Social/Emotional Media: What I’ve Learned From Instagram
I’ve been using social media since 2011 but really started ramping up the hours in 2013 when my daughter started secondary school. She progressed from a classically suburban middle class primary in Berkshire (more oilcloth Boden coats than you could swing a cat at and where the ultimate goal was the girls Grammar School, an alleged Mecca where approximately three from the entire school managed to get in annually) to a Central York secondary. With this graduation came a phone and with the phone, came full blown, 24 hour social media access. Instagram was the Year 7 app of choice. I watched what she was posting, what she was tagged in, what she commented on (also widely known as stalking) and found myself becoming increasingly concerned and, worse, emotionally involved. I worried about her captions - did they have an ulterior meaning? Did ‘IDK, Liked This’ mean that she had massive self doubt issues? I worried about friends that commented, I worried about the friends that DIDN’T comment. When she hadn’t posted for a while, did this mean that she was being bullied and I didn’t know about it? For two years, it was a social and emotional minefield. Then in Year 9, it stopped. She moved over to Snapchat (a fleeting application without the permanency), barely posted on Instagram and the urge to reassure her how amazing and fabulous and beautiful she was every time I saw her looking at her phone dissipated.
Last year, after speaking on a panel about how social media is affecting our lives, I wrote a blog considering the pros and cons of Instagram as a platform (you can read it here). I’ve been posting regularly on social media myself for three and a half years. During this time, Instagram has grown beyond belief. From 400m weekly users to well over a billion, the user rate shows no sign of slowing up. I started posting pictures of my home because I wanted to document the updates and was immediately overwhelmed by the fact that I ‘met’ and ‘chatted’ with so many people who loved interiors as much as I did (much to the concern of my family who thought I was on a grooming programme cleverly disguised as a fabric swatch discussion). Prior to Instagram, I could walk around a supermarket or into a room full of people and not meet one who would have the faintest interest in the colour of a cushion or understand in any way the buzz that I got from finding the perfect vintage sideboard at a bargain price. It was invigorating, I felt as if - excuse the cliche - I’d found my tribe.
The interior network on Instagram was booming; people were gaining in confidence when it came to decorating their own homes and wanted a platform on which to show their ideas and skills. Pinterest was great, but this was interactive. You could talk to people, bounce ideas off each other, catch up on the latest trends from all niches, whether it be home styling, fashion or beauty. It was a revelation. And most of all, it was friendly. It wasn’t like Twitter, a battle of words. It wasn’t like Facebook, a barrage of competitive check in’s. It was kind, it was sociable and it was inspiring.
By basing my business on the platform, I’ve opened up my life to the 144,000 people who follow me. It’s part and parcel of my job and I never get bored of chatting to like minded people or finding a cool new account. Every day, I put myself out there, show my all to my followers (well, not quite all, obvs - I’m not that kind of account, ffs). It’s a risk but I’m happy to take it as the rewards from a life enhancing, experience and knowledge perspective are high. But what have I learned about mentally and emotionally navigating the minefield that is social media in my three and a half years of thrusting my every move on to my Instagram Stories? Three and a half years of posting photographs of my shoddy styling and ever changing rooms on to my Instagram feed? The answer is A LOT. In the interests of you staying awake long enough to read it, I’ve narrowed it down to a few main points.
The Only Way Is Authentic
Don’t try and compete, imitate or copy anyone else. If you’re posting on social media regularly, you HAVE to be yourself. Mostly, because people want to see you as you really are but also, if you create a persona that doesn’t align with your own personality then it will be bloody hard work to maintain the pretence. The best thing about social media is that it enables people to build accounts which reflect their own personalities, accounts where they can cast aside any preconceptions of what they can achieve and post their own creative ideas. Instagram is a visual media. It’s mainly about the photo, but it’s also about the caption. When people decide to follow your account on social media, they do so because they like YOU. They like what you post, but they also like what you say and the more genuine you are, the more they will enjoy following you and getting to know you. Non genuine content sticks out like a sore thumb.
Think about your audience. I veer away from moaning about my children (I’ll have followers who will struggle to conceive); I don’t talk about money (I don’t know my followers financial situations); I rarely talk about politics (Brexit chat excluded). I focus on day to day activities that are generic to everyone if I can. You don’t know the people who follow you or what their circumstances are and I for one would hate to think that I was upsetting or offending someone. I’ve made errors in the past by acting rashly and posting something contentious without fully considering the consequences and how it would affect others. Recently, I read about the idea of social media ‘sad fishing’, posting content specifically to garner sympathy or empathy, or jumping on a bandwagon in order to perpetuate engagement. Nooo. Get with the programme, people. Just BE YOURSELF.
It’s Nice To Niche
Okay, so over the last few years there’s been a lot of discussion around this subject. My own opinion is that having a niche - be it interiors, family, food, cats dressed in bonnets, tattoos or travel - is the only way to go if you’re looking for a community to make you feel good. By focusing your account on one subject, you are more likely to build a following of like minded people. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you coming out of your niche for the odd selfie or whatever - often this break from the norm can enhance your feed. If you are not on social media specifically to engage, then mixing it up is A Okay. But if you’re looking to join a community of people who all love the same thing and have the same interests as you - the BEST part of Instagram - then niche is the answer. Like I said, finding your tribe who can make you feel part of it.
Personally? I use my Stories for the fun stuff and my feed for the interior spam. Stories have always been a great outlet for talking about non feed related stuff which keeps it real. If you’re a posting addict like me, there’s also nothing to stop you setting up a secondary account. This week, I’ve set up a personal, non interior account where I can post an edit of my favourite things and anything that I want to share which isn’t interiors based. Food, travel, books, fashion - non niche, but it’s going to make me happy to share these things, so why not? You can follow me at @_lisa_dawson_edits (just to warn you, I’m going on holiday in two weeks time so be prepared for an avalanche of maxi dresses, halloumi platters, blow up flamingos and book recommendations - follow at your peril).
Never Complain, Never Explain
If there’s one lesson that I’ve learned from having a career on social media, this is it. When you put yourself out there, not everyone is going to like your content. Not everyone is going to like you (although this always confuses me that people can have opinions about others when they only see a small square). Of course, this is totally their prerogative and totally normal - you don’t have to enjoy everyones feed. The obvious (and logical) thing would be for these people to unfollow - a quick click of the button and it’s all over. If you don’t follow, you don’t need to see. Simple. Or so you’d think. A couple of years ago, I had a blog republished in an online national newspaper. I was over the moon - I’d only been writing for a year and it was a massive deal that people even read my blog, let alone wanted to share it. But I hadn’t prepared myself for the onslaught of commentary on the website from the newspaper readers. Attacks on my home, my life, my job, my cleaning habits (okay, they might have had a point there, Henry Hoover is not my friend). We were in Latvia for a wedding and I was DESPERATE to reply to them, to defend myself, but I held back (or rather Joe made me hold back, he’s much more level headed than me). Why? Because by acknowledging the comments, I would have validated the trolls.
I was recently alerted by a friend to an online forum set up purely for the criticism of social media influencers. A quick look revealed that, along with the majority of the social media community, I had my own thread on there, dedicated to discussion about my voice, my appearance, my job, my social media posts, even my eyebrows (it was obviously a pretty quiet day for that one to take precedence). It was all malicious, every single word of it. It would be very easy for me to keep checking back to see what new criticism has been posted but from a positivity point of view, this sort of activity is a downward spiral, detrimental to my mental health and by reading it, I would be not only be wreaking destruction upon my own self confidence but also validating the website. I’ve never looked at it again and I never will. I won’t even name the forum as I don’t want to give it any credence. Responding to online trolling will weaken your self worth. When you feel that you have to explain yourself, it demonstrates to your attacker a lack of confidence in your choices and principles. The likelihood is also that 99% of the time they will persist in their attack whatever you say. It’s like talking to a brick wall. Winston Churchill said ‘no matter how good your arguments are, the mere fact of advancing them would be everywhere taken as a sign of weakness’. Don’t rise. NEVER comment back. Or better still, don’t look.
It’s A Full Time Job If You Want It To Be
If you’ve dreams of changing your career or are unhappy with what you are doing in your work life, then your feed can be a truly positive place. As the platform has grown over the last four years, so have the opportunities. It has become a space in which you can grow a business, with none of the expenses (for now, anyway) generally associated with this growth. It has became a space in which, if you are so inclined, you can grow your own brand of creativity and in some cases, turn this creativity into a fully fledged career.
It’s been a particularly positive move for women - working from home means that you are more likely to be able to work around your family, thus minimising costs and increasing your quality of lifestyle. In three years, I went from working part time as a freelance transcriptionist (yes, this was a VERY boring job) to working full time as a social media content creator and writer. I could not be happier about how social media has improved my career and enabled me to channel my creativity into what has turned into an actual job. It’s taken a lot of hard work (the words ‘get off your phone’ and ‘are you listening to me'?’ are regularly thrown in our house) and many unsociable hours to get to this point, but every job I take that requires me to do something a little different, to do something that pushes my creative boundaries, makes it worthwhile. Two years ago, Joe asked me if I intended to work for cushions in payment forever. This year, I paid for the family holiday. GET IN.
There are downsides, of course. The feed no longer works chronologically (oh, the old days) so engagement is very hit and miss - sometimes it can be hugely demoralising when you spend a long time crafting good content and then it disappears into thin air. But hey, it’s just a platform. You posted a picture and it bombed. No one died. Although I’m not going to lie, it’s bloody infuriating. Unpredictable algorithm changes mean that it’s also not quite so easy to grow your account as quickly as it used to be, but there’s still plenty to be taken from it. A truly positive result of the recent upheaval on the platform is that big follower numbers are no longer the main focus of brand employment - it’s all about the quality and not the quantity. A good, well thought out photograph, an excellent caption combined with consistency and regularity of posting is still, and always will be, a winner. It’s a long game.
Whether you’ve been on the platform for years or are fairly new to social media, Instagram is still a great place to be. I started this blog by saying that I could walk around a supermarket or walk into a room and meet not one person with the same interests. On social media, the niche element of the community means that it’s easy to grow a group of online ‘friends’ with whom you have core interests in common, people that you would never have had the chance to meet otherwise. I’ve made actual, real life friends with whom I can drink wine and gossip for hours; started business partnerships with creative, inspirational people who have enhanced my life, expanded my opportunities into realms that I would never have dreamt of when I was madly transcribing disciplinaries at 100wpm whilst trying NOT to pick up my phone to check my notifications. Still trying not to do that all the time, tbh.
Interestingly, although my kids are still Snapchat aficionados, I’ve noticed that recently they’ve been returning to Instagram, slowly but surely. It’s the biggest, most popular social media platform by a mile. The opportunities that it’s bringing, primarily to women who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to have a voice in creative industries due to circumstances or background, are incalculable. I’ve met women who have gained so hugely in confidence and ability since they’ve been on the platform that they’ve moved forward to start businesses of their own, to talk on panels, to take part in campaigns for social change, to work in areas which they thought would be out of bounds. It’s truly a game changer - let’s keep it a positive, happy, kind, supportive and inspirational place to be.