“The communication that is most nearly real, that involves the person by making I’m almost a part of it, has the greatest power to sway him.”
– Philip Lesly, The People Factor: Managing the Human Climate
I’m tired of “authenticity” on the Internet. I’ve been tired of it for a long time, but to tell you about my authentic exhaustion would reek of my trying to be “authentic.”
I am a marketer. I have been studying the psychology of marketing for the last six-plus years, and the more I learn about it, the more exhausted by marketing that I am.
Because, in those last six years, I’ve seen how people have become mesmerized by marketing — we’ve all become our own public-relations-machines, our own Brands.
Brands are not people, nor are people Brands. But ask any Forbes article about the “power of personal brand” or attend any webinar given by a self-proclaimed digital marketing guru, and you’ll be told the opposite.
A Brand is a corporate entity. It tells people how they should react to a business, what a business is about. It is a corporate message, which signals to people how they should buy, and who the product or services are for.
And yet, here we are: we’re all Brands now.
Social media has made it incredibly easy to have a Message and get hundreds or thousands of eyes on it. For those who know how to masterfully manipulate marketing psychology, Brand and Message turn easily into Sales.
The only thing is, Brands are not people, and people are not Brands — and people often do not trust Brands, because Brands seek to separate people from their money.
So how do you solve for the lack of trust? Why, you make sure to show your audience your “authenticity!”
Reminder: If you have to call what you do “authenticity,” it’s probably not very authentic.
Once people know that you’re “real,” that you’re not perfect, that you’re “just like them,” well, then the guards come down. They “know, like, and trust” you — you, who have become a Brand, but have been masquerading as an “authentic” person.
The thing is: if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you really are a person. You’ve resigned yourself to (or maybe actually are excited about) becoming a Brand, because this is what you do to make money in the world today. Maybe you’ve been marginalized, and this allows you to amplify your voice for the first time; maybe you’ve been forced out of the 9-5 workforce because you dared to have a child and, even more daring, you decided you wanted to be a part of that child’s formative years; maybe you’re just sick of sitting at a desk and stifling your own creativity by listening to your boss tell you how to create and sell someone else’s corporate entity.
Whatever it is, you’re a person who needs to be a Brand. You’re on the internet because you have something special to sell, and you need people to actually purchase that something special so that you can do crazy things like…eat and pay rent, or even deign to live a life that is not uncomfortable.
The trouble is, you’ve been staging your authenticity. Especially if you’re in the body image world, where you have to show your fans and followers how you navigate a world that is constantly telling you that your body is too much, your authenticity is becoming…repetitive. Performative. Stale.
However, it’s also what works.
Just look at any viral body image account, and you’ll see (mostly-cis-) women cradling their fat rolls, showing off their cellulite, and giving passionate Instagram storied accounts of how they have period bloat and acne and that’s okay.
But it’s a performance. To get other people to see that they do body image work.
Which is also okay.
Because it helps those people to see that progress is doable, that freedom from self-hate is not a myth, and that recovery — from any body image issue or eating disorder, even — is possible.
For the person behind the lens and the keyboard — you — it is exhausting. And after a while, the authenticity begins to feel inauthentic. Because it’s planned authenticity. Because it’s “on message.” Because you’ve already moved on, but you’re stuck saying the same things over and over again in the hopes that someone will tag someone else, and you’ll get one more “YASSSSS QUEEN” comment that might open the marketing funnel and lead to a sale.
If this is your chosen profession, there’s not much you can do about it. Until we figure out a way to shut down the internet or make social media a brand-free zone like it was in 2007, I can’t tell you how to stop selling your authenticity.
I do think you deserve to spend time on social media just being YOU. The person — the HUMAN — not the Brand.
Which means not having to take transformation photos of you thin and fat (to show either how going on a diet/embracing fitness made you happier OR how stopping dieting helped you embrace your body), side-by-side comparisons of you standing up straight and you slouching (to show how deceptive photos can be), “I woke up like this” and “makeup-free” selfies (to show that you’re a real person who doesn’t need to wear makeup to be happy), etc.
Those things are important for gaining followers and prospects — I totally get it. And if it’s working for you and you need it in order to eat, then don’t stop.
But I do think that, sometimes, it’s also important to remember your life outside of your Brand.
Real authenticity, where the INTENT isn’t tied to follower count and doesn’t lead to a sales page.
So: In the spirit of using Branded social media to flip Branded social media on its head, I propose an X-day social media re-HUMAN yourself challenge. During these X days, you DON’T have to give up your brand or your selling if you don’t want to. Just complete the challenges in tandem with what you’re already doing. Just so you can remember how it feels to not be a Brand once in a while.
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After you complete the challenge, you can go back and do any of the challenges any day and any time. Because you are also a human, and you’re allowed to not be a Brand all of the time.
And yes, I am sometimes a Brand. Yes, I am a marketer. But I am also a person, and I’m trying to spend more of my time re-humanizing my feeds so that I can reduce my own anxiety, calm the hustle, and reconnect with the person who I am offline.
So…wanna try it? You have no obligation to complete all of the challenges, but you may be surprised at how much less stress about the hustle you’ll feel when you do.