Living Life On Social Media: The Pros & The Cons
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke on a panel for Hey Human, a digital agency based in the supremely cool, repurposed location that used to be The Ministry Of Sound and is now a workspace. The subject was Social Media: Is It Time To Log Off? and my panel colleagues were industry hardcore. Paul Sutton, Digital Marketing Consultant; Ian Collins, host of The Late Show on LBC and Shirley Cramer CBE, CEO of the Royal Society Of Public Health. This esteemed group (myself excluded, being esteemed only in matters of paint choice) were all seasoned public speakers, eloquent and knowledgable, experienced and professional. They knew their stuff, were adept on Twitter (my least favourite platform) and I knew they'd have plenty to say. As a procrastinating mother of three who fell into social media due to a love of cushions, chat, colour and copious Sauvignon Blanc, it's no exaggeration to say that I was feeling a little out of my league.
However, the subject got me thinking long and hard about how I felt about the platform which has, over the last two years, created an entirely new career for me. Bearing in mind that Facebook only launched to the public in 2006 - a mere twelve years ago - the impact of social medias on the way that we live, socialise and work has been beyond what could ever have been anticipated. Twitter was created the same year, providing a mainly non visual base for news, debate and ideas. When Instagram launched in 2010, it was a creative addition to the idea of 'sharing' - instead of the Facebook standard of kids, holidays and checking in at the pub, it could be used for a niche purpose such as fashion, beauty, hobbies and, latterly, interiors.
My children are products of the millennium and as such, social media has, for them, always been standard. My daughter uses Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp; Max is 14 and uses all of these, plus YouTube. Leo is only nine, but was laptop and tablet savvy by the age of two and logs on to YouTube as casually as we switched on the television. The way that they live their lives has changed dramatically from the generation before them. But is that a good thing?
As someone who works in social media for a living, I'm bound to be a fan. Every day is different, unpredictable. Every day brings unchartered territory, every day brings new inspiration. But I'm not naive about this - I'm completely aware of the fact that my life and, indeed, career now revolve almost purely around Instagram, a function which is basically an app. Literally, just an app. I often have palpitations at the idea of my account disappearing or being hacked (I can barely write those words on the page without falling over in an anxious state). I have 117k followers who know, in full detail, the in's and out's of my life every day - what I eat, what I like, where I go - and I've probably only met about 30 of these people in real life. So what are the pros and what are the cons of us laying out our lives in photos for all to see on a daily basis?
It's Socially Positive
There's no doubt about it, Instagram is the best place ever to expand your social circle. Albeit web based, there is no better way to find others with common interests. It matters not what these interests are, either - whether you are into fashion, motorbikes, skateboarding, animals or S&M (preferably not at the same time), there will be others who are into the same thing. By using hashtags, you can, as they say, 'find your tribe'. Prior to posting on Instagram, I rarely found anyone who enjoyed interiors as much as I did - people entering my home generally looked askance at my decor. It was a total revelation to go online and find people who got excited about popping on a charity shop trawl, buying a cushion at 70% discount or paint colour contrasts.
Because it's content based, you can focus on your own niche and once you know what that niche is, you're away. I've made real friends on Instagram, people that I talk to every day and who inspire me and encourage me - I've even set up in business with Instagram friends. Who would ever have thought that would have been a possibility when I started posting? It's a door opener.
It's Creatively Inspirational
Good photographic content is the key to winning on Instagram and it's an excellent push to improve your skills. From producing dodgy, Valencia filtered photographs of the dog and my shoes back at the beginning, to posting daily, I've upped my content game and expanded on something that I always enjoyed but never excelled at. Styling shots and taking photographs has been a learning curve but posting daily has improved my skills no end. Anyone who posts on Instagram will confirm that getting your shot just right is a real feel good moment - there's as much creative satisfaction to be gained from nailing it technically as there is to receiving feedback on the post.
My blog itself evolved from caption writing - I was asked so many questions about what I was doing in my home that it was the natural next step. I'd always been a total grammar freak - English was one of only three subjects that I managed to secure an O'Level in at my first attempt (I know, it's shocking, my parents nearly fainted when my results came in) - and I'd been transcribing non verbatim for years, so writing for myself and not for others was a total joy.
It's Business Building
Let's face it, there has been no better platform for the launch of a small business than Instagram over the last three years. I've lost count of the times that I've seen creative people have an inkling of an idea, run with it and expand that dream into a reality. The increase in social influencing has meant that there's a route to market that is not expensive advertorial and the niche nature of the platform means that businesses, both big and small, can focus on a more precise demographic. Whatever your passion, it's possible to create your own virtual business online and push it out there to your specific market.
In our post Brexit economy, this 'Insta market place' means that we as customers can support smaller, home grown business rather than automatically going straight to the High Street. Plus, it means that we have the opportunity to buy things that are unique and curated, discover smaller artists and find new sellers from all over the World that we wouldn't otherwise have access to. It doesn't get much better than that.
Be Authentic Or Go Home
Authenticity is key. If you're not authentic, social media will chew up and spit you out before you can say 'follower buying'. The combination of content posting, Instagram Stories and now IGTV means that being genuine is the only way to go and there's no hiding from it. Social media is a voyeuristic space and portraying yourself as something you are not is never going to be a winner. You can always tell the non authentic accounts - their post 'like' stats are nowhere near their follower stats and their engagement is lower than low. There's no short cuts on social media - you can buy followers, you can use pods, you can pay people to shout you out, but you cannot hide the fact that your content is shit.
Conversely, this is one of the reasons that I love Instagram and why I've listed it as a pro and not a con. It's not all about the followers. It's about the content that you produce and how you use it. It's called social media for a reason - you should be there to create, enjoy what you are doing and most of all, engage. When it comes to followers, it's quality not quantity.
My daughter is being brought up in a society where, until recent years, the concept of the ideal body beautiful in the traditional media has always been akin to a Twiglet. As social media develops, this is wholly no longer applicable. Body positive is the Instagram buzzword - we have role models who are not the size of savoury snacks, women (and men) who are happy in their skin and not afraid to say so. Because why should they be? WE decide what is our norm, no one else. With this (not in the least astounding) revelation comes confidence and this confidence grows with the support of others on the platform.
Whatever your 'norm' is - be that size 6 or size 20 - there's no judgement on your choices. This concept of being yourself (I know, it's revolutionary) continues across the platform into other areas, whether it be fashion, home interiors, how you bring up your kids or what kind of car you drive. Instagram is all about the creativity and individuality and is fiercely non judgmental. No negativity please.
Okay, this is a no brainer. It's addictive. In fact, all social media is pretty much addictive. As I mentioned above, there's a voyeuristic element to it that is eternally tempting. My husband recently deactivated his Facebook account after finding himself scrolling aimlessly through his feed looking avidly at someone's lunch whom he hadn't seen since 1989 when he was supposed to be watching The Handmaids Tale with me. He managed to last three whole weeks before I noticed he'd started checking in at David Lloyd again (a check in that ranks alongside putting your car in for a service when it comes to monotonous posts). Many is the time that I've shouted at my children 'I JUST NEED TO POST THIS RIGHT NOW' when they've tried to speak to me. Equally, I've been pushed over the edge when they've completely ignored me calling them for dinner as they're too busy watching Dan TDM save the world on YouTube. It's not going away, it's growing at an uncontrollable rate and it's here for good.
The Perils Of Oversharing
I'm always really, really careful about what I put on social media. I'm fully aware that I don't know 99.9% of my followers - I have no idea of their lives, their problems or their social situations. I veer away from politics - people don't follow me for that reason (although I'm not going to lie, I'm pretty pissed off about Brexit). I don't moan about my kids (although of course, it's often tempting) - I will have followers who can't have children and the fact that mine haven't tidied their rooms or have woken me up early isn't a life changer. I don't talk about my financial situation or anything related to that as everyone has different financial situations. I also don't talk about the intimate details of my marriage or my sex life (although I'm always surprised at the people who do). And most of all, I don't moan about minutiae because there will ALWAYS be someone who is having a much shittier day than me.
(*Disclaimer: even if people don't like me talking about breast cancer, I will continue to do so FOREVER in the hope that one person will be moved to check. Interestingly, for info, whenever I do I lose about 200 followers. I don't know what that says but I don't like to think about it too much, tbh).
In the two years that I've been posting on Instagram, I've been trolled six times. I have to admit that each time it's happened, I've been completely freaked out. It immediately makes me want to hide in a corner, deactivate my account and lock all the doors. Extreme, I admit. But there's something about an unknown, faceless person being personally vindictive towards you that really gets you where it hurts. It's madness, I know, to feel this way. It should be easy just to laugh it off. But actually, that isn't in our emotional make up and if anyone says that it's easy to do that, then they're not telling the truth. Because the problem is, we don't really understand why people would want to attack someone that they don't know, we can't rationalise it, it makes no sense at all.
Of course, the problem with having lots of followers is that I am actually ALMOST asking for it, ridiculous as it may seem. There are some vicious people in this world, we all know that. I choose to put myself out there, talk about my family, talk about myself, show myself on camera every day to over a hundred thousand people. My choice. I can't complain. But it's still vile when it happens.
Ah, so FOMO (AKA Fear Of Missing Out) is the bane of social media. Facebook is classic for this. We don’t really want to see everyone’s holiday pics but the idea that everyone else might and we won't sends us into a spiral of panic. The social dynamics of Instagram are enough to send anyone over the edge. Why has someone commented on their picture and not mine? Why does that person always look at my Stories and never like my posts? Why did that person not respond to my direct message? Why have I not been tagged in that post when everyone else has? I'm not gaining followers as quickly as everyone else - why not? WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?! It's a minefield, I tell you, a minefield.
Bandwagon jumping is rife on Instagram. Recently, a rival social platform, VERO, was launched. Everyone and their dog rushed to start posting and sharing - me included - until it became obvious that a) it was ridiculously slow and unable to cope with more than four people using it at one time, b) it had a dodgy business background and c) it's virtually impossible to maintain two similar platforms at the same time. Where is it now? Who knows? And quite frankly, who cares?
Ten years ago, I can remember being horrified reading a magazine article which announced that Guy Ritchie and Madonna TOOK THEIR PHONES TO BED. I mean, seriously? At the time, it seemed the most ridiculous thing to do. Who would possibly do that? Nowadays, if I wake in the night, the first thing I do is check my phone. And that's equally ridiculous, I know, but hey, it's addictive (refer to Cons for proof). When I spoke on the Hey Human panel last month, Shirley Cramer CBE announced an initiative from the Royal Society Of Public Health to try and get a handle on our extreme usage of screens and social media. Called Scroll Free September, there's five different levels to aim for, ranging from total abstinence for a month to simply leaving your phone downstairs when you sleep. You can sign up for it by clicking here. Small steps that can actually make a difference and keep those Cons at bay.
So where's the middle ground? It's hard to know, but initiatives such as #scrollfree could help to balance it out. Instagram alone has grown from 200m users to 1billion users over the last two years - it has no boundaries, no stop button, no limit to what it can achieve or where it can take us as it's users. And that's what makes the future of social media so very, very exciting.