Unrealistic, airbrushed images of women used to grace only the pages of magazines. However, now carefully curated images have become more commonplace online thanks to smartphones, photo editing apps, Instagram boyfriends/husbands, and other new social media platforms. Everyone tends to lean toward projecting the positive when posting to social media. I wonder, what is this doing to us psychologically? Neuroscientists have only just begun to study how social media use affects the human brain.
Fortunately, we have the power to combat social media’s negative impact on self-esteem and anxiety— by being more authentic online. If we all get just a little more real with one another—acknowledging the positive and the negative aspects of our lives—our connections will strengthen. We’ll instantly be more relatable to one another, feeling validated and honest.
How Can You Be More Authentic on Social Media? Share the Tough Stuff.
Being authentic on your personal social media profiles isn’t an invitation to rant about a co-worker, family member, or neighbor. It doesn’t mean posting cryptic, passive-aggressive messages that leave people wondering if it’s them about whom you’re speaking ill. Rather, it is taking the opportunity to expose your vulnerabilities and share shout-outs to individuals in your community—perhaps the grocery cashier who saved you from public disgrace by offering your impatient toddler a sticker in the checkout line or the kind stranger who turned your day around by buying your coffee in the drive-through line. I see authenticity as being comfortable with sharing not only the picture-perfect moments of your life but also the tough stuff.
2019 was a difficult year for me. Although full of many happy celebrations, it also brought a lot of stress and disappointments. We moved into a new house in a neighborhood that we love. I became pregnant with our second child, and my husband and I were very excited to gift our daughter with a sibling. After our pregnancy was 10 weeks along, we began sharing our good news. Then, the next day, I delivered our second child 30 weeks prematurely in the hospital’s triage wing. I held our little baby in my palm, and I experienced a true tragedy for the first moment in my life. Our faith strengthened us, and our support system rallied around us to help us get through some difficult days. Several months later, on the very day that we attended our baby’s community burial, I learned I was pregnant with our third child. I was convinced that this was a sign from God that my dream of growing my family was not over. Three short weeks later, I lost that baby at home while my husband was traveling on business. I’ve shared none of this publicly, until now.
In the remaining weeks and months of 2019, I experienced grief, but still some joy, as well. Unfortunately, all I shared on my social media feeds were the moments of joy. My husband became elected as a member of his law firm! My family traveled to Disney World! We spent time with family and friends and celebrated Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Those moments were authentically joyful, but they do not provide an authentic glimpse into my life last year.
Like many people, I’m uncomfortable sharing the tough stuff. The online personal brand I share is a happy, smiling one. But in 2019, my life was as full of tears as it was of smiles.
Looking back at how I coped and healed through my losses, I know that reading online articles about other families who’ve experienced similar circumstances validated my emotions and gave me hope. I hope that this article and my sharing of my experience online provide some comfort for others going through challenging times. I believe that all of us would be healthier if we shared our struggles as openly as we share our triumphs.
How Can Brands Be More Authentic and Remain Professional?
Businesses have an opportunity to be more authentic on their social media pages as well. As an organization, you want to allow your values and culture to shine through your content. You can do this even when you’re faced with challenges, such as when a dissatisfied customer posts a complaint to your Facebook page or tags you in a negative post. A great way to demonstrate the type of company you are is to respond respectfully to unhappy customers. Get a bad review? Respond to it promptly. Acknowledge the claims and offer to discuss them further offline. If you can, make it right or at least improve the customer experience by providing a discount or giveaway as a peace offering. Most people feel better and less frustrated when they feel heard and understood. That validation might even transform an unhappy customer into a loyal, satisfied customer for life.
What Will Authenticity Accomplish?
You can reap big rewards by being more authentic personally and professionally online.
Personally – As you become more relatable with every real post, you will strengthen your relationships with those in your online community and improve your mental health.
Professionally – Your brand’s customer loyalty will improve when your followers understand the type of values and culture you promote as a company—especially in the face of negativity. Publicly demonstrating how you respond to complaints will lead to more positive experiences being shared about your organization.
Let’s Be Real
Will you consider being a little more honest with me in your posts on social media? I promise to do my best to be more real with you. For example, I’ll start by agreeing to no longer crop out the mess in my home that’s so often in the wings when I photograph my favorite subject (my three-year-old)!
I think this is an experiment worth undertaking, don’t you? Will you join me in sharing the great moments from your day, along with some of the suckier ones? Of course, I’ll continue to like your family photoshoots and your smiling toddlers—and I’ll lift you up in prayer on the days when you need it, too!