Finding that Line on Social Media that Turns Branding & Community-building into Self-obsession
June 19, 2017
We’ve all heard the rant a thousand times – the constant, detailed daily gym or run posts, the “I-look-so-pretty-can-you-even-believe-I-woke-up-like-this” posts, the constant “I-love-my-amazing-boyfriend-so-so-much” posts, or the “here’s-the-sushi-dinner-we-just-had-for-no-good-reason” posts. And they can go on down pretty much any avenue. I truly don’t understand these people. I have little time or patience for self-obsession. I love supporting my friends when they do a run or complete a workout of which they’re particularly proud. I love making sure that my friends know that I think they’re beautiful. And I love everything about love, so I’ll “like” away on pictures of happy couples. I love my people and I’d do anything for them, but I want the same in return. And narcissists ain’t got time for that.
Social media is a narcissist’s haven – they can tell you all about themselves by taking over your feed with intimate and/or mundane details about their lives, tell you to feel sympathy or pride for them, and never have to actually interact with or care about you. They can be the centre of attention (at least in their minds) all day long. Basically, it’s their dream come true. And then, as always, life happens and they have to go out in public where they can’t be the centre of attention. It shakes their whole me-vs-world balance … Until they return to the safe haven their phones and computers provide.
I’m lucky, though. I’ve seen rants by friends who seem to have a lot of these me-obsessed folks running around them online, taking over their social media feeds. I’ve really only got one, and that one drives me up the wall. But I feel like there needs to be more of a distinction made between oversharing and self-obsession… Some people like to share everything online. That’s totally cool. I’m with ya, sister… share all you want about the horrible traumas you suffered, the headaches and tender moments you have with your kids, or even the anger you have over the excessive issuing of parking tickets in your area. I’m with ya. I’ll even look at endless pictures of your dog and cat because they’re cute and it’s sweet that you love them. You know why? Because it doesn’t feel like you’re doing it because you’re self-absorbed. Maybe you need to share what’s weighing on you, maybe you are struggling or really proud, or maybe you’re doing your own version of a PSA. Whatever it is, you’re doing you. And, you’ll still like my status updates and you’ll comment on my pictures and congratulate me on any successes I announce, just like I do on yours, and I’ll know you’re being honest because we engage back and forth continually. And you’re never one to ruin someone else’s good thing. You’re a part of my online community. You’re a part of what makes social media such a beautiful thing. But the self-obsessed folks take oversharing as an excuse to carry on sharing the irrelevant details of their everyday lives, thinking it’s totally okay. But it’s not. They miss that one crucial detail – authentic engagement.
This distinction between the two types of oversharing has all been a little top of mind lately for a couple reasons: 1) I can only send updates to my friends for so long before it becomes embarrassing that I’m so up-to-date on this one person’s life whom I don’t even know very well, and 2) I’m terrified of falling into the category of bad oversharers.
By nature, social media marketing for entrepreneurs can seem pretty self-admiring to outsiders. From a marketing perspective, entrepreneurs are working to create a brand for others to buy into, whether they’re a small business owner, a musician, a writer, an artist, or a photographer. But, social media is so much more than its marketing benefits. Everyone knows that social media can help you stay in touch with friends and family around the world – that’s kind of where its roots are. But there’s a perk that not everyone fully realizes exists – the opportunity to develop a beautiful online community. When you put yourself out there and don’t shut yourself in with privacy settings, and when you engage with others who are doing the same, you can create something really unique. When you share your likes and dislikes, your most exciting and beautiful moments, your hobbies and your happy places, you can attract like-minded people (or at least people who are interested in the things you’re sharing). And then you get to share in their life story as well. In this beautifully connected world (which, I’ll concede, is exhausting and a bit of a hassle at times), social media lets you connect with people of all walks of life, with all different kinds of experiences, from around the world. I’ve had people contact me from so many parts of Canada and the USA, but also have had people engage, and even order my book, from Kabul, Mexico, Australia, and various locations in Europe. I’ve had people from Russia reach out, as well as South America. I’ve had people ask about translated versions of my book because they want to read the story in their native language so they fully understand the many nuances… How surreal is that? It’s definitely not something I imagined would come up in my first year, let alone first few months of publication! I’ve had some creepers and rude folks too, of course, but that number is so, so small in comparison to the good.
One particular story that really opened my eyes to the beauty of social media is that of a friend. This friend was going through some pretty tough times while struggling with gender identity issues. Living in a place where this kind of confusion isn’t looked kindly upon, and doesn’t help foster a lot of sincere friendships, this person went online. They connected with major activists in the LGBTQ community – some even verging on celebrity status. They also connected with other people in the same boat. They found authentic friendships online when they couldn’t find the support in their hometown. This combination of support from public figures and others enduring the same struggle made all the difference. It gave them the security net that every person needs, and deserves, when struggling through something so major.
This interconnectivity is for more than just us regular people though. A lot of celebrities and public figures are on social media as well, and you can connect with them on what feels like a much more personal level than has ever been available before. One example is Kaley Cuoco. I love following her on Instagram because I like to see her horses, videos of her goofing around at the barn or with her boyfriend, playing with her doggies and throwing appreciation parties for her staff. Through her Instagram, I feel like I’m seeing the “real” Kaley Cuoco – not the awards show/interview version that we were limited to seeing prior to social media and that helps me want to follow her work more. But there is something for everyone – connect with world-class surfers, vocal environmentalists, your favourite athletes, fellow booklovers, politicians (the Obama’s, anyone?)… you can connect with anyone. You can get a glimpse into their “real” lives and their authentic selves. You’ll see what they do in their “off” time, what’s important to them, and maybe even a little bit of their everyday personality. They might even engage with you. Or, others who like the same things as you might find you and engage with you. And then you’ll have a cool little network of people you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get to know without social media. Of course, this can breed some negativity as well (as we’re all too aware of right now), but I’m focusing on the positives for this blog post… You know, subscribing to the belief that love conquers all. So I’m focusing on how social media can help spread love.
But creating this community for yourself can be hard, especially when you’re trying to balance your in-person community with your online community. To share enough in both worlds to make proper connections can be exhausting. It’s a lot to give and put out into the world when, sometimes, you just want to curl up in bed and forego all communication. Social media communities, I think even more than in-person friendships, require constant attention. I notice a drop in followers if I go more than 24 hours without posting. If I stop engaging, people call me out and stop following me at an even faster rate than if I slack on posting. You’ll see it with Instagram celebs too – you’ll see them interacting in the comments on their posts and on similar accounts. No one likes a narcissist. So, if you’re sharing online, you should be engaging too. That’s how you get the most out of it.
This is why I’m afraid of becoming one of those self-obsessed goons that drive me up the wall. As much as I love being and engaging online, it’s tiring for me to always be engaging while also remembering to take pictures and post. Luckily I’ve got a pretty supportive #instaboyfiend who’ll take photos when I ask him to (most of the time), and I’m getting a tad more comfortable with selfies. But, sometimes he just wants to enjoy a cool moment and, sometimes, I really hate the idea of selfies. And then, sometimes, I just want to turn off my phone and disconnect from the world. And by ‘sometimes’, I mean most nights. I’ll make it a reading or Netflix night, I’ll go out for dinner, take a long walk with my dog, or do a workout. And none of these seem like they’re worthy of an Instagram photo, at least not most of the time. Maybe I could include it on an Instagram story, but I still have a hard time believing anyone cares what I post on there. It just feels a bit more dauntingly vulnerable than an Instagram photo. I’m fresh on weekends though, plus my weekend life is a whole lot more exciting than during the work week, so I’m a dedicated Instagrammer on weekends. But it’s not a weekend warrior kind of thing, just like you can’t just sometimes respond to your friends. I lose followers during the week because I’m not that great at posting or interacting, even if I do scroll and like to stay interested in what everyone is doing. By Sunday night, I’ll have gained them back in numbers, and maybe a few extra, but I’ll probably have lost them again by the end of the following week. From a marketing perspective, I’m not growing. From a personal perspective, though, I’m happy here. I’m always feeling a tad torn between wanting to get the word out about Unsealed to more people and just enjoying the community I’ve created. And, getting back to my fear of becoming a narcissist, even these last few sentences feel a bit narcissistic. It’s like I’m saying “how many people love me now??” Ugh. But I do know that it’s different. I really, truly think that these online relationships are special. It’s really kind of inspiring to see how many people I’ve connected with via Instagram, even if it’s just to like and comment on each other’s posts on a regular basis. It’s opened my eyes to so many different worlds.
In short, I’ve never appreciated the effort that Instagram celebrities put into their Instagram lives. From, say, a Hollywood celeb’s perspective, they have a whole lot else going on with work and promotions and travel and volunteering, and to toss Instagram into the mix… well that is some top notch multitasking! For the regular people who take to Instagram and make a personal brand that thousands around the world delight in following, kudos to you – that’s a lot of effort to put in, not knowing whether you’ll resonate with anyone, and then ending up surrounded by this love-filled community... That’s pretty special.
I wasn’t sure whether Instagram was the right avenue to sell books, given that it’s a photography-based platform, but it has proved very worthwhile... For a lot more than just selling books. Social media is totally worth the effort it requires; just don’t let it turn you into a narcissist.
Now if I could just take up drinking coffee again…