Is Social Media Behind that Rethink on Your “Ink”?

I was recently enjoying casual conversation with a friend when we found ourselves on the topic of tattoos. She described how she had been convinced that she wanted a very particular design tattooed on her arm, and had turned to various social media platforms such as Instagram, Flickr, Imgur and Pinterest for inspiration. But after encountering countless versions of “her” design subjected to endless commentary, unsavory ratings, and associated with individuals and communities with which she didn’t identify, she was ultimately turned off of her choice and had a complete change of heart. It appeared that social media held the power to completely influence and impact her buying decision as a consumer.

This prompted me to reflect on my one and only tattoo – an unanticipated souvenir from a summer vacation in Texas. While wandering the streets of Austin one scalding afternoon, I found myself seeking reprieve from the heat in an air-conditioned tattoo shop at the edge of the city’s 6th Street – heart of the “Live Music Capital of the World” [1]. Despite timidly toying with the idea of getting “inked” for years, my rock star fantasies somehow took over and propelled me into the chair of a tattooist that day – without any familiarity with his handiwork or stylistic specialties, and minimal time invested in selecting the permanent body art I would sport 10 minutes later. Until the conversation with my friend, I had enjoyed no regrets from this experience, and was happy to bask in the lingering afterglow of an impromptu-tattoo success story. However, my friend’s perspective left me wondering if I would remain as content with my purchase if I stepped out from the shelter of the offline world into the sea of public opinion online.

If by virtue of nothing more than its unique properties as a specialty product, a tattoo attracts attention, intrigues, and often invites scrutiny. My tattoo represents a common design, so I was confident that a few generic searches of the Internet would yield some commentary about it on popular microblogs, social bookmarking platforms, photo- and video-sharing sites, and even social networks. Not surprisingly, my instincts were correct, and the Web was teeming with social exchanges about my choice of tattoo. In “Tattoo Psychology: Art or Self Destruction? Modern-Day Social Branding”, Dr. Reef Karim reminds that,

Tattoos are a conversation starter… And the emotional response from the sight of tattoos leads to a modern-day version of social branding… You’re incredibly naïve or in total denial if you think your tattoos aren’t going to have a significant positive or negative influence on people who don’t know you well.

Whereas a tattoo purchase may have been controversial and handled with great discretion by previous generations, “…the industry has grown up in the decades since then…”, according to Mark Kwong, “…with popular perception of tattoo culture shifting to serious art movement from deviant behaviour” [2]. Karim further asserts that, “many people use tattoos to visually promote [emphasis added] their identity and/or group affiliation” [3]. In other words, what we are witnessing as a society is a trend towards unabashed encouragement of conversation about body ink.

When you add social media to this phenomenon – a convenient means for individuals to offer their opinions (solicited or not) to umpteen listeners at a time – you create a breeding ground for lasting relationships among like-minded people. For undecided consumers who lack product knowledge, or physical access to someone with it, it’s understandable how the networks formed by these online relationships can emerge as key reference groups in a buyer’s decision-making process. Yet how often do we, as consumers, question how or why we assign the value that we do to the opinions we encounter through social media? Do we automatically ascribe authoritativeness to online exchanges simply because they are published? And why shouldn’t we rely on user-generated content to feed us purchase evaluation criteria when it’s imbued with authenticity by its nature? I kept these questions in mind as I considered the range of feedback I uncovered on the Web about my own choice of body art.

It’s fair to say that social media led me to an overwhelming balance of both factual information and utterly subjective commentary on my tattoo design. On Twitter I discovered through a series of tweets that I share body art with the lead singer of a chart-topping young boy band; “re-tweets” and subsequent “likes” and hashtag nuances suggested the high popularity of his tattoo. My Pinterest findings suggested that arms or feet are the favoured location for my design rather than the placement I chose, and I took pride in how this spoke to my relative individuality as a consumer. Despite some disappointment at the realization that my tattoo is far less unique than I had envisioned it to be, and a few uncomfortable associations between it and a younger demographic, I would describe my social media findings as positive overall – and interestingly, reassuringly so.

My Texas tattoo purchase has long been made; nonetheless, the information I accessed on social media after-the-fact has had the power to influence how I now feel about that buying decision. In “Why the Tattoo Industry Should Care About Social Media Marketing”, Jie Zou emphasizes that the opportunity to mass-promulgate particular messaging about a product is a key reason why businesses like tattoo parlours should take interest in how social media impacts the consumer market. As I ponder the idea of getting a second tattoo, I must admit that I will likely refer to social media as part of my decision-making process as a consumer this time around. Knowing that an endless number of reference groups are only a click away, really, how can I resist?


  1. Kwong, Mark. (19 September 2012).  Tattoo culture making its mark on millennials. CBC News. Retrieved from
  1. Karim, Reef. (9 January 2013). Tattoo Psychology: Art or Self Destruction? Modern-Day Social Branding. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  1. Zou, Jie. (25 December 2014). Why the Tattoo Industry Should Care About Social Media Marketing. Get Better Life. Retrieved from

4 thoughts on “Is Social Media Behind that Rethink on Your “Ink”?

  1. Tattoos to me have always been captivating but kinda scary. I had acquaintances in high school who got into the “Chinese” character tattoo fad. When I had a friend visit from Tokyo she asked me why my old friend had “honest lawyer” tattooed on their arm. I laughed because he was probably going for “courage” or “strength” and likely didn’t ensure the character’s actual symbolism. I also had friend’s in college who tattooed their lower back with a beautiful design only for it to be deemed a “tramp stamp” years later. I had a friend who had “This to shall pass” tattooed on her wrist and only realized the spelling mistake after the fact. Ooops. 🙂

    The tattoos I really enjoy are personal. Poems, paintings, tribal work, sleeves of memories, family members, paw prints from pets etc. If they’re personal enough, social media shouldn’t have much to weigh in on because they’re meaningful to you. I personally would stay away from trends so as not to appear dated. Actually, I’ve always thought that branding would be way cooler! Kudos to you though on being so spontaneous in Texas. That’s a great memory.

    Best of luck on your next tattoo journey.

  2. Hi kristajohnston222,

    I must admit, I had a good chuckle from the tales you shared about your friends’ tattoo “mishaps”. Thank you for sharing those. 🙂

    Like you, I also enjoy a tattoo that is symbolic or particularly meaningful to the bearer, and feel like I perhaps cheated in putting less thought into mine. However, despite the spontaneous nature of my decision to get a tattoo, I had been thinking about where I wanted one for years; I was just waiting for a sign, so to speak, as to what belonged in the location I had chosen. It was the alone-time I was afforded in Austin, and the inspiration I felt wandering its streets that actually brought clarity and made my tattoo choice obvious… Interestingly, I learned through my research for my blog post that the design variation I chose actually carries with it a traditional meaning that ultimately makes a lot of sense for me.

    All in all, my tattoo experience is a great memory for me, and I appreciate your kind wish that my next experience is just as positive and memorable.


  3. Pingback: Social Media L’ink’ages and the Resurrection of a Tattoo Industry Website – Algonquin College Social Media Certificate Program

  4. Great read! After reading the other commenter’s friends mishaps, I quickly did a google search on my own Japanese character and ran to the bathroom to look at my tattoo in the mirror to make sure it was, in fact, correct not that it would matter now 17 years after the fact! But I also agree that a tattoo is a very personal choice or at least it should be and if you are looking to social media to get “approval” for something meaningful and permanent maybe you’re not ready to get inked. As you said tattoos are conversation starters so there should be a great story behind every piece.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.