If social media didn’t exist, what would you be doing right now? Would you still be reading this blog post? Would you still have brunch plans at that trendy cafe you saw on Instagram? Would you even still be living where you live, working where you work, knowing who you know?
It’s commonly said that ‘social media is not reality,’ or rather these days it’s shown through those ‘social media’ vs ‘real life’ comparison snaps, of which I’m sure we’re all well and truly tired of being reminded. We’re warned to take what we see with a pinch of salt, approach what we read with caution, and always always remember that followers and likes are false measures of popularity and have no bearing on who we are. But, how many of us have really thought about what our life would look like if we took all that away? How many of us can really say that social media is not at least partially our reality?
You may or may not have heard that this week Instagram experienced some security problems and a number of accounts were lost. Years worth of photos, messages, memories, communities of hundreds and thousands of followers, all vanished just like that. Though I wasn’t directly affected, it was hard not to empathise with the devastation a number of people felt having had a such huge part of their identity erased. Whilst to some, losing a social media account is easily shrugged off without a second thought, there’s no denying that the online space has become a lot more than a place to google celebrity facts and get home decor inspiration. For a lot of people, it’s a core component of their business, their social life, and has an impact on everything that they are.
Over a year ago now, I sat in my first post-graduation job interview across the table from two very serious and suited men at a reputation management firm – something I didn’t even know existed up until that point. I’d prepared myself to answer any question about my skills, my education, my experience and my aspirations. I was confident, I’d done my research and, whilst it wasn’t exactly the job of my dreams, I was keen to give it a shot and, at the very least, pick up some skills through the process. The interview started well. I gave the usual run down of my background, my studies, my past work. But then the topic of my personal social media presence arose. Now, I wasn’t surprised that they’d looked me up. You hear stories all the time about recruiters checking out candidates on social media to find out what kind of person they might be employing. And I wasn’t worried either. I’d always been careful to keep my profiles clean of anything controversial or negative and stay out of the firing line of criticism. There was no reason for my social media to impact my reputation – I mean, at that point, it was just food! But what I didn’t anticipate was just how much interest it would spark in potential employers and agencies.
‘So you’ve got over 20,000 followers? That’s very impressive. How did you manage that? What’s your strategy? We’ve got people with professional blogs working here but none of them have built up as much engagement as you. How much do you earn through it? Is it something you want to do full-time?’ It was flattering, yes. For what I’d created as a hobby in my spare time at university to become a platform worthy of acknowledgement and even consideration as a full-time job is something I will always be proud of. But it also felt incredibly strange and somewhat fraudulent to take any praise for it. There was no strategy. No real intention behind what I was doing. I always just wanted to be myself. I always just wanted to write.
I’ll let you know now that I didn’t get the job, and on that instance I was glad for it. But it did make me begin to think that social media might just be my biggest advantage. I started considering how I could use it to gain favour in certain places, how I could build it to create more opportunities, how it might be my best shot at getting a step up in my career. It was amazing how powerful something that wasn’t even a physical entity now felt in my life, and harnessing that soon started to pay off.
Practically every job I’ve had and every opportunity I’ve been given this year came about because social media made me stand out from the crowd. (Oh, if only my eighteen year old porridge-decorating self could see me now, she’d be very pleased indeed…). There’s no denying that, intangible as social media may be, it manifests very real experiences and very physical rewards. But when being yourself starts to become a commodity, a skill, an asset that needs to be utilised, needless to say you get into a bit of a complex about who you are.
Stats and sales matter in the space of social media. Numbers are important, much more than any of us care to admit. And as I started conjoining my work and my use of social media, those numbers started factoring into the way I perceived myself and the way people perceived me. I found myself and my worth being judged more on how many followers I could get a brand by collaborating with them, how many products I could push or tickets I could sell to an event. If the results weren’t as high as hoped, then it was my personal character and my voice that was a failure. That’s a pretty tough thing to deal with sometimes.
I can’t dismiss the incredible positives that social media has given me either. The friendships, the conversations. I’ve been educated on so many issues I would have otherwise been completely oblivious to, I’ve been shaped by social media in more ways than I think I’ll ever really comprehend. To say that isn’t reality then seriously makes me question everything I am writing, sharing, believing. It makes me so unsure of whether any of it really means anything, if one day it could all be gone.
I really don’t know what a reality would be if social media were to just one day disappear, as I’m sure it one day will. I’m not certain if anxiety and self-doubt would diminish. I’m not sure if I’d be happier working at my own pace without feeling like I should have five best-selling books, travelled to at least 20 different countries, and have had an embarrassing stint on TV by the time I’m 25. And the fact I’m not sure of this makes me think I had better take a step back to find out… But that won’t ever change that this platform has been embedded in and is representative of my identity. I know that my voice here is mine, and it is shaping my reality whether I like it or not.
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