A note from Future Lauren: Holy cow this is a long one, put the kettle on then strap in if you’re here for the long haul, it’s about as long as a UK>Australia flight tbh…. (there aren’t even any pictures! I only threw the one below in to trick you!)
Back to present day Lauren…
I’ve been feeling a bit unmotivated lately and although I think it’s partly to do with the weather and also the fact that trying to flog knitting in the height of (climate crisis) summer heat can feel like an uphill battle, I think a huge part of it is this strange new age addiction that many of us suffer from: Social media, and more specifically for me – Instagram.
Instagram can be a truly WONDERFUL place. The community on there is like nothing else, it can be a place of inspiration, comfort, a place to make friends and find new places, discover amazing small businesses and products we never knew existed, it can be a huge source of education and information, raising awareness for cultures, causes and campaigns. I’d say that 70% of the time I absolutely LOVE Instagram and all that it brings to my life, which truly is a considerable amount, however (and it’s a big however) It can also be a place of deep negativity.
From what started out for most people as a pleasant place to share pretty pictures it’s developed into this huge beast that sometimes feels a bit uncontrollable and basically, a bit Much. There’s also a huge problem with Dick heads – either people being dick heads to you or you being a dick head to yourself (normally as a result of comparison). And there’s this unyielding feeling that you’re constantly and consistently being sold something you don’t want.
When I broached this on Instagram stories at the weekend the response was huge, so many of you are feeling the same way I do, so I thought I’d use today’s blog to unpick it all. FAIR WARNING: It starts negative AF before we get to the more upbeat solutions so if you’re here to stay, strap yourself in for an angry, depressing (and long-winded) ride…I promise it ends on a happier note though and hopefully with a few solutions to how we can all use Instagram in a more enjoyable way….
Part of my issue with social media is the sheer volume of shit that we’re consuming on a daily basis. I find myself just wading through content and hearing the minute details of peoples lives and I’m so used to it that only occasionally do I stop and think ‘why am I watching this random woman apply her make up?’ There is so much noise it’s becoming exhausting trying to listen. We are so used to scrolling down the feed and mindlessly double-tapping, no content seems original anymore, nothing feels as inspiring because it’s so much harder to create something ‘new’ when there’s such a huge volume of stuff that’s been done before. OF COURSE there are many amazing talented content creators out there and OBVIOUSLY they’re creating cracking content that makes us smile or feel in awe, but generally, it seems to me to just be a load of sodding outfit pics and mind-numbingly soulless content….and there’s just so much of it. Sometimes I feel like I can’t take any more in. I’m desensitized to it, mindlessly scrolling out of habit and I don’t want to have to process this amount of ‘stuff’ anymore.
I’m hoping that this won’t be too relevant to many people but it is one that boggles me so I’m going to broach it…. Lest we forget all the dick heads that hang around online, a lot of social media platforms are (FINALLY) taking some small actions to help reduce online bullying. Lydia Millen recently published a Vlog about it that I’d recommend watching, she discusses that each of our definitions of ‘online hate’ or ‘online negativity’ can be different and it’s up to us to define what online hate/negativity is…TO US. If we receive messages or comments that make us feel sad, upset or hurt that is our definition. For businesses and brands in particular, I think we set our bars too high and allow too much shit on our social channels through some obligation that we’re ‘customer-facing’ and we should accept feedback. But we are allowed to draw a line under the type of feedback we will allow in our space.
Constructive criticism like ‘I find the layout of your website slightly hard to use and it’s making it difficult for me to order’ is fine (and welcome in most cases!) it’s not personal, and it’s something we can edit to improve our customers experience but ‘feedback’ such as ‘your facial expressions annoy the fuck out of me’ (one I got recently on Instagram) is not OK. People need to think before posting a critical comment. Telling me that my face annoys you isn’t going to do anything other than cause upset. I can’t change my facial expressions just to please some loser online – and even if I could, I bloody wouldn’t….It’s my face, deal with it… or better yet just unfollow me then you don’t have to punish yourself by seeing my annoying face.
As we’ve already discussed, we’re all consuming so much we don’t always need to add to that noise. Yes we all have free speech and we’re allowed to say what we want, and all the rest of it, but the question is, do we NEED to use it all the time? Sometimes Absolutely YES, we need to stand up for ourselves and others, but random advice or criticism of a stranger online isn’t always necessary. (I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, you’re the good ones, but I need to vent so I’m writing it anyway!)
You never know how deeply your throwaway comment might damage another person so maybe sometimes, just keep it to yourself.
There are different degrees as well, there’s telling someone their face is annoying but there’s also more subtle communications that I do want to draw attention too, as these are more common and I imagine we’ve all experienced some form of this…. For instance, if someone posts a story saying they’re feeling stressed and you choose to reply saying ‘Just relax girl!’ – I know, – I REALLY, HONESTLY, TRULY, DO KNOW – that that doesn’t come from a nasty place, I’m not trying to call anyone out on this as it absolutely comes from a friendly place and that’s so kind, but I’d love it if we could ask ourself…is it really necessary? Telling a stranger to ‘just relax’ when they have stuff going on might not actually be helpful. I don’t want to worry people about what they should and shouldn’t say, especially when they are trying to be kind and offer words of support… but I think sometimes hesitating and thinking ‘will this really be helpful to them?!’ – for me, it’s akin to people saying ‘take it as a compliment’ when someone copies your work… we mean well and we’re really trying to help but it’s better to just not say that shit. What would actually help would be to say ‘ahh! How frustrating! I hope you’re OK <3’ When you don’t know the full story, empathy and love is SO much better than unsolicited advice.
I’m a bit nervous about this one, Influencers get a really bad wrap so I want to be SUPER CLEAR, the way I see it (based on nothing, just my opinions) there are 3 types of ‘influencers,’ there are content creators like AllThatIsShe and Sienna.and.i who work incredibly hard and create stunning and thoughtful, considered content for brands they really believe in. There are bloggers like Kerry Lockwood and Caroline Hirons who focus on their speciality and do it really well, producing interesting articles and images about their subject. And then there are Influencers, they’re more like people off of Love Island (they might not have actually been on the show but they’d fit right in – not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s one of my favourite programs!) but essentially, they’re just selling any old shit they get paid for, it’s normally made in a sweatshop or just about covers a nipple. That kind of thing… It’s them I want to focus on. (To reiterate, this really is just my opinion – these are not technical definitions and they are massive generalisations that don’t apply to everyone…) I think there will always be a place for authentic content creators and bloggers who are producing quality work born from their passion and talent. Whereas certain ‘influencers’ I think are just toxically promoting £2 bikinis and ‘skinny tea’ without consideration or respect for their audience and I’m so over it.
My beef isn’t particularly with influencers individually, it’s the industry as a whole, it’s the monetisation of absolutely everything. It feels as though nothing can just be shared anymore unless someone’s making a commission. And at the same time, I get it, it’s an incredible opportunity to make your living using this platform, it’s so liberating and forward-thinking. Not to mention that theoretically, it’s feminist GOALS, 20-something women can control their entire career and earn more than (some) straight white men* and sharing things ‘just cuz’ doesn’t get you there and it doesn’t pay your mortgage. No matter my personal views on the subject, I totally get that if they want to sustain their lifestyle then they need to work with brands who have a budget to enable that, I really do get that.
*(although there is still a gender pay gap issue for influencers where men get paid more for the same work even though women make up 77% of influencers, and there’s a bigger pay gap for people of colour)
HOWEVER, as the job title suggests, they have influence and that’s powerful, when used for good that can honestly change the world, it can inspire others to do better and be better but the problem surely comes when that influence and power is used purely for selfish gain. I’m not suggesting it’s an easy position to be in, we’ve already discussed the mortgages that need to be paid, but my question is – is it responsible to use your influence to sell another H&M dress for ‘Just £5!!’ when that dress is slowly destroying the planet?
Fast fashion is a conversation for another day but it is one of my massive bugbears, certain influencers constantly peddling shitty clothing …made by vulnerable children in sweatshops, using chemicals and materials that are literally destroying our planet and the people in it…seemingly without a single thought about the impact and consequences as long as they can earn 30p on every sale. If I hear one more person talking about what a ‘bargain’ or ‘steal’ an item of clothing is, I might actually implode…..£3 for a top might seem like a ‘brilliant deal’ to them, but it’s costing so much more than that to the people they’re exploiting by purchasing it! Obviously there are arguments for cost per wear and I 100% get that we all need to live to our means and for some people that level of affordability makes a huge difference, but if you can afford to pay more (which lets face it, most of the people promoting this shit can) then my main request is – let’s please stop using words like ‘amazing deal’ for this form of modern-day slavery and destruction. But like I said – another day.
Basically, the whole concept of ‘Influencers’ just feels a little bit gross to me now, it feels like a parade of privilege and gluttony and I think that’s such a shame because there are people doing it really well and making a positive impact, it’s just become so saturated with shit that it can be hard to see the good stuff through all the lip fillers.
AD’s & Transparency
I really don’t want this blog to become an ‘I hate influencers’ forum because that’s absolutely not how I feel, I think I’ve recently just got lost down an unpleasant IG rabbit hole following a few of the wrong accounts for me, that have felt a bit toxic HOWEVER I do want to keep harking back to the beginning when we looked at the good stuff and my (questionable) personal definitions of Content Creators, Bloggers and Influencers….but for now, back to the ranty bit…
I have 2 issues with ‘Ads’ the first is that it feels like there’s no authenticity anymore because it’s just ads round every corner. You don’t know who to trust because you don’t know if they’re promoting something they love or if they’re promoting something just for the paycheque. Again, I understand influencers have to make a living and I really don’t condemn them for working on ads but when an account is really selective about the brands they work with I think it makes their audience trust them SO MUCH MORE and that is when we, as an audience have faith in them.
My second issue with ads is transparency, if you’re going to be working with brands to earn money, if you’re choosing to do this as a job then FFS let’s get it right. I recently saw a video from a MASSIVE content creator I follow(ed) promoting some vitamins to make your hair shiny or something and it was SO OBVIOUSLY a paid partnership, not a chance she was banging on about vitamins from the good of her heart. I checked the caption and the top of the post and nowhere did it state that it was an AD. How can we be expected to trust certain influencers if they don’t show us the respect of disclosing when they’re being paid to talk about something?
I think one of the most damaging elements of social media is the comparison and the level of pressure we put ourselves under to live up to these fantasies.
The other day when I was ranting about Instagram I asked on stories if anyone else felt the same, and asked for them to expand and let me know why they aren’t enjoying it. The most common response (aside from ‘the algorithm is a twat’) was the horrible pressure to live up to expectations and in turn, the comparison. Of course we all know that it’s an unattainable and unrealistic highlight reel, but still, when you sit scrolling in your tea-stained PJ’s and you see some tanned goddess living her best life, bathing in a waterfall on a paid-for holiday WE KNOW she’s freezing her tits off and she’s filtered that snap within an inch of its life and that just out of the shot is some middle aged-man ogling her… we KNOW this but for some reason, we STILL question our own life decisions because after all, we aren’t on a ‘free’ holiday in paradise, in fact, come to think of it, when was the last time we even changed the bedding?
Comparison is dangerous and it’s toxic and we’re sold a filtered and false lifestyle that would never be sustainable. All the crap is literally hidden out of shot but because we can’t see it in someone else feed, we pretend it doesn’t exist in their lives and we’re probably a bit envious and a lot down on ourselves.
It isn’t even our fault!
And the sad thing is that it’s not even our fault! It’s not our fault, we’ve been conditioned to consume, and taught to value other people opinions more than our own, as women in particular, we’ve been told that our ‘attractiveness’ is paramount, from our looks to our dress sense and homes it has to be flawless… and it has to be effortless. We’ve been taught by society that how we appear, and in particular how we appear to other people is the most important….but we mustn’t dare come across as Too Much. We must be successful but not intimidatingly so, we must be confident but never cocky, we must be assertive but not ‘a bitch’, we must be beautiful but ‘not know it’ …but that too is a conversation for another day. When it comes to social media we are conditioned to project a certain image and when others do, we somehow forget or neglect that this is their projection. Hell, I’m jealous of myself on IG – Why is my dog so chill on there when in real life I can’t make him sit still?!
On that note, now is probably a good time to point out that I know I’m part of the problem. I am very aware that some of the issues I’ve grumbled about today I have been or I am currently guilty of committing. I’m not for a moment trying to pass the buck, I guess I’m just saying I get it, I’m annoyed too at the platform as a whole, at some of its users and at myself for falling for it (hello comparison and jealousy, my old friends). I’m not even saying I’m going to stop everything – I bloody love an organised feed and I’m not planning on posting pictures of my messy bedroom just yet but I can make some promises…I promise to continue being honest and openly admitting that my life isn’t always so shiny and that my dog isn’t that well behaved *sob. I promise to continue to be selective about the AD’s I work on and to always disclose them. I promise to do my best to share small businesses I think you’ll enjoy and not purchase much fast fashion. I promise to never change because of a troll and to try and be patient the next time someone says ‘just relax hun’ when I have my own shit going on, understanding that they’re only trying to help me in their own way.
I do also have a bit of a plan, I felt SO fed up with IG at the weekend and it makes me sad because not only is it a wonderful place to be, there is a certain amount of obligation that I need to be on it for my business. I rely on it heavily for a connection with customers as well as promotion and I didn’t want to continue to feel mad at it, so I took a serious look at my main resentments towards social media and decided to make it better. The key to that seems to be boundaries…
Making it Better
As so many people responded to my stories about it being a bummer I thought I’d share my resolutions with you in case it can help. Most of them are fairly obvious I know, but sometimes I think you just need a reminder or a refresher, I certainly did!
If Instagram or social media is part of your life and you’d like to (or need to) continue using it but you’re feeling a bit fed up with it, I’d really recommend spending a bit of time considering why it’s making you miserable? What about it is a bummer to you? It might be something I’ve touched on above or maybe it’s something completely different?! If you decide to continue using social media then it’s really important to recognise what’s getting you down and then set up some boundaries to protect your personal wellbeing.
We place so much importance on social media and for many businesses and brands it really is HUGE, it’s valuable and important to the growth of our brands and connection to our customers/audiences… but I hope it goes without saying that, with regards to social media – Nothing is more important than your mental health so if you feel like no amount of boundaries can help make it easier, just delete the bloody thing, who knows, it might even be liberating!
Step 1: Mute/Unfollow/Block
This was really popular feedback when I asked on stories, so many people said that their experience on social media changed dramatically for the better when they unfollowed certain accounts that weren’t right for them. I think we easily get into a habit of following on a whim or just to be nice, but we should respect our online spaces, we should value them more highly and only allow accounts into them who are going to help us grow in some way whether that be through laughter, inspiration, imagery, or information. You wouldn’t let just anyone into your home, so why let anyone into your online space? It should feel safe and pleasant and perfect for YOU, you are the one curating it so make sure it’s right for you.
If we go back to the mass of noise we touched on towards the beginning of this post (If you can remember that far back!), when it comes to following someone new online let’s ask ourselves the question: Do I want to hear their ‘voice’ every day? It’s OK if you don’t, it doesn’t make either you or them a bad person, they just aren’t the people you need to be hearing from on a daily basis. I recommend Marie Kondo-ing the hell out of your feed – going through it and unfollowing any account that doesn’t bring you joy.
My MASSIVE CHEAT here is: if there are accounts you feel obliged to follow, (maybe someone from work for instance?) but don’t need to see all the time then ‘Mute’ them. That way you have the obligatory ‘follow’ but you don’t have to see their content all the time. (To do this just click the three dots at the top right of their post and click ‘Mute’ then ‘mute posts and story’)
Once you’ve cleared out your ‘follows’ and now have an exclusively joyful feed, going forward let’s make a pact to raise our bar on our ‘follow criteria,’ show your online space the respect it deserves and only hit that ‘follow’ button for accounts whose voice you want to hear.
I can’t emphasise enough that it doesn’t need to be an insult to unfollow or mute someone. It says FAR LESS about them than it says about your self-respect, and by that I mean: it’s not a case of them being shit, far from it! It’s just that you respect yourself enough to carefully and purposefully curate the best possible feed for your own enjoyment because that’s the least you deserve. Oh and also, when it comes to negativity, trolls, online hate, anything that makes you feel sad….Let’s get better at using that block button. I never used to block people for fear of seeming rude….this sounds ludicrous to me now. If they make you feel icky, use that BLOCK button babe. Life’s too short for that shit.
Step 2: Start Saving
One of the reasons I followed a lot of people was because I enjoyed the way they produced content but this started to get muddled for me. I would follow influencers who’s content I admire, for instance, they might create brilliant videos to promote a dress or write clever captions BUT what I neglected to notice was that the content itself wasn’t enjoyable to me. I didn’t want the dress and didn’t like being sold to constantly but it didn’t occur to me to unfollow because there was an element about their content I found interesting/inspiring….ignoring the fact that I also found it depressing or it made me feel inadequate. But now, instead of following them I save select posts and create collections. All interestingly edited videos go in one collection and all caption inspiration goes in another. (To save posts click the bookmark to the bottom right of that post, then add it to an existing collection by clicking on one or create a new collection by clicking the + button)
This frees up my feed from toxic accounts and also means I have a bank of potentially inspiring content ready and waiting if I ever want to see it again.
Step 3: Move Away from IG
Another thing I’m trying to do is step away from Instagram when I don’t need to be on it. I think so often we use and rely on it purely out of habit when we absolutely don’t need to. A great example of this is when I’m looking for inspiration, instead of mindlessly scrolling hoping it strikes, I now don’t rely on IG at all. I head straight to Pinterest. In the last month I’ve got REALLY into Pinterest and I think it’s so underrated. It’s not as communal as insta but it’s packed full of imagery and ideas that you can put your own spin on and then develop products, update your home, create new DIY projects, use concepts for imagery that you can then take over to IG. Let’s stop falling back on IG and start looking at other ways to inspire ourselves. I’ve blamed Instagram for a lot of things here but actually, it’s only responsible for a small portion, the rest is up to us and how we choose to use it.
Another tip I have for getting out of the IG habit is to move the IG app into an obscure folder on your phone. I found that I would automatically tap it as soon as I opened my phone so moving it made me think twice about what I was doing and if I needed to go on it. It’s really sad that it seems so many of us are actually addicted to it in this way but I think recognising that and making efforts to change it – if we want to – is so important, we can now make the conscious decision to look up from our screens!
Step 4: Say No to Notifications
OK, now we’re getting into some really strict boundaries. The first one is to turn off your notifications. I’ve always had my notifications turned on because I feel like that’s something you ‘should’ do as a business. But the reality is, I spend my days running that business, I don’t often get time to reply instantly to someone’s message or comment so all that’s happening is that while I’m working my phone flashes and distracts me, likely interrupting my train of thought but in all honesty I don’t often action it which then just makes me feel guilty…WHY do I have them turned on?! You can turn them all off altogether but I recently started pausing them for a while and then dipping back when I have time. (To do this, go to your profile, click on the Menu button at the top right (the three lines) go to ‘Settings’ at the very bottom of the screen, click on ‘Notifications’ and slide the ‘pause all’ toggle over to the right, it will ask you how long you want to pause them for, I go for 8 hours when I start work – If you want to turn them off altogether rather than ‘pause all’ select ‘posts, stories and comments’ and make sure ‘off’ is selected for all options)
This way you can dictate when you’re around to respond to people and hopefully not have the guilt that you’re not responding at the time. If anything’s urgent you’ve probably got an email address they can find if they need.
Step 5: Limit Your Time
Ages ago I set time limits on my iPhone to try and stop me from using it so much, I got into a bad habit of just clicking ‘ignore’ when it went off but I’m starting again and trying to listen. I do sometimes ignore it on the days I post as I allow myself longer (more on that next) but the rest of the time, if I reach my limit, I’m outta there!
(To set time limits on an iPhone go to settings>screentime>App Limits> Add Limit. Then you select ’social media’ for example and you decide your daily limit.)
Step 6: Diarise Posting Days
So as I just mentioned, I only post on certain days. About a year ago I decided it was WAY too much pressure for me to be creating decent content on a daily basis and decided I’d rather occasionally post pictures I was proud of rather than frequently posting pictures I didn’t care for. So I reduced my posting days. THEORETICALLY, I now post on my feed on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays but that is theoretical because I’m human and sometimes I don’t want to or I have other priorities. It’s taken me about 3 years to learn it but I now know it’s OK if I don’t want to post. However having days ‘diarised’ as my designated days to post means that it’s scheduled in and I know it’s coming, I know they are my evenings to work so if I have the option to go out to dinner on a Monday or Tuesday I’ll do Monday so I can still post as per usual on Tuesday evening. I find it takes a lot of the pressure off because I know it’s coming, I don’t have the guilt of ‘it’s been weeks since I last posted!’ it’s a routine that I try to stick to but if I don’t that’s OK.
The other thing I do on these nights which links into step 5 is that I choose to limit my time responding to comments etc after I post. It’s really important to communicate with your audience on IG and I hate to ‘post and dash’ – I like to reply to as many comments as possible but I also allow myself to have boundaries. I allow 1-2 hours after I’ve posted to respond to comments. Depending on the post this can be a solid 2 hours on my phone or it can be 1 hour dipping in and out as and when people comment but either way, I’m there. I want to be responsive so I feel that giving myself this dedicated time is the best way to not be glued to my phone non-stop but also show my audience how much I appreciate their time and energy for commenting.
As a side note, I sometimes do this with DM’s too. I find it really hard to stay on top of them at the same time as getting my work done so I try to give myself an hour when I can to go through as many as possible. DM’s are the things I struggle with the most and I can find it a bit overwhelming, I try to find a balance between not being rude by ignoring them but also not drowning in them and hope that if anyone ever needs me they’ll email!
Step 7: Delete the bugger!
If steps 1-6 don’t do it for you, never be afraid to just delete the app from your phone. It will still be there if you want to download it again (or not) but either way it might give you some more freedom.
All of these are small things that can make a big difference. They should add up to your personal boundaries and whatever you think will make a difference to your enjoyment online, obviously if you think of others that will help you then add them to your list! By creating boundaries around the way we each use social media we should all be able to enjoy the fun and inspiring and communal elements to it one again, rather than feeling bogged down… which isn’t fun for anyone!
I think the one thing I wish I could learn faster (it’s still a work in progress) is that I am allowed to set my own boundaries, there is no right or wrong there is just what works for me. I find the balance between being a small business on Instagram vs being myself and putting my needs first really confusing because we were taught that ‘the customer is always right’ so there’s a lot of expectations (from some customers but mainly from myself) if it was 9-5 I think I could cope but now everything’s online it doesn’t stop at 5pm, it’s 24/7 and it’s taken me a long time to realise that yes, the digital world might be 24/7 but my ‘working hours’ don’t have to be. Just because someone can pop into your DM’s at 1am doesn’t mean you have to respond. It’s a new lifestyle that’s growing so quickly and although it’s taken over a little bit the joy of it’s newness is that we CAN make up the rules because a lot of it has never been done before.
I really hope this has been a bit helpful and not just a MASSIVE RANT! There are heaps of issues with social media yes, but it’s up to us to manage it in a way that suits us, so we aren’t compromising our mental health – It might sound dramatic to some but it can be an incredible pressure that is thankfully now recognised by schools and counsellors due to the damage it can cause.
If we can figure out what our personal boundaries are around it, then surely we can make social media work for us….I feel quite excited to see if I can make changes that help me bring the joy back to it again (because otherwise – what’s the point?!) I’ve started on a few and it already feels a lot lighter. If you’re struggling with it, I truly hope it does for you too. If you’ve made it this far do let me know how you find social media and Instagram and if you’ve made any changes to help improve your enjoyment levels of the platform…
Take care pals!