Although I have no aspirations of becoming a social media influencer, I feel pressure to make my content as “good” as those of professionals. I was surprised to learn that this urge isn’t universal. If anything, many people just want their content to be of similar quality to what their peers post. They might edit their photos and plan out their feeds, but mainly for their own visual and organizational satisfaction. The vast majority of social media users—the long tail in terms of follower count—don’t mull over aesthetics, coordination, or audience perception at all(!) and simply share random things they do and encounter.
Maybe I feel this pressure because I’ve been in semi-professional digital environments where it’s common to present yourself this way (sometimes to a comical or obnoxious extent). I’ve worked on social media marketing in different organizations and have always been drawn to copywriting and content strategy. The job of an influencer involves applying these strategies to create a brand out of themselves. Perhaps I subconsciously set professional expectations for myself, but without the commitment—and therefore, results—of a professional.
Influencers’ ability to shape their image into something aspirational also seems like a formula for putting the best version of yourself out there. Be the perfect blend of glamorous, successful, funny, and authentic. Even though today’s culture praises vulnerability and authenticity, expressions of those values must be strategic. When we aren’t viewing someone’s highlight reel, we’re still seeing a filtered excerpt of their life: “I struggled. Now I’m reflecting on it and telling the world in a calculated way.” The act of selecting photos and writing captions forces you to process your raw experiences.
The more followers you have, the more there is to lose. (On Twitter, being visible also heightens my concern about the frequency of harassment.) I might think, “I know pictures of people get more likes, but I really like this nature photo I took. Should I not post it?” Followers on Instagram feel particularly transient. If I unfollow someone for whatever reason, there’s a good chance they’ll unfollow me to maintain a high followers-to-following ratio. The relationship that seems to be mutually friendly is actually mutually tenuous, reinforcing my preoccupation with what content is “safe.”
What should I do instead? I’m trying to cultivate a Work-life Balance™, and though I didn’t realize it initially, that’ll require changes in my social media usage. I shouldn’t just reduce my screen time, but also delineate what’s for me and what’s for my “based on a true story,” for-consumption brand. I think it’s okay for me to curate my content like a Pinterest board—to plan out pretty feeds, enhance photos, and pen witty captions if I want to. But it should be for enjoyment and for myself—not from insecurity or in pursuit of unattainable perfection.
Thanks to Linus for feedback on drafts of this, Rebecca for comments on the initial idea, and Shayna and Jess for sharing their views of social media.