I get stressed about social media. If you look back through my Instagram feed you’ll see a long series of inconsistency, with posts sometimes appearing up to twice a day, or as little as once every two to three weeks. There’s a simple explanation for this: I’m not comfortable in the world of business social media, and it shows all over my Instagram.
So why bother posting at all? Why not eliminate the stress entirely? Ask any small creative business owner, and they’ll tell you they need social media, that it’s a critical part of their marketing, that it’s a huge part of their brand.
90% of small creative businesses in Berlin use Instagram, according to a recent study by the Berlin Kreativ Kollektiv e.V. (Image source: Berlin Kreativ Kollektiv e.V:)
Free social media is a vital tool for countless independent businesses. For those of us who can’t afford to hire PR agencies, marketing gurus and branding experts, platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are vital for simply letting people know we exist. They allow us to spread our entrepreneurial message, build a following, and maintain control over how our brands are viewed.
Yet this vital tool is only truly effective if you’re someone who knows what you’re doing. And I do not know what I am doing. Oh sure, I’ve read all those articles that promise to fix your social media woes (you know, the endless versions of “5 things every business Instagram user needs to know”), and I’ve taken them seriously, too. I’ve built social media strategies, outlined lists of keywords and hashtags to stick to, decided against writing about my work in the third person (we are not royalty) and selected my “signature” filter. I’ve used posting apps like Later so I can maximise productivity and have stopped (mostly) posting photos of my cat. I’ve done everything the internet experts have told me to do. So why does this Instagram game still feel so hard?
Today's snake oil? Endless blogs and articles, promising to provide you with the ultimate Instagram strategy (Image source: google.de)
Of all the strategies I’ve tried, none of them have lasted more than a few weeks. The hashtags change (you hear rumours about algorithms picking up on repeat hashtags and that makes you nervous). The filter changes (you hear that lightly filtered images are no longer trendy – now it’s all about fresh, clean images). The productivity posting apps fall by the wayside (sometimes they just feel like even more hassle). The photos of my cat sneak back in (he’s just so fluffy). Overall, my relationship with Instagram is like my relationship with flossing: I’ll be great about it for three weeks, then it all falls to shit.
Mended socks, dust bunnies, swatches, holiday photos and a cat: my Instagram feed feels like a rollercoaster of inconsistency
I can also admit that I’m surprised at how hard I find Instagram. I’m a confident person, I enjoy writing, I have a ton of opinions, my work is interesting, I’m quite organised, and I like attention. Surely those are all perfect ingredients for being a natural at business social media? (No.) Besides, I like using Facebook for my own personal use, and can there really be such a big leap between that and a business Instagram account? (Yes.)
I’ve been confused and frustrated at my own inability to self-improve at business social media, and not understanding the stress I experience whenever I think about it. I tried reading up on the links between stress and business social media, but most of what I found wasn’t too relevant or helpful. In fact, most of what I found were just more of those endless “5 secret steps for social media success” listicles.
Then I found a post that finally started to hit home. The Little Black Desk Society posted a short article about cognitive dissonance and fear of unauthenticity experienced by female entrepreneurs on social media, and it spoke to so many of the issues I find in running my own account. Just as the article outlined, I struggle with separating my personal self from my brand, and I don’t know where to draw the line. I am a one-woman brand, and for people to connect with the brand, I need them to connect with me. But exactly how much of me do they need to connect with? How does someone cope with the endlessly blurry lines between professional and private? (These are genuine questions, not rhetorical. If someone has the answer, please tell me.)
Then there’s the question of authenticity that the article addresses. I’ve always known that social media accounts are heavily edited. There’s simply no way that every creative business out there is being that productive and that creative and that successful every day. Sometimes I have a “dead week”, where I don’t sell anything and I’m not working on any exciting creative project, I’m just bouncing between meetings and catching up on expenses. What am I meant to do with social media then? Lie and post old photos, pretending to be more creative than I really am, or share the mountain of receipts I’m entering into spreadsheets? And what about the times when I feel unmotivated, unsuccessful and uncreative? They say honesty is the best policy, but won’t being totally honest about the negative experiences of running my business make me (and my brand) look unprofessional, whiny and unstable?
Even with something as basic as having a cold, there seems to be this odd pressure to make it into something inspiring and productive
Honestly, this is what I find so exhausting. I never know where these lines are, and I get tired very quickly of trying to find them. Without knowing how honest I’m supposed to be, I get lost almost immediately, and I’m struggling to understand the answers I need. I’m a person who responds well to targets. Set me a goal, give me a deadline, give me homework, and I’ll get it done without fail. I can’t stand to let people down, so if I know what someone expects of me I’ll do everything I can to make it happen (basically, I’m a total suck-up). But with social media, I’m still not sure what people expect of me, and there seem to be no goals to work towards. Without that, all my posts seem kind of pointless, just wafting around in social media purgatory, being neither terrible nor particularly successful. So perhaps I need to buck up and tackle this once and for all. Maybe it’s time to set some goals. Maybe someone can tell me what you expect and give me some homework?