Social Media has been an object of my attention for many years. My first facebook account was in 2004, twitter in 2006 and of course I had a myspace before then (shout out to Tom). There are things about social media that I’ve found very useful; catching up with old friends, sharing pictures of vacations, and finding ways to make use of this global medium in business. But there was always one piece of social media that bothered me.
Everyone is performing and no one is actually representing themselves.
Although it may feel as though social media has been around forever, it’s still fairly new in the world. We’ve seen it liberate citizens from tyranny and destroy modern democracy. It grew from something only college kids could access into the thing no one can turn away from. We no longer just get news about our friends, but news about the world and even the news takes from what they find on social media. There’s a lot to digest in the world of social media, but the thing I focus on is the personal branding movement.
Social media invites a showcasing of your best you. The person that you dream of being at all times even when you can’t. There’s not a lot of love for the you that binge watches Netflix or isn’t hustling 24/7 on your side project. The you that has doubts and fears about the what’s happening in the world and the you that sometimes just wants everything and everyone to go away. When you slip into an addiction, the love from your peers doesn’t come until you’ve successfully climbed out of it. It’s a constant barrage of greatness.
There are plenty of studies out there on Social Media and Depression, and the general consensus seems to be that the more time you spend on social media the more narcissistic, depressed, and jealous you become. Yet, we scroll through our feeds, glimpsing at pieces of a persons life that makes it seem as though everything they do is grand. That they are always on vacation and that they are just plain living a better life than you do at every moment.
To compete with the pressure of living up to your peers, you share your moments of triumph and hide away your moments of weakness. Your feed becomes a timeline of moments you believe other people will be impressed and you start to build up your personal brand.
Personal branding took on a new meaning once influencers became part of our lexicon. People began to see that if they appeased a certain audience enough they could get paid for it. Now, there have always been celebrities and people who were more influential than others. But what started to fascinate me was the idea that everyone needed a personal brand. Somehow the idea of “being yourself” was conflated with branding and few people seemed to notice. It was no longer about “being you” it became about “being a representation of your audience”.
Things started to get really worrisome when the gurus started coming out. They flash a lifestyle you wish you could lead and tell you they can show you the way. I can’t fault these gurus for what they do. They learned that it’s more important to sell people a lifestyle than it is to provide anything of value. It reminds me of a recent story reported by This American Life on David Diamond a boiler room con man who would get people to invest in non-existent companies. When a FTC agent was trying to catch Diamond in a lie, she asked a very blunt, “how much are you investing in this company?” to which Diamond replies, “Nothing. My payment is when it pays off for you”.
When a guru online shares how they can help make you rich if you just follow these simple steps, ask yourself, “if this guru is making so much money with these tips, why would they ever share them with other people?” The answer is always the same. They are making their money selling you the course, not by using the content in the course.
Why is it important to understand the guru mentality? Because if you are constantly seeing a life you could be living and it is based on a lie, it will force you into acting in ways that at best won’t get you ahead and at worse, will actually put you further behind.
Social media is the mecca for “fake it until you make it”. We no longer have to worry about keeping up with the Jones’s next door but also the Jones’s in other cities, countries, and continents and guess what? Those instagram feeds are not filled with the struggles they are facing, unless of course that struggle is something they’ve already overcome. Because nobody wants to follow the person who’s life isn’t working out.
This isn’t a cry to stop using social media, but it is an attempt to get people to focus on something more than just showcasing themselves and building their personal brand. If we take a few minutes and think about the benefits of an interconnected world, the power of social media becomes apparent. But we need to stop the race to the bottom of being better on social than others and stop alienating people, some who we know and others we don’t, and start showcasing the real us online.
Personal branding is a plague on our humanity and social media is the carrier. Friends showcasing life highlights, guru’s making you feel like you just aren’t working hard enough to be successful, and the human desire to keep up appearances have infested our daily lives.
On the surface, the problem may seem to be overblown, but if the personal branding and performance aspect of social media has taught me anything, it’s that the surface can be deceiving.