In 2004, I needed a roommate.
I got into college and needed a place to live. There was this portal you could log into to look people up, but it was shitty and by the time I got to it all the *good* roommates were gone.
A friend told me about this platform that let you connect with people at your school that was for Ivy League schools only, which sounded cool, especially since my school was not Ivy.
But somehow we’d made the cut, so I looked it up. Heard the guy who made it was a douche because the Jewish gossip network is small. Apparently, he’d been on spring break with some friends of friends and they vouched that, while he was a douche, the platform was cool. I didn’t care because this thing was SO much better than what my school gave me to meet people.
And that’s how I learned about Facebook.
Emory was one of the first 12 schools on the platform and you had to have an official school email to get on it (imagine if they’d kept that feature, verifying you’re not a rando before letting you on holy shit).
It was another year and a half before they had pictures or a newsfeed and another FIVE years before they introduced “likes.” That’s how early it was.
You had a wall. That was it.
And you didn’t post on your own wall – you posted on other people’s walls. Like this:
You didn’t really have to *think* about what to post. You just posted what everyone else posted: dumb shit on other people’s walls.
It was natural, the same way texting your friend “running late, be there in 20” is natural today.
But being “natural” and “yourself” got us in a lot of trouble when suddenly a platform built on status updates about your hangover turned into a filter for hiring.
Which is how we learned to be self-conscious about what we post and brings me to the subject I wanted to talk about today:
Why You Feel Like You’re Forcing It on Social Media (and what to do about it)
One theme that comes up over and over again for me in conversations with entrepreneurs is how difficult it is to be yourself on social media.
“It feels forced and fake. It’s not natural. I don’t know what to post.”
I feel that way too. My life isn’t nearly as interesting as it was in college and there are profound consequences for being “yourself” online, making me even more self-conscious about how to do this right.
We’re at an inflection point in the evolution of digital media where no one is quite sure how to behave.
These platforms were created to be informal, but we treat what’s on them like we’re reading Tolstoy.
When you say something dumb in a fit of rage to your husband, you can walk it back. When you say something dumb in a fit of rage online, you lose your career.
And therein lies the problem.
On the one hand, online conversations are a form of casual conversation. We treat texting, DMs, and messenger as casually as we treat chatting with someone on the phone.
Except they’re not the same because you don’t have a transcript of the dumb thing you said to your friend on the phone (ok, the NSA might). Plus, in IRL your memory sucks, so you mostly remember how the conversation made you feel, not what the person actually said
Online, it’s different. You have the transcript. Everything is permanent. FOREVER.
The word that frightens men in Rom Coms is a regular feature of our digital interaction. Where we used to have lighthearted, albeit stupid, casual conversation, we now have permanence, weight, and scrutiny.
If you feel like you’re forcing it, it’s because you are. And you should. The boundaries between what’s casual and what’s permanent are blurry and the risks of getting it wrong are too high.
We don’t know how to behave naturally on a platform that began as a place to have fun and ended up as a troll-ridden gotcha nightmare of over-polished fluffery.
The “you need thicker skin” trope of late is partially true, but it’s incomplete. Sure, we could all use a little less GAF. That always helps. But not giving a fuck about the opinions of others is also problematic for lots of very good reasons. You should absolutely give some fucks.
So, we’re caught in a quandary: how to treat these platforms as if you’re being natural, while being completely and totally NOT natural.
Email is the same, btw. This feels like I’m talking to you, but this is edited. It’s edited to feel like I’m talking to you. I’ve taken out the “that’s” and “like’s” and other redundancies. I’ve caught some typos (no doubt many of you will let me know where the rest are). I’ve taken out the parts that have a potential to get me hate mail. I’ve fixed flaws in my argument.
I’m being deliberate with what I’m putting out here, despite the casual nature of the interaction.
And that’s not to diminish it’s realness, it’s to enhance it.
Listen, for as long as there is a moment of pause before you hit “send” it’s not natural. For as long as you can edit, amend, call back, then the form is not for open and free conversation. It polished. Polished, perhaps, to appear casual, but we all know you went through 12 filters for that photo and spent 30 mins fixing the caption before you posted it.
So, what to do about “forcing it?”
The same thing you do about all creative endeavors, get your ass in the chair and be a professional.
This commitment to authenticity would be cute if you were being honest, but really it’s a form of hiding. You’re not trying to be authentic, you’re trying to be liked. So am I! Who doesn’t want to be liked?!?
Plus you need those likes. It’s the barrier to entry for book deals and speaking gigs and brand sponsorships. Yes, it’s dumb. Yes, we should be better. Yes, yes yes yes to all the reasons you have for hating that this is true.
But consider this:
If the cost of doing business is having a presence on a platform that was built on sorority photos, then how lucky are you that you live in a time where that’s the problem you need to solve?
And not the problem of my great grandmother had when she opened her hair salon in the 1920s as a single woman with a kid. You just need to figure out how to use Canva to put a quote on a picture of a wave and inspire your audience.
This is doable.
So, yes, you will force it. The same way you force putting on a suit to go to the office. It’s a pain in the ass and inauthentic, but doable.
Show up and be a professional.
Don’t to be insincere, patronizing, bullying, or condescending. And expect you’ll feel inauthentic.
It should feel like you within these constraints. The same way the suit you wear to the office needs to feel like you (pencil skirt? A-line? Sheath dress? Power blazer? Shoulder pads? Tailored pants? Wide leg? Skinny leg?). It’s still the constraint of having to wear a suit, but there is a lot of variety behind those, ahem, beautiful constraints.
This is the difference between a pro and an amateur. The pro writes when she doesn’t feel like it. And shows up on fucking Instagram. Even when she doesn’t want to.