Everything Is Ephemeral: Facebook, Popularity, and the Creation of the Social Self
For two years, maybe more, I’ve helped real estate agents, writers, and entrepreneurs create strategies for using Facebook for business. I’ve read countless stories and books on the subject, I’ve discussed editorial calendars, the benefits of photos, links, videos, private pages, Facebook groups etc. I’ve been to seminars, I’ve spoken at conferences. I’ve immersed myself in this platform but I’ve never liked it. Perhaps it was its emergence from a college networking program that made it always seem sort of clique-ish and invasive to me but more often I think it was because I had become accustomed to having a blog (or in my case, a series of websites, and blogs over the years) to codify my thoughts and journal. Facebook just seemed less interesting to me and to be fair, I never really got MySpace either.
Now I’m in the position of advising people that social media is more than Facebook and pivoting my own social strategy. There are a few reasons for this. The first is, as I always tell people, invest most of your time in the platforms you have control over (your website) and use the others to serve the hub. Social media is about distribution and communication and it’s always evolving. The second is that Facebook itself is being more and more restrictive with its algorithms for business pages. It was always bad but the latest changes make it nearly impossible for businesses to show up in feeds without paying for it. The feed itself is supposed to serve you more of what you like but instead what really happens is the filter bubble effect that cuts people off from things that they might like intermittently but not consistently. The third is of course, that people are moving on. For teens, Facebook is where their parents hang out. For early adopters, Facebook is mostly passé. It is terrible on mobile, which is where most of us are now, on phones and tablets. It’s beginning to feel dated.
So, I tell people, there’s more to life than Facebook and you have to explore. I hear a lot of groans from people over this. They don’t want to learn a new platform with new rules, invest time and energy and then suddenly see everyone decamp to somewhere else. I’m noticing this with Instagram, it’s growing in popularity, it’s mostly mobile and visual, it’s highly appealing, nearly addictive. I’m having a great time playing with it. I also know that it too will fade away. And remember, Facebook owns Instagram so algorithms of restriction are always an issue. I add content to the platform but I also save my pictures elsewhere knowing that Instagram isn’t going to last forever.
But this is life, ebb and flow with change as the only constant. From platform to platform we are increasingly able to bring friends from other platforms but we are also bringing a new version of the self. Each new platform is a fresh chance to refine and hone the social self. The social self is a constant of sorts, we take our personal brands with us. If you encounter me on Instagram or Twitter you will find the same obsessions, the same ones I write about on websites and talk about in classes. The “me” is always a work in progress but not radically different from place to place.
Still, change is tough, especially when we are doing well somewhere. This morning I finished reading Commander Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide To Live On Earth and one of the most interesting parts for me, weren’t the space stuff, which is fascinating, but how he dealt with the extreme changes in his life. He spent two decades in pursuit of his dream, training, learning new languages, spending time in uncomfortable situations, being examined and re-examined, testing and training. All for those few moments of glory. All now past him. And yet he is remarkably sanguine about it, about the spotlight and the disappearance of it. How does he deal with it? He knows who he is. Who he is remains constant , what happens to him is out of his control. Even the massive viral social media success he has experienced is temporary, he knows this. He’s smart enough to not be consumed by it. Sure, a few million Twitter followers is nice but virality has a shelf-life.
What I advise people is to think about the social self independent of the platform. Each platform has its own rules, strengths, weaknesses. Any social media nerd (myself included) can teach you basic rules of use (profile pic sizes, recommended frequency of posting, hashtags etc.). What we can’t really teach is the creation of the social self, that is something that shouldn’t be outsourced lest it lose its authentic sense. You may be tempted to have someone else run your social profile and that is okay as long as you control the overall sense/direction of the content. Build the self first. I use these prompts to guide people:
I am—(this is the bio, but deeper than that, it’s the essential self).
I see—(what do you see most of the time in your life? Is it food, books, houses, your kids, your pets, crafts). Many social accounts these days are related to your daily viewpoint, often from the lens of your mobile phone, so it’s important to think on these terms.
I produce—What do you make or do? Do you have a business or service you create? Are you going to use social to promote this and if so how does (or doesn’t) it dovetail with your personal life.
I share—(what is the bulk of your content? There should be 3 or 4 basic themes, some related to what you do for work, some related to your hobbies/interests/personal life).
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