Between blogging and trying to grow two small businesses, I spend a significant amount of time on social media. As a function of that, I participate in a few online communities where participants discuss social media as it relates to business. In our discussions there, as well as in conversations in general, I have sometimes run into a recurring sentiment that I believe it is high time to challenge. That sentiment sounds something like this:
“If I see someone advertising their business on social media, I just immediately delete them. I don’t want to be sold to on Instagram.”
“I wish people wouldn’t talk politics on Facebook and we could get back to what Facebook was intended to do: connect family and friends.”
“I haven’t talked to her since how school and now she is inviting me to “like” her business page. I was so offended by that.”
Women, can I just say, when it comes to social media, it’s time for a reality check! I’m specifically writing this to my fellow women because on the whole, I don’t hear this from men. Both men and women network and connect with real friends, acquaintances, and strangers each and every day in order to promote their businesses, make contacts and grow. Those who are successful are able to understand the difference between personal relationships and professional ones. They are also able to keep their emotions at bay when separating the two.
But when it comes to the realm of social media — Facebook in particular — somehow we got the idea that our Facebook “friends” are really our friends. We treat it as though it is part family reunion, part girls night out, not to be desecrated by impersonal topics. Maybe it has to do with Facebook’s origins as a virtual yearbook for college students back in 2004. Social media as a whole was in its infancy. Since then a multitude of platforms have launched, each with its own unique spin.
But the one thing all types of social media have in common is this: it’s still media. A platform. A way of disseminating information of any and all kinds. And for that reason, we can’t look for it to be a safe space from anything. Not politics or religion or business. We also can’t look to it as the primary way that we maintain our actual friendships.
A 2016 Oxford study confirmed this as well. In looking at the relationships between Facebook “friends” and real friends, the researcher found that the average user had 150 Facebook friends, but only 14 were those with meaningful relationships and only 5 could be considered close.
In my counseling practice, I regularly combat the tendency of women to feel depression or anxiety as a direct result of comparing their lives to what they see on social media. What they fail to realize is that what they are comparing themselves to is not an inside look at the real lives of others. They are looking at A BRAND. Every person with a social media profile is building a brand whether they realize it or not. Maybe the brand is “Perfect Style,” “Pinterest Mom,” “Healthy and Fit” or “Barely Makin It.” But in any case, make no mistake, it’s a brand.
Does that mean we are all fakes? Not at all! We all want to put our best foot forward to the world at large! Or at least, we want to put forth the image that we feel works best for us and that we are comfortable presenting. Remember that 5-14 people figure the Oxford study referred to? That’s who gets to see the behind the scenes. Recognizing these distinctions (the Brand vs the real life; the Facebook Friends vs. actual friends) is the key to being able to use social media to empower your life.
One way we can achieve this is to recognize the way that social media has empowered women to be able to work from home, market a brand, and create networks of connections to individuals far and wide. Millennials seem to be particularly more adept at understanding and harnessing this power than previous generations and for obvious reasons. But even for those older GenXers like myself, if we can move beyond the idea that Facebook is a relationship manager and embrace it as a powerful tool for business, philanthropy, social advocacy (and whatever we make it), it has the power to transform our lives.
Too strong of a statement? I don’t think it is. Just in the past 12 months, I’ve seen several women I know launch successful brick and mortar business using Facebook as their solitary advertising vehicle. I’ve seen even more succeed in work-at-home businesses, in sales, blogging, education, and many other areas. For generations, women have struggled to “have it all.” Many have come to the conclusion that being the mom they want to be and having a career they love is almost impossible. Women have frequently sacrificed promotion or being in a field they are passionate about, as they have traded their passion for flexibility.
But the far-reaching connectivity of social media has for the first time made it possible for women to connect to the world without ever leaving home (if that’s our desire). It has made it possible to advertise on our own terms, work the hours we want, and reach networks of people we never could have reached before. My fellow women, it may never be possible to “have it all,” but I think this is the closest we’ve ever come.
So instead of being hurt, offended, and upset when social media doesn’t turn out to be as personal and intimate as we hope, let’s recognize its power for women specifically. Let’s stop giving it so much power to control us and our emotions and instead, approach it as a tool at our disposal that our mothers and grandmothers didn’t have. Use it to connect, network, reach out, grow, start a business, plan an event, and if you so desire, use it to conquer the world! And then, when it has served that purpose, let’s close the laptop and meet our real friends for coffee.