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What if all the social media apps disappeared tomorrow?
I dreamed of going viral - it's time for some balance.
Social Media and I have been having a bit of a ‘time’ of it lately.
It began with the launch of Threads. Usually one to jump onto the latest social media bandwagon, I found myself irrationally angry about this new platform.
It was as if something shifted in me, a switch went ‘click’ and I just wanted to scream ENOUGH!!!! (In fact I did a bit, on social media).
A little calmer now, here I am exploring this further, wondering about whether it’s not quantity but quality when it comes to social media and our work, and the role it plays not just in our careers but also our private lives. (And, of course, the way those two things are intertwined).
I would always have said you have to be on social if you want to build yourself a business, career and be a brand. But do you?
I remember B.I. Before Internet. We waited for people to turn up. We waited in the library at uni for someone to call the payphone at 6pm, as arranged. We took photos on disposable cameras, then digital ones, and we arranged prints in albums.
When email dawned, we emailed each other from different sides of the room at uni. The same room where we had to go to write up and print our work.
I remember when my friend Caroline enticed me to join Facebook - I replied something about MySpace still being best. I joined anyway. And I still use it (I argue, for work, mainly…).
Back in my pre-teen and teen years, I wrote diaries, and I would even, at times, pretend I was being interviewed for a documentary. So the ‘showing off’ part of social media, the sharing, the wanting to get feelings out, was there way before anyone created grids, reels and threads.
I know that part of the burnout I felt as a freelancer that I wrote about in my last newsletter was connected to social media. Correction: A LOT of the burnout was connected to social media.
If freelancing is dating, then social media was the ghosting f-boy who I could never quite please before the goalposts changed.
I scrolled - even before I had been for a morning wee - and I absorbed what everyone else was doing. Before I had made a cup of tea, or sometimes even said hello to the dogs, I would be looking at other people’s lives - the ones they showed me, anyway - and letting my brain soak up all the feelings that went with their ‘success’.
When Reels became a thing, I really jumped on the bandwagon. I became borderline obsessed, spending time with props and saving audio, videoing everywhere from a dog walk to the kitchen via the supermarket and my office.
I looked at my insights and views, desperately waiting for the numbers to go up.
I joined a group (paying a monthly fee) called Reels Rockstars, tried to make myself lipsync (quite good at that, yay) and transition from one outfit to another (terrible at that). Then… threads! join threads! people screamed.
(Reels Rockstars is v good if you want to be into reels by the way!)
There was a real demand, an ache to be seen, to be noticed, to be liked. For those little numbers to go up and up. To go viral.
I didn’t know quite what I expected from going viral. I even began to create a podcast called Going Viral. True story.
The thing is, the world seems to back up this need to be seen digitally. I met with a publishing agent who said in order for publishers to want to chat to me I needed around 20k followers on insta. TWENTY THOUSAND.
At first, I thought I best change things to make them fit, to clear up that grid. After all, I saw others with nice, clean grids and loads of followers getting book deals.
(Book deals are the other show off success story, right? More of that another time I expect).
The more I made the grid fit the pattern, the more I began to feel even less like me.
In my freelance life I had a lot of time to look at social media and I was on it a lot in order to try and build a following and business. I tied myself up in knots trying to get the content right, trying to make something that would go viral. That was my goal, each time. To create something that would be seen by thousands if not millions of people, to perhaps catapult me into the influencer-sphere.
Then what, though? We all dream of that viral post, I think, when we create something for social media. We are all a version of ourselves, one that wants to be seen, heard, and celebrated.
The thing with social media and sharing online is I think we think it has to be an all or nothing commitment. We’re either IN or OUT. What about.. well, to quote the hokey cokey, in-out-in-out shake (the content) all about?
In a recent episode of the Freelance Feels podcast*, Natasha Devon told me how we can be the puppeteer, rather than the puppet, curating what we see.
“We have quite a lot of power - more power than we realise. Because everybody talks about the algorithm,” she says. “The algorithms are responding to what you’re doing. And, yes they’re amplifying it, but if you change your behaviour, the algorithms will change. if you change who you follow, and what you interact with…. there’s a button you can click on a lot of social media that says ‘I’m not interested in this, don’t show me any more of this’. if you make smart choices and pick good role models, there is so much nourishing fodder out there on social media.”
In the Observer Magazine on Sunday (July 30) Florence Given wrote about her journey and experiences as an influencer. ‘Every time I logged on was judgement day, activating my body into flight or fight’, she wrote, before charting her journey to burnout and then rediscovering the simpler joys of posting on Instagram.
She notes that ‘Joyful content doesn’t perform as well on the algorithm as the hateful rage-fuelled sensationalist pieces encouraging quick emotional responses and debate’
I loved the piece, you can read the whole thing here.
So what now? Well, my main conclusion came to me and it’s not that long: It’s not about using social media less, it’s about using it ‘better’. It’s OK to be on platforms, to engage, to mess about, to create content.
It’s also about where else you show up. If all the social media apps disappeared tomorrow, what then? Where else would you be present, be known, be contactable? Would people be surprised to see the ‘real you’ outside of those portals?
Since I took the full-time role I’m working in, my husband has noted on more than one occasion that I’ve changed. His observation is that I’m not always talking about what other people are doing on Instagram. I’m not flitting between ideas and projects, and posting, hoping this post will be THE ONE. I’m CALMER. Less focused on the possible fame and fortune I see social media as giving.
I do believe creating content can and should be a part of our careers if we want it to be. We have amazing platforms now that go beyond a diary or a pretend interview. No more waiting for those prints at Boots.
We can explore opinions, find out what we think thanks to the process of writing captions. We can curate community, connections and build our network so that we progress and thrive in our careers or business.
That’s no bad thing.
But we just need to remember that it’s have a wee first, cup of tea second, then you can check those socials. That you don’t need to video everything. And that you don’t have to join every single new app that’s created. That you can be you, and have a career, outside of social media.
*The podcast has now come to a happy end, and there’ll be a brand new one coming in the autumn. It’ll still be about work and careers, and be an interview style.