Charisma Aside, Is Social Media Just a Bit Anti-social?

Very simply, digital brands provide new ways in which we get to reflect who we are - and where we also get to hold a mirror up to ourselves. And what's crystal clear from all viewpoints: we like what we see.

Digital Detachment: a photo illustration


"How can you have charisma? Be more concerned about making others feel good about themselves than about making them feel good about you."

Dan Reiland, Author & Executive Pastor of 12Stone Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia

In my first book on brands and advertising, 'The Better Mousetrap', I talk about how digital brands might just be the most evolved version of the brand form. Why? My suggestion is that brands like Facebook and Twitter are so crazy-successful because they are examples of brands at their most charismatic. 'Charismatic' because their focus is on how they can make us feel good about ourselves.

While ALL brands are in the business of making us feel good (because why would we be attracted to any brand that makes us feel bad?), the Instagrams and Pinterests of our digital world are open season invitations to create and curate and share and express.

Very simply, digital brands provide new ways in which we get to reflect who we are - and where we also get to hold a mirror up to ourselves. And what's crystal clear from all viewpoints: we like what we see.

I was recently discussing the appeal of social networks with a very good, though sadly ginger, friend of mine. John Paul's view was free of any colour prejudices, but his perspective did err to the darker interpretation of who we are. We so "like what we see", JP suggested, because it's narcissism of the contrived kind. Our online profiles are little more than a self-manufactured pixelated reflection of the cooler, better-looking, more impressive version of ourselves.

Of course, 'image management' and affectation is alive and kicking by varying degrees in all of us - a dimension in everyday social interaction, whether that's off line or on. But here's my question: is social media fuelling the extent to which we 'socially manufacture'? Now that social media is a personal scrapbook of such public record, are we becoming both the over-hyped star of our own shows, AND the wily PR maestro second-guessing how our fans and followers are going to receive our posts and updates and check-ins?

Our Friends & Followers: a means for us to monitor our approval ratings? Is 'brand charisma' in this digital age of ours stripping us of our authenticity and sincerity? Are social networks eroding our sense of social innocence?

For 'Social Innocence', I mean this. Innocent, as in to happily portray yourself for who you are, and to live genuinely 'In-the-Moment' - as opposed to at a remove, self-conscious to whether and when a moment can be tweeted or uploaded.

Social Media is turning private lives into public 'factions' - a though which has got me tinkering with some new descriptors. First up:


A personally portrayed existence that is "digitally enhanced" and favorably abridged; Augmented Reality applied to one's own life.

The criticism is we're developing a 'curators conceit', living so much after-the-fact, 'Life Experiences' only made "real" once they're logged, tagged, uploaded, shared.

'The Moment' is no longer reflective of what occurred, because it only serves as 'content', as 'Exhibited Proof' of the Socially Rich & Rewarding lives we're clearly leading. The puzzler then becomes: Are we only enjoying the fun once someone else can see how much fun we had?

For, 'The man who wasn't there', we now have, 'The life that wasn't really lived'. Like being the camera-man at somebody's wedding, the experience is through a lens, within a frame, 'outside-the-moment'. A second descriptor:


The primary urge to Document & Share, to the sacrifice of ever being openly In-the-Moment. As in: "I'll drink my cocktail once I've uploaded these photos of us rocking-it at the bar just now.

For too long now, an old secondary school buddy of mine has appeared to be 'living through Facebook'. He was always a bit of a Walter Mitty-type, inclined to flights of fancy and exaggeration. All judgments aside, Social Media has become a Quite Major Channel for him, as the self-appointed 'biographer' of his own digitally documented life. Fulfilling as it may be, I can't help wonder, for just how long is he Out-of-Body, in the Third Person, applying an Observers Eye upon himself?

As Peggy Orenstein put it in her New York Times article, "I Tweet, Therefore I Am", for us all there's becoming a quite extreme blurring of "the line between person and persona". Descriptor Number 3:


The act of polishing and buffing your more desirable Online Self. The airbrushing of person, act, or event to stylized and self-flattering effect.

Few of us are so evolved as to be fully accepting of who we really are. This, I accept. 'Being selective' is too big a temptation for almost everybody - but Social Media allows us to busily build the 'Avatar of Our Ego'.

Online, the short and the fat can walk taller and feel thinner. Online, we can be All Ego, can be our walking Dorian Gray's. A fourth, final descriptor:


The digital image we most care others to see. The preferred version of ourselves; narcissism with artistic license; a contrivance; positive hyperbole; personal spin-doctoring.

Just consider some of the language around social media. "Followers": arguably ego-fueling on a super-charged level, a Messiah-complex now within easy reach of everyone?

No question, Social Media taps deep into our human needs. We are social creatures by design. To feel connected is a whole heap better than feeling detached. To belong is a happier, warmer place than feeling alienated. To express and create is way more cheerful than being denied voice or outlet. Social media has many very obvious upsides, but all upsides must have a corresponding slope that cuts the other way.

Aside from the charismatic lure, from the 'Feel Good' of social media, let us ultimately hope it will bring out not only the best but also 'the real' in us.


For a free slide download of 'New Digital Definitions', click HERE.


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