Do you ever feel that when the going got tough that well, the tough bit of you got up and f@cked off? So many times in my life I have been told I am strong. Even by complete strangers. How do you do it, they ask. The truth is I am not. I’m just a regular Joe, or in this case should it be a Joanna? It just so happens that I very good at looking outwardly strong. Inside can sometimes be a completely different matter. In my head I’m still the spotty, slightly chubby, flat chested 13 year old with poor self esteem and hair that no matter how much I wash it seems to be permanently greasy. And this is deep down the beginnings of why I took an Insta break.
Firstly may I apologise for the diatribe that you are about to read. And secondly, good luck and huge congratulations if you make it to the end.
I’m not sure if I’m an optimistic pessimist or a pessimistic optimist. The truth is I wake up every morning full of the joys of spring and I say to myself, this is a new day, it’s our day. And I believe it. No, not because I read ‘The Secret’, but because that was how I was brought up. I try to instil the same ethos with my boys. To see every day full of new opportunities. And some days it is a good day. But more often than not it’s hard. Is it wrong to therefore build a shield? Because the strength that others see is just that. It’s a coping mechanism. A persona. A way to cope with what being an autism mum throws at us every day.
A couple of months ago though I lost the ability to maintain outwardly look like I was coping. I’m not sure when it started to unravel, possibly when we lost our business. But since Christmas a little piece of me seemed to vanish on a daily basis. I became so afraid of heights. So much so that I couldn’t go on an escalator. Then I became afraid to ride my horse. Why would my brain do this to me? Then driving became an issue. Then leaving then house. Closely followed by being unable to speak to anyone via text or on the phone. In the end I was in a permanent state of panic. I woke in the morning with a sense of impending doom and went to bed with the same feeling. I was a shadow of my usual self.
Add into the mix that I am going through the menopause and well I actually thought I was going mad. Raging hormones are bad but having none at all for me is even worse! They say some women are lucky and don’t get any symptoms. Well I’m not so lucky. The menopause sucks! Waking up covered in sweat 10 times a night is not fun. And I think the sleep deprivation added to my changing hormones and more than a little stressful lifestyle all added to my mental state. There is a reason sleep deprivation is used by the army for interrogation purposes. You feel as though you are losing your mind!
So I made that all important call to my GP. And do you know what? They were wonderful. And after four different kinds of medication I found one that works for me. You see I can’t have HRT but there are lots of other medications that have the side effect of stopping the sweats. And like me not all may work for you, in fact one I though was working stated giving me the most horrific nightmares. But I didn’t give up and now I’m finally getting back to me again.
I have been pondering for quite a while as to whether to write about this. Firstly because opening up about my mental health is a hard thing to do especially when I’m known by all as the strong one. But then I thought, actually, this is the strong thing to do. If only one person reads this and makes that call to the GP then I’ve helped in some small way. And secondly because what I want to now chat to you about is slightly more contentious. It’s the reason why I took an Insta break.
A few weeks ago I received an email from a company who said I was inconsistent on Instagram. I was hurt by their lack of tact and how harshly they had judged someone they had never met. This came after two people, one I know and one I’ve never met before told me I should never have to explain myself to anyone. And after really thinking hard, and taking this in, I realised they were right. This may be a bit of an oxymoron as technically I am explaining myself but I’m doing it partly for me. I find it’s helping me to understand the last few months of my life.
Now, I’m not sure this world of companies judging us is actually doing any good. I don’t have to post everyday if I don’t want to. And I certainly don’t have to explain why I haven’t posted for a while. Especially when I’m feeling mentally fragile anyway. My world is topsy turvy enough without that added pressure of explaining my life to a complete stranger. My already wavering confidence plummeted to an all time low.
This did get me thinking though! What exactly are these companies looking for when they set out to create an ‘influencer’ campaign? Is the size of the account all that matters? Do they care about the engagement levels? It seems to me that the recent rise of that word, I shall say it again, ‘influencer’ has both good and bad connotations from both sides. There seems to be an increasing lack of integrity. Companies approaching accounts that do not match their brand image. And influencers doing the same. I mean there’s eclectic homes and then there seems to be ones full of free sh*t with no regard to their own personal style. I’m bored of seeing the same things over and over again!
In all honesty I’m actually starting to find it all a little distasteful. I came back on Instagram (after we lost our business) to catch up with friends and share my passion for decorating, DIY and interiors in general. I don’t mind an #Ad at all. But I do want it to be in line with the account I follow. And that is my choice I know. It’s up to me, just like it’s up to you as to who I do and do not follow. I could just unfollow them right? But the thing is I followed them at first because I liked them but it seems people change. I started to ask myself do I really know them? Or did I just know the person they are projecting?
It’s big business being an influencer and with the arrival of personal branding people can more or less pretend to be whoever they want to be! With my low mood I started to find it increasingly difficult to decide who is genuine and who isn’t. Lets think about it. We are all influenced everyday by people we know. A friend recommending a holiday destination. A relative recommending a book etc. Even someone you’ve never met before at the supermarket might recommend you a new brand of coffee after watching you pondering over the huge array available. And you think, well I’ll give it a go. You’ve never met them and yet you trust what they are telling you.
Now think how you would feel if this person was paid to stand in the isle all day recommending that particular brand of coffee. Would we be quite so trusting when we know they are working for the brand? Would we question if they really did love it? Are they being genuine? How about if you saw them every week? Would you then start to listen to them? Would you start to think I know this person now? Well this is what I started to ask myself about Instagram. And I just became more and more unsure.
And there’s the rub! Can we retain integrity and still be paid for work? Blogging is time consuming and believe it or not can be costly too. It’s wonderful to get recognition for hard work but at what point does a blog or an influencer go from feeling like a friend to feeling like an over bearing mother? And at what point do they lose their authenticity? More to the point why are huge brands supporting this behaviour? It makes a mockery of them as much as the influencers they work with. You see the same brands over and over again. I actually make a point of never purchasing from these particular companies. It’s put me off them.
So I took a moment to say, do I really know the people I’m following? Or is it the persona they project that attracts me to them? Worse than that, did I follow them just because everyone else does? I started looking at comments on blogs and listening to the behind the scenes gossip, I wish I hadn’t. I began to realise that any negative comments on some larger accounts feeds and blogs get deleted. The accounts are picking and choosing what they want us to see. And some of these comments are reasoned and fair. They’re not coming from key board warriors. Just regular Joe’s like me and you having an opinion (which we are all entitled to).
Suddenly I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be part of Instagram any longer. And yes, I know I can just unfollow people and find new accounts to follow but that leads me to my next few points. Something has gone so sorely gone wrong. There are so many blogs and accounts out there that have retained their integrity. Many have been in the industry for years. There was no Instagram when they started out. They didn’t one day become suddenly famous, they have stayed true to themselves because they worked hard to get where they are. An algorithm didn’t suddenly work in their favour and propel them skywards. It never feels as though these accounts are hustling you. You know when they say something is great, it really is. They’ve grown through hard work and know their followers value their honesty.
This world of the so called social influencer is going bonkers! Instagram now feels to me to be all about the ego. Worse than that I felt that by being part of the community I was endorsing this too. I have nothing against a collaboration, by definition it means .’the action of working with someone to produce something’. But what exactly? Where are the ethics? When a company approaches me the first thing I do is research them. Their ethos has to fit with mine. In truth, I feel we’ve become a community of lemmings, me included. Blindly following and never questioning. The Instagram community is not monitored. And just recently it feels as though it’s getting out of hand. A little too big for its boots and I’m wasn’t sure I wanted to hang around in it any more.
Having a break from Instagram has been in truth, wonderful. I don’t have a huge account. And this isn’t about me being a sore loser. In life I very much believe you get back what you put in. It’s the same when it comes to Instagram. I am not a prolific poster, nor will I ever be. It was never about the numbers for me. It was always about meeting and chatting with people. And my Blog. I spend an awful lot of time at home with my boys. Without my Blog I would have nothing to do. And without Instagram my world is insular. It stops and starts pretty much with the front door. So half way through my break I find myself in no man’s land. I want the interaction, the sense of community and comradely again.
So now I am a blogger. And it’s something I’m proud of doing and take very seriously. I’m not setting the internet on fire by any means but I am doing something I love. I not only love the writing but the technical aspects too. I love SEO work, optimising the blog and researching how to make it better and better. It keeps my brain active. My brain is a funny old thing. It needs to be kept busy or it turns on me. I take this blogging thing very seriously too. I want to know I’m working with companies that like me are championing the slow movement. And many feel like they are just handing out free things left right and centre without regard to the impact that has on our environment.
It’s wonderful having my own little spot on the World Wide Web again. I still miss the 15 years I spent there as a brand. Like many start ups all we had was a name and an idea. A belief that we would succeed and bucket loads of determination. I taught myself everything from scratch. Literally. And part of my job description (besides being the tea lady) was running our social media for most of that time too. I have met and worked with some truly lovely people over the years. And this new wave of influencer just doesn’t feel quite the same.
As a brand first and foremost comes integrity. We put our whole lives into it investing everything in what we are doing. Your brand is everything, your ethos, tone of voice, style, colours. It is designed to appeal to your potential customer. And so when we start talking about personal branding I’m wary. It infers a person is creating a persona with the one goal in mind. And the cynic in me feels like that one goal is of gaining followers, in turn to work with brands.
Instagram feels full of people chasing numbers. I mean look what happens when some Instagram accounts finally reach the magic 10,0000 followers? It can’t only me that see’s a personality change. And that upsets me. You think you knew a person and then they change. So which person is the real one? The one before or the one after the magic number? But that’s the thing, no one prepares them to hit the limelight. They haven’t had years of experience honing their skills. I don’t blame them for changing. But I do question my own instincts as to who to trust and follow now.
Having been a brand myself and approaching social media from that perspective, there is a distinct difference watching the personalities of individual accounts change as they see themselves growing. You will not see a brand suddenly change, they remain consistent. A brand will still talk to you. They will still engage, OK maybe not the big ones. But that’s because they have from the first moment carefully crafted their brand. They designed it to appeal to a certain group of people. But now people themselves seem to be doing this too. Though every so often they drop the veil so to speak.
Instagram now feels like a giant social ladder with people clambering over one another to hit the top spot. I wonder if they even remember the smaller accounts they used to chat with. Or whether some of you like me may have been dropped like a hot stone? One minute you think you have a friend and the next they’ve vanished leaving you wondering what you did to upset them. I’m not sure what the answer is but I do feel this deserves discussion. I know it’s not just me that’s finding it increasingly distasteful.
Like I said initially I have really spent a great deal of time debating whether or not to publish this. I’ve even sent it to other bloggers to ask their opinion. And there we go back full circle, I went to the people I trust. I’ve followed them for years and trust that they will tell me the truth. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone I know that, but that’s not me. I want people to know the real me, and the real me cares about what people think of me (I know I shouldn’t). And that is why I will always retain my integrity and also the reason that I hit publish.
When I came back on Instagram a couple of years ago it was because I missed chatting to some of the wonderful people I met as a brand. Those people welcomed me back with open arms. And supported me during a really difficult time. There are still some absolutely wonderful accounts out there. It’s just that well this time around it feels different. Not as light hearted, more passive aggressive if you like. The personality seems to have vanished. I’m not sure what the answer is but I am pretty certain that change is on the wind. Savvier brands are I think making tentative steps to get around the whole influencer thing for starters.
Have you recently had a message pop up from a brand saying, hey there, reply with this hashtag and we’ll use you pic and make you Insta famous, T&C’s can be found here? They are relying on follower hungry people to jump on the band wagon. Many of the companies then list how they will use you photos if you follow the link. You’ll find out that by using the hashtag you have agreed that your pictures will be theirs to use in perpetuity. Basically they are licencing your images. But they are not paying you for them. Nor or they gifting you an item. They are just dangling the carrot that you might possibly get more followers and your own chance of Insta fame.
Who knows what Instagram will look like in the future. Maybe a new platform will come along and wipe it out. Just like Instagram did to Facebook. One thing I do know though is that it appears we are on the whole not great at self governing. And it would be great to regain some integrity. I absolutely believe in the freedom of speech. But is this why we were given it? To use it so unwisely? It’s all becoming a bit too PC. A bit bland. Plastic even! It feels as though accounts are becoming what they think a brand wants to see rather than being themselves. But that’s missing the point. The reason I personally followed them in the first place was because there was something about them that I liked. That made them different.
Now these are only my thoughts, you may or may not agree with me. But I have to be true to myself. Just as you are to yourselves. If we all thought the same things this would be a very boring old world wouldn’t it? So, first and foremost I am me. I will always be me. It’s my chance in life to be me. And after 15 years of being a brand it’s refreshing I can tell you. To be using my own voice and not that of our company. And for this reason along with missing my (I hope) true friends I will be sticking with Instagram (for now). Eagerly awaiting change and hoping it will come. Watching and waiting to see what direction it will take and how that will have an effect on influencers and brands alike.
So I’ll leave you with my parting thought. As I mentioned earlier we are all influencers everyday of our lives. We influence what our family will eat, where a friend goes on holiday, what they wear, where to eat out. The list goes on and on. There is nothing wrong with scaling this up. Or receiving a free gift or payment for that matter. A lot of time and energy goes into writing about Brands and shooting pictures so why shouldn’t someone receive remuneration of some sort. I’ve found many a brand I love that I would never have found if it wasn’t for Bloggers and Influencers. When it works, it’s the best.
So let’s keep it that way. Let’s bring integrity and personality back to Instagram. I’m not sure how we do it (though occasional use of the word ‘no’ might help) but we could at least give it a try. Let’s banish the bland! Oh, and let’s be be honest too. Let’s talk about our not so great experiences or products too. After all you’d tell a friend if something was crap wouldn’t you? In reality Instagram is a giant version of word of mouth, and the brands know that is worth far more than advertising any day. Let’s take back control of our own actions. Shape a new future. and above all let’s have some fun again.