Earlier this week, fashion and beauty blogger Essen O’Neill abandoned a social media empire she’d built over the course of her teen years. Deleting her accounts on Tumblr and Snapchat, the young Australian edited captions for her Instagram photos to share the far less idealized reality behind them. In a video, O’Neill is visibly distressed as she talks about the emotional rollercoaster associated with tying your sense of identity and self-worth to follower counts, likes and shares.
There’s no question that working in social media can be a soul-crushing experience at times.
For bloggers like O’Neill whose business is inextricably linked with their personal social media image, the pressure to appear perfect at all times is intense. Agency and brand marketers may have a greater degree of separation between personal and work-related social accounts, but in some ways that can cause even more negativity. It’s often unclear whether you can still have a true “personal” presence on social media that doesn’t have to be filtered in light of your career. That ambiguity (do I have a “private” social life or not?) can be similarly stressful.
As a recent post on Convince and Convert attests, there is a personal price associated with being a successful marketer. Instead of validating your hard work by looking at a single Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr account’s stats, your efforts are dispersed across dozens of client or employer brand accounts. You’re caught in a double bind, feeling like your personal accounts never get the attention you should give them, but also feeling awkward when those accounts get better numbers than those you manage for others.
It’s a lot of psychological stress, any way you look at it.
Once you start measuring and quantifying human interactions, it’s hard to stop. You become the mirror image of Cypher from the movie The Matrix. Instead of seeing a set of numbers as “blonde, brunette, redhead,” you start seeing blondes, brunettes and redheads (including yourself) as a set of numbers. When you can’t stop measuring “success,” you lose the ability to be spontaneous, human and authentic; ironically, the attributes that most often attract the very success you seek.
And if you’re not sure those really are the attributes that attract people, you probably missed The Bloggess’ beautifully transparent “embarrassing moments” conversation this week. Probably because you were measuring something.
A recent article in The Atlantic argues that making tweets searchable and indexable has lead to the “dehumanization” of Twitter, which once closely mimicked live conversation. In our zeal to measure and quantify Twitter, we may well have killed it. If we’re not careful, those of us who earn a living on Twitter and other social media channels might end up killing ourselves. But it’s not a foregone conclusion.
Setting limits is possible – even if the dominant industry culture is stuck in an unhealthy “always on” mentality. Good marketers are capable of pushing back against strong resistance to achieve our career goals. There’s no reason we can’t do it to maintain our personal wellbeing. Striving for a more balanced, grounded perspective is possible. If a person whose full-time vocation is social media marketing can take a month-long personal Facebook break (yes, I did it, last month), then anyone can take steps towards a healthier level of screen-time.
The alternative is career burnout – and burned bridges in our personal lives. Which is nobody’s idea of a good ROI.