Social Media: Influencers and Inspirers

Influencer: a person or thing that influences another, a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media.

Inspirer: someone who inspires, fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

I will never forget hearing the title “social media influencer” for the first time. I was coaching a group of 15-18-year-old swimmers when I overheard a conversation about a crush someone had on. “She’s an influencer,” the boy stated. I was immediately filled with curiosity. What in the world was an influencer? A quick Google search between training athletes filled me in. “A social media influencer is a user who has established credibility in a specific industry, has access to a huge audience and can persuade others to act based on their recommendations.” Apparently, an influencer can bring in $30,000-100,000 per year by promoting products. The trick? Getting over one million followers. No wonder our society is obsessed with hashtags, selfies, likes, and tagging brands- myself included! As I have fallen into these practices of meticulously well-thought posts and hashtags, I began to wonder if this was sustainable. If you know me, my passion for sustainability is now at the forefront of all my practices.

Let me be clear: I believe social media is a necessary evil today’s society. As someone who uses it as a marketing tool (I used Instagram to communicate about this blog, for example), I believe it is helpful for expression, communication, sponsorships, and staying in touch with family. I also have been negatively impacted by social media by no fault but my own. This blog is a somewhat of a ‘journal entry’ of mine, a result of curiosity and self-analysis regarding my use of social media and how I can help others who have struggled with it as well. You may be an influencer, an inspirer, or just a guy or gal who enjoys posting an occasional photo! I hope you find this blog helpful, regardless of your social media stance or presence.

As one of the unique millennials to go through my early teen age years without a cell phone or social media, I have an interesting outlook on how significant the impact has been on humans (especially teens and young adults). Since being introduced to social media (age 14, myspace and Facebook in its early glory days) I’ve been off and on and off and back on again with platforms like Instagram. I would go online for a few months to a year, get exhausted from it, delete it, get bored, create a new profile and see how long it lasts. This pattern was not sustainable, so recently I decided if I was to be on social media, I was committed to being authentic, keep things real with my audience, and limit my time spend scrolling. I think self-expression is extremely important and being online has brought me joy in that regard, but also realize the tears I’ve cried stalking an ex or the rage I’ve felt after seeing some posts.

So, is it good to have social media? Should I avoid being online, or change the way I interact online? Is it just a timewaster? Am I trying too hard to be… influential? Is it worth it? How can I protect myself from the pitfalls of social media?

I feel it’s important to note that my experiences on social media have led me to believe that it’s given some of us a false sense of influence. I believe we tend to seek the attention and affirmation of gaining thousands of followers that think, act, dress like you do. The idea has crossed my mind: “If I just post this photo with the right caption and hashtag I could go viral and have it made!” I’ve had both positive and negative experiences from social media and learned a lot about myself in my time spent online, as well as in the breaks I’ve taken from it. Positives include sharing free workouts to people during a global pandemic, staying in touch with my friends and families overseas in various time zones, and learning from climate-change and fitness education-based platforms. Negatives include arguments from clashing political beliefs, angry emotions and mood swings from reading bragging-based posts, wasted time from scrolling, and jealousy from accounts more successful but seemingly less educated or passionate than mine. Perhaps you can relate?

I’ve learned that if I post something looking for a response, affirmation, or attention, I generally experience more self-doubt and negative emotions. If I post something authentic, honest, and creative, I generally experience more independent, positive emotions. Generally, the more confident, genuine, and self-aware I am at the given time, the more equipped I feel to stay true to myself online. The disassociation, I think, happens when people project their insecurities publicly and analyze their value based on people’s response.

So, in response to those questions… is social media good or bad? Is there a benefit to openly sharing, posting, interacting and engaging with people online? It is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of studies and reviews. Studies have found a connection between social media use and feelings like loneliness, depression, and poor life satisfaction. So, IF you’re going to be on there, are there ways to limit my experiences to negative things and enjoy more of the positives? I would say Yes. In response to “Is it merely a time-waster?” I would state that social media has, at times, seemed to threaten face-to-face interactions, but it may be streamlining those conversations at the same time.

From the research I’ve done on the topic, it’s important to have a clear and aware understanding of yourself prior to exposing yourself to the opinions of the world. As you might know, it can be a harsh world. A photo you thought would go viral gets only a handful of likes and minimal feedback, a crushing blow after your excitement and time spent thoughtfully putting a clever caption together. The person you’ve been crushing on shares a selfie with someone else, triggering stabs of jealous and anger. Your dear friend makes a political statement that shocks you, giving way to the notion perhaps you shouldn’t be friends at all…

 “This is a very, very hot topic,” says Jeffrey Hall, PhD, director of the Relationships and Technology Lab at the University of Kansas. “Overwhelmingly, the literature says that if there is an effect, the effect is extremely small, and is likely not in the direction we expect.” This means “that it’s more likely that people who are depressed, lonely, and have poor quality of life are more likely to turn to social media to resolve those pre-existing lacks in their social world, than it is the case that people who use social media are causally becoming more unsatisfied with their life.”

Citation: https://www.apa.org/members/content/social-media-research-series

While I’m no therapist I would recommend those struggling with self-doubt, identity, and emotional or mental health struggles refrain from looking for the answers online. While social media may or may not help these individuals is unclear, but I may reason that the more energy spent fully focused on one’s self, the better. Social media has a reputation for being a timewaster.

Now, there are several people in the subcategory of marketing-those who are only online for the occasional required brand post and that’s it. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to push a brand, especially one you enjoy using! I’m all for sharing a good brand of flour, dumbbells you enjoy, and whatnot. What I’m NOT in support of is the notion that sharing useful things may lead to fame, fortune and popularity. While this may seem silly to some of you, those of you who are self-aware and could care less how many likes or comments or retweets you get, realize there are people young and old who have grown to find an identity in posting photos filled with brands and hashtags in hopes of becoming an influencer (or who perhaps feel they are an influencer) and such a notion can lead to psychological consequences and pitfalls.

I want to bring us back to the opening lines of this write up and tie it into what we’ve reviewed about social media. Below is a brief self-analysis that may help shed light on where you are in your personal self-awareness journey. Your responses may help you determine if you’re interactions online will lead to further positive or negative emotions, and my hope is that conclusion will help safeguard you from the pitfalls of social media. There are no wrong answers.

  • Do I want to influence others to use the same brands and products as me; am I trying to become a brand influencer and why?
  • Does my self-worth hinge on how well my posts are received by my audience?
  • Do I want to inspire introspection, self-realization, and positive adaptations?
  • Do I post in such a way that encourages meaningful conversations, open to controversial or opposing beliefs, or do I prefer to avoid conflict-based interactions by posting in a neutral way?
  • Do I have emotional and psychological issues to work through, such as anxiety and/or depression, and will being online positively or negatively affect the work I’m trying to do on myself?
  • Am I exposing myself to anyone that makes me feel negative emotions, like jealousy, sadness, or anger? Should I create a boundary by muting or unfollowing them to limit experiencing these emotions?
  • Am I fostering an authentic environment for myself to share original ideas and real-life emotions, or projecting a version of what I think may bring me, or my followers, the illusion of perfection and happiness?

If I’m being honest, and perhaps I’ve been too honest, I would say there are times when I bounce back and forth from to confident and aware to searching for affirmation. I still occasionally scroll aimlessly through my news feed and look up people that initiate negative emotional responses. I’m learning the consequences of these actions and challenge myself to limit intentional self-sabotage. After all, I really enjoy chatting with friends online, learning new things from posts they share, and communicating my experiences and knowledge as a resource to people who are open to it. Perhaps the question not IF you should be on social media, or is it good or bad, perhaps the question is how are you using it, and are you creating a positive environment for yourself? Dwayne Johnson, one of my favorite celebrities to follow, seems to be a shining example of a fellow who openly commits to speaking from an authentic place, both good and bad, and addressing controversial topics head-on. He is now the most followed man in America, and the most followed American man in the world. He cites authenticity as his driving resource in gaining popularity and promises to continue his honest communication with his audience. This is an assumption, but I have a feeling he doesn’t check his stats or interact with trolls much… He’s too busy accomplishing things!

In conclusion: My goal, and reason for being online is to share my lifestyle with the hope of I inspiring others to continuously search for sustainability, happiness, and personal growth. Anything that strays from that goal (scrolling, stalking, comparing, boasting, “humble bragging”, searching for quick affirmation) could lead to negative emotional consequences. This may mean unfollowing or muting some accounts, thinking about purpose before posting, talking to peers about how you feel, regularly taking account of your feelings (self-analysis checks), taking breaks from being online, and good old-fashioned self-discipline in terms of time spent using social media.

I hope this inspires you to reflect. I believe we are all capable of real inspiration, and right now the world could sure use more of it.

Keep it real out there!

Becca Kawaoka

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