The irony of writing a blog post about the travails of social media is not lost on me. That’s the thing about it – it’s a beast fraught with contradictions. On one hand, it’s power to shape our thinking, give a voice to the voiceless and mobilise people into action is unparalleled. On the other, at the level of the everyday mundane, it’s a lot of meaningless chatter, an incessant buzz.
The online personas people craft may or may not be a true reflection of their real, everyday messy lives. We all get this, yet who can resist a vicarious scroll though the lives of those we’re secretly crushing on. Anyone not had a snoop around the profile of the one who got away, or of the one you’re happy to have gotten away from? When I lived overseas, I loved seeing snaps of the weddings I’d missed and of friends’ newborns I’d loved to have squeezed in real life.
Social media has always been just that for me – social. Until now, when I started an Instagram account to help grow my blog. Releasing my privacy settings gave me the jitters at first but it got me 7 whole followers. I had 9 a few days ago but I lost two.
The first time a stranger followed me I was super excited and secretly congratulated myself on my clever hashtags. The second time it was as thrilling. But, in a naive attempt to keep it real (we all want to grow our brand organically and authentically right) I thought I’d suss them out, see if I liked their feed and if we seemed compatible, and if we did, I’d follow them. I thought they’d give me time and space to do this but, within a day, poof! – they’d vanished. Unfollowed. I was back down to 7 followers.
It’s here that I checked in with my wise and hilarious yogi friend who’s generated an impressive Instagram following – she’s been coaching me and giving me titbits. She told me you have to play the game. So, curious to see if I could woo back my ex-followers after they’d dumped me, I started following them. But they weren’t prepared to forgive my tardiness or dish out second chances, they’d moved on. So I unfollowed them – and I still have 7 followers.
Apparently it’s a thing – people follow you just to get a follow, then unfollow you. And there are bots that generate automatic comments to attract followers – and apps that can track when people unfollow you. It’s a minefield and I’m not sure I’ve got what it takes. Having crossed over from social media as a mindless time waster to a potential marketing tool the goalposts have shifted and I find myself thinking more strategically, more sneakily. What tricks can I learn to bump up my following from a single digit to a double digit number? Can I compromise my morals, be a bit promiscuous and follow new followers without even checking them out? Like or even gush over the posts of complete strangers in the hope they’ll notice me? Have a few more ill-fated flings? I think so.
Social media – we can vilify it, ridicule it, and hypothesise about it’s detrimental effect on the very fabric of our society. But we can’t dismiss it. We can manage it’s intrusion into our lives and of course we can opt out completely, but despite our misgivings, how many of us feel able (or willing) to disconnect from it all. Social media is a platform, it’s a way of communicating a sliver of ourselves, presenting our shiny bits to the world. A place to showcase our professional wares, to broadcast our beliefs. It is, as anthropologists like to say, a construct. Be too much of a purist and it becomes very un-fun. Get hung-up on the authenticity of what people post and you might get jaded. Most of the time it is, essentially, a game, not grounded in reality, and I think we all get that, which is why it can be such fun to play.
My Instagram handle is @backyardanthropologist and I’m on the market.