into singlehood known again,” says *Celine, 29, a social media manager.

Soft-launching has its perks though.

If you’re still friends with your ex and have mutual friends with them on Instagram, soft launching could be a good way to signal that you’ve started moving on without being overtly blatant. “It’s practically etiquette,” Celine agrees.

When I first started dating *Mark, 31, he’d tease me about how obsessed I was with Instagram. In his defence, he wasn’t much of a social media person, and didn’t quite like having photos of himself taken so he couldn’t quite understand my inherent need to put everything on my Stories.

So, when we started exclusively dating, I only ever posted photos or videos of him on my close friends list. In a way, this was how I chose to soft launch. Plus, because my close friends list consists of my actual close friends, it was my way of sharing with them that I was seeing someone, and that I was excited about it.

I plan to keep it that way. For now, at least.

“When he appears outside the close friends list, I’ll know you guys are engaged or something,” my friend *Shane, 28 commented once on a story.

After all, as they say, making it onto someone’s grid is a big deal, and until Mark and I get to that point of being in a long-term serious relationship, I’m perfectly fine with letting a select few watch us get up to our silly antics.

*not their real names