Updated: Mar 9, 2019
Every other week I meet with my accountability group. The group is the brain child of my friend Serena who started Ladies Who Do Cool Shit. We meet, go over accomplishments and goals, and resources we need. It's pretty simple but within that simplicity are the seeds of deeper connections, reflections and introspections. We share a level of vulnerability most of the world doesn't get to see. This is a safe non-judgmental space where women come together and talk about where our professional lives are and where we want to be headed. So it was in this intimate, sincere, grounded and safe space that many of the entrepreneurs shared a common theme within the group. We really dislike how inauthentic social media feels when promoting an idea, project or business that is close to our hearts. We also felt like we were alone in feeling this way, until the group confessional brought it out.
As a fledgling entrepreneur, my experience in to the business world as felt has felt less like a boss lady lioness and more like that baby bird that jumps out of the cliff nest and hits every rock on their way down the mountain. It's vulnerable, terrifying and lonely.
I'm plagued with daily questions and stresses, many connected to social media marketing. Is being myself a strong enough band image? Am I willing to adapt if it isn't, and become someone else? If I don't have my SEO configured correctly will my business go up in flames, dying in the abyss of the internet? If I'm not constantly posting content will I fall behind and fail? Was my post flashy / hip / cool / deep / (Insert favorite buzz word) enough? Should I be marketing myself according to what followers like, even if that dilutes accuracy? When influencers promote inaccurate information but gain followers, does this mean my area of expertise no longer has value? Should I be adapting to this culture? Do I look "likable" enough in that post? Will remaining authentic render me irrelevant? Do I have to live in a 24hr. content cycle to succeed, or can I still have periods of rest where I'm allowed to focus on practical, "IRL" relationships that feed and nurture my soul? Did I post enough content this week? Am I even doing this right?!?!
It can be a terrifying existential trip down a virtual reality K-hole. Often presented as an easy way to get your brand, company, or product exposure; social media marketing is actually much more complicated than first impressions would have you believe. I went to graduate school for puppetry. Never in a million years would I have predicted I would need to know anything about website development, SEO's, marketing strategies, and a whole host of other internet related info that has me believing if I don't get it right, my company will fail. It's a lot of pressure to "get it right" and it's made worse when you inevitably begin comparing yourself to other profiles, pages and sites. Paying attention to followers was never of interest to me, until this year. And if I'm being honest- it's still not something I care about... and that also feels like I'm making a mistake.
For me, like the other women in my accountability group, we care about human connection. Most of our businesses come down to having personal interactions with others in the real world. We know our product, whether it's coaching, photography, nutrition... we know our area of expertise and we want others to benefit from our knowledge and experience. We also enjoy the human connection most of our work brings us. We aren't a polished social media persona. We're real people fearing that the world we are trying to do business in no longer values sincere human connections. Does the work you do cease to be relevant if you don't get a 5 star review or a testimonial? Will you lose an opportunity or a client because you have less than 500 followers?
So how am I dealing with this challenge? The only way I know how, taking a page from Shakespeare and Poloniusing the shit out of it. When the anxiety kicks in, I'm learning to take a step back and focus on who I am. I ask myself: What do I love about myself? Am I being true to that? Do I hear my voice when I'm speaking or does it sound forgiven to me? Do I remember why I'm on this road and why it's important to me? At the end of the day, if I succeed or fail, will I still know who I am and like that person? This is the stuff I'm channeling for my business brand, because this is what I know.
The concept of just how distorted social media market has become, was solidified for me during a conversation with my therapist. She was sharing my frustration with social media and noticed how colleagues new to her field were crediting themselves with expert status. In one case she noticed one colleague who professed to be an expert, claimed a graduate level status and mastery in additional training in less time is physically possible to be considered an expert... which in the field of Psychology is not only irresponsible but unethical. She also sighted colleagues who used instagram to promote their practices while using sexually suggestive photos, which again my therapist found ethically compromising given her field. And even though she found their behavior unprofessional, and even reckless, they all had massive followings.
The truth is, my specific business is niche. I use the tool of puppetry to teach and develop soft skills, increasing the potential for success in leadership, collaborations and teams. I know the world needs people who can communicate, listen and work together more comprehensively. I know the corporate world can also benefit from employees who enjoy working together, led by managers who champion and inspire. I know this, because this was part of my professional journey and I know that my puppetry training helped be bridge divides in areas dependent on soft skills. I know all this in my heart from experience, and I know this is really deep shit... I realize this. I also know that if I have to market this in a way this is built around #blessed or LOL, I won't be able to stomach it because it's counter to the work I'm doing.
So I continue to focus on making personal connections a priority. This means I have to hustle in two directions, online and in the real world. So I do my posting, get my two likes from my few followers, and then I go out into the world, where I'm actually comfortable. I meet with people and engage face to face. I talk about life, art, community, science, and an abundance of other topics with engaging and interesting people. When I host a workshop, I can find the common ground in a room that may have a climate scientist, a reporter, a military vet, retired firefighter and an improv teacher (literally a class grouping I had once). I can do this because I know who I am and I love engaging with people. This is how I do marketing best- by not focusing on not marketing. This is also how I maintain my humanity and sense of self, which really is my highest priority.
This approach will most likely take longer. I won't be thrown into the world of the influencer, reaching 1.5 million with one post... but I think I'll be ok with that. For me, it's more important to make a sincere connection and see that moment when a participant understands the importance of the work they are doing. My validation is in the ripples, not the tsunami. Maybe this approach will one day become totally invalid as the social media market takes over. But my choice until then, is to either yell into an echo chamber or to try and actually be heard, the only way I know how: Connecting and engaging with people "IRL."