Today, everyone seems to consider themselves to be some sort of marketing guru, art director, photographer or all of the above. Now where is this extreme sense of self-importance and all encompassing talent coming from? Oh yeah, right (Insert emoticon: one clearly smacking itself in the head): It’s the almighty smart phone––along with the billion apps that help you “do it all”. Never has it been easier to be your own little brand ambassador. Personally, having cracked my neck perfecting my craft over the last few decades, I find this new sense of insta-talent to be disconcerting. Do these digitally native youth even know how heavy a drafting board is? Can they even remotely grasp the linguistics of producing a manual print mechanical? Have they ever inhaled spray mount—unintentionally? I swear my lungs are heavily coated with this toxic glue, which may explain why at times I can be a bit “combustible”.
There is no denying that the advent of social media, though still with its drawbacks, has been revolutionary for niche marketing. Its ability to target specific audiences has changed the game. However, incorporating social media channels on a personal level can be even more challenging, especially for those who have mastered a career of flying under the radar. Believe it or not, there was a time when allure, elegance and privacy were a cool thing. That no longer seems to be the case. Today, instant gratification, exposure and “likes” are the equivalent of the glamorous life. Even five-year old’s are addicted to their Instagram accounts and check their number of followers regularly. Yet, I marvel at these digital natives’ willingness to post just about anything without angst, and for making “Selfie” the buzz word of 2013. By the way, a selfie is exactly what it sounds like and just as absurd as those of us from another generation might imagine; a self portrait taken with a digital device to be sent to friends and posted on the internet.
I, being more digital immigrant than native, recently uploaded a modest selfie, one that was only from the chest up, a fully covered chest––but not before I seriously considered the consequences of how folks might interpret the posting. Only hours later, I was totally upstaged by another one of Kim Kardashian’s infamous derriere shots, which certainly put things into perspective… not that I am judging Kim for her behavior. Oddly, on some level, I actually envy her for making billions off of her “asset” along with her clear ability to quickly adapt to and monetize in the digital sphere.
There’s no disputing that social media has changed how we live, what we share and how we interact on a very human level. We rarely communicate with each other directly anymore. We connect via devices and social channels—a third party is always involved. My 15 year-old niece claims she and her friends can’t go even one day without checking their Twitter, Instagram or Facebook accounts. As she aptly summarized it, “I’ll find myself sitting there and refreshing my news feed over and over again, waiting for someone to post something. I know it’s sad, but honestly I don’t think I could go one day without my phone. I’m constantly on it, checking social media or texting friends.” I can certainly believe it.
The irony is that social media is clearly making us less sociable, even perhaps to the point of being antisocial. I would even go so far as to suggest that the better term here is down right uncivilized. Social media has altered social boundaries. You see it everywhere; folks are glued to their iphones while walking in a crosswalk, dining in a public restaurant or during the forbidden act of driving. We no longer have any boundaries in regards to what we say either. Behind the veil of the internet we insult and scar others with horrifying words we would never dare say to someone’s face. Clearly, we need to think about how we define social etiquette in this media-obsessed world. Have we forgotten that speaking on a phone while in a packed elevator is totally rude? How do we not know that stopping while in the crosswalk to answer a text in front of a car waiting to make a right hand turn is wrong, never mind inconsiderate? Is the best conversation you can have in a crowded bar really with the palm of your hand? This is what a generation raised on technology, has ultimately come to.
Beyond just the blurring of social boundaries as they apply to interpersonal contact, people now seem to find it necessary to broadcast every waking moment of their lives. There are evenings I may be out with the girls or with “him” that are moments I would like to simply keep to myself. And yet suddenly it has become my job to police what photos my friends (a.k.a. the new public paparazzi) are taking of me. Of course I then have to scour Facebook profiles the next morning to see what unapproved photo may have made its way into the eternal world of the internet.
The thing is, I care about my personal brand. It wasn’t too long ago that a signed model release indicating you agreed to having your photo taken was required before anyone––corporate entity or individual––could use it, and that included being paid a modest fee. Now everything is in public domain and up for grabs, and our only recourse is to block or de-friend a supposed “friend”. As a branding guru, I never post a less-than elegant picture of a friend despite how glam I think I might look in it.
Looking back on my career, I find similarities in today’s social media revolution to when digitized stock photography first came onto the advertising scene and simply kicked commissioned “film” in the butt. It ultimately put companies like Kodak more or less out of the business. Clients were suddenly willing to buy stock photography at a lower price point that just “sort of” fulfilled a concept. Or even worse, they began tasking us, in the branding field, to retrofit their ad messages around existing digitized art rather than paying for commissioned on-target creative. In my mind, that time marked the beginning of the end of quality advertising and branding: a time when clients and consumers were starting to accept mediocrity as being good enough. What’s wrong with a little pixelization in advertising––and in life?
The one thing that holds true in branding is that whether you are building your own personal profile or that of a corporate giant, ultimately there’s only one thing we can control throughout all these social channels: our own behavior. It would be great if someone could develop an app for just that. Whatever you deem your brand or message to be, social media forces you to be authentic with it and to truly own it. In essence, we are all in need of social secretaries, helping us to protect our personas and products, reminding us of our core values, and recruiting fans to like us, and to negate some of the inevitable bad press. Not everyone is going to like you—all the time. Look at Subway, Applebees and Weiner.
Author Jonathan Franzen was blasted when he commented on “the impact of social networking on writer’s lives.” He claimed Agents were buying material more on the quantity of an Author’s likes than on the actual quality of writing. Ultimately suggesting that social media might very well be the downfall of literature as art, as it succumbs to popularity and “followers”. Whether right or wrong, he has clearly struck a bigger nerve. It seems that the new trend thanks to social media is to “like” things, not necessarily because we like them but because they already have the most “likes”. Perhaps social media is in fact the most glorified form of peer pressure. I mean, why else would Kim’s butt seem to have a cult following?
Look, I’m no angel. (beat) I have a Facebook profile, silly selfies, and my iphone is safe by my side. However, I’m still an advocate for filtering and putting only your best foot forward on and offline, professionally and personally. Admittedly the Kardashian’s of the world are showing us the power of being unfiltered, and that seems to fly too. I’m not sure where all of this frivolous liking and behavior will lead us, but I know one thing for sure, the “selfie” generation certainly needs to start thinking about it, and about their brand.