Andy McCune and Alfonso Cobo are the minds behind ‘Unfold’: the app that has been taking the Instagram world by storm for three years now. In just over two years, Unfold has grown to more than 1 billion stories created on the platform, and was acquired by Squarespace in 2019. Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian West, Tommy Hilfiger and Under Armour are just some of the household names that have been spotted using their beautiful designs for their stories, which are seen and shared by millions. At ages 25 and 27 respectively, McCune and Cobo have consistently showed their willingness to support social movements through their platform — this time, taking into account our current political climate and the upcoming election, they’ve set up a campaign to increase voter turnout among Gen Z and Millennials.
Unfold’s latest ‘VOTE’ collections provide 10 free, non-partisan templates for all US users to use in a similar way as the iconic ‘I Voted’ sticker. Since launching, they have been used in over 255,000 stories — 90% of which were by users under 34. We contacted Andy and Alfonso to find out more about the campaign and their efforts to increase political participation through social media.
Federico Bongiorno: First of all, I want to congratulate you both on the immense success of Unfold. Do you feel like having a tool with such popularity, especially between young people, comes with a responsibility?
Alfonso Cobo: Thank you. We absolutely feel there’s a responsibility that comes with having a big audience, especially one comprised primarily of young people. We want to be on the right side of history, not only with things like user data, but also in making sure the features we build foster community and create a safe space for users. From the start we’ve been focused on telling the right stories to create a positive influence with our users. We really believe that you can drive change through story-telling and create a positive impact.
FB: One of the principal points of interest in this upcoming election seems to be to increase voter turnout from the youth. Being 25 and 27 years old yourselves, how important is it to you to raise awareness about the importance of voting?
Andy McCune: It’s very important to use our platform for good. Gen Z and Millennials will make up 37% of eligible voters this election, and a huge portion of them didn’t turn out in the last election. Ultimately, our age segment has been alienated from the process of voting. The way that our generation interacts with the world is via tech and the internet, and the process of voting has historically been quite antiquated. When it comes to voting, our hope is that the process would be easy to access, which isn’t always the case.
I don’t think young people set out not to vote, but they end up missing deadlines or are unable to find accurate information. At the very least, we hope that our VOTE templates can increase awareness of the importance of voting and encourage young people to get a plan together to vote.
FB: You have launched 10 new “VOTE” templates on the Unfold app. Can you walk us through how that idea came to life and what you’re looking to achieve from this campaign?
Cobo: Historically, Unfold has been reactive to moments in culture and social issues—whether it’s the Black Lives Matter movement or Pride. It’s always been important to us to help people tell stories about the things that matter to them at that moment in time. We are always looking for opportunities, especially ones tied to social issues, where we can lend our platform to support, and the VOTE templates are a big part of that.
McCune: Storytelling is a powerful tool in creating change. Social media plays a role in that because it can magnify the exposure you’re creating around an issue or moment. We created this collection and the idea to challenge your followers to commit to voting by tagging them in your stories to spread awareness about the importance of making your voice heard this election. When someone shares your story as part of the challenge, there’s a compounding halo effect of exposure. You’re not just influencing one person, but their audience as well, which can push narratives further and spark more conversation.
Cobo: Beyond influencing everyday people to share, we’re also trying to reach high impact people that can reach millions with a single story. The exposure that comes with that halo effect is magnified when someone like Tyler Oakley shares the collection. We’re able to spread the message further.
FB: Social media is undoubtedly a huge force to be reckoned with in our current political state. Do you think more could be done with it in order to get more people involved in politics?
McCune: We could always be doing more to encourage involvement and awareness of politics. The more educated we are and the more we can share with our communities, the better we’ll all be.
Cobo: If you’re involved in social media, you have an obligation to be involved in politics. There’s so much more we could all be doing beyond voting, like following candidates or your local elected officials, sharing resources with your community, and engaging in constructive conversations with your audience. Especially on social media, I think we need to approach political discourse with more empathy. Politics can be so polarizing, but I’d like to see more positive conversation and friendly debates. When we create a safe and positive space, we can bring more people into the fold.
FB: Unfold is barely three years old and seems to be gaining more and more popularity as time goes. What’s next?
Cobo: Unfold is going to continue to concentrate on what we do best, which is content creation for social media. Storytelling is at the core of what we do, and we’re looking into areas to advance that capability beyond just the Stories format. We want to continue to build tools that help our users better engage and connect with their audiences.
Alfonso Cobo is Head of Unfold and was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business lists in 2019. Prior to founding Unfold, Cobo served as an architectural designer in London, designing innovative spaces for education, hospitality and residential areas. Cobo holds a Master’s in Strategic Design and management from Parsons School of Design and a Bachelor’s in Architecture from the University of Brighton.
Andy McCune is Co-Founder of Unfold and also the founder of the popular Instagram account @earth. Andy was also named to Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2019 and sits on Adweek’s Gen ZEOs Council. Previously, Andy was the founder of Coast9, an influencer-focused ad tech company. He was also the co-founder of Beta Labs, a software studio that built viral apps like Top Nine.
Featured Image courtesy of Alfonso Cobo and Andy McCune.