Every Social Media Platform is Monetized and Our Life is Curated
Where can we find authentic places to share our vulnerable selves?
I’m reading a novel called Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner. It is about a plus-size influencer, Daphne, and her classically skinny and blonde celebrity friend.
Daphne has learned the fine game of being a public figure: You show some vulnerability to connect with your audience and make them trust you, but you will never show your ugliest, true self. The balance is what makes a content creator popular.
Every platform on the internet is now being monetized. If you search “Medium Writing” on Youtube, it’s about how to make money there. If you search “Instagram” on Medium, it’s about how to boost followers.
Platforms are feeding between themselves, and articles on Medium about how to make money as a writer are forever popular.
People learn quickly — soon everyone, like Daphne from the novel, will master the balance of a curated life in order to make money from it.
What will happen then?
Xanga and MySpace
Do you still remember those older blogging and social media platforms such as Xanga and MySpace? I do.
I started writing properly at around 10 years old, mainly in my diary and occasionally submitting to newspapers and magazines’ reader’s columns. Then I started writing publicly on Xanga when I was around 15.
Changing to Xanga was huge for me, that was the critical moment I transitioned from private to public as a writer. Although everyone was doing it, it takes courage to expose yourself to the public (albeit only among my friends). I was known as the ‘one with words’ at my school.
My passion for writing is what keeps me practicing the craft, but having a readership is what keeps me consistent, posting almost every day for the past 20 years (Wow, that’s a long time!)
I like it when people appreciate, relate, and share my work. Sharing is a powerful experience. I love and feel accountable to everyone who takes their time to read my work.
Self-indulgent to Audience-driven
Slowly and organically, my Chinese blog has accumulated a sizeable following of 2,500. It’s no longer possible for me to recognize all my readers, and the response from them fluctuated more radically as I grew.
Some readers were drawn to me by this one or two posts I wrote but could leave me as soon as I am not writing that topic anymore. I didn’t think about my writing that way before, it was a place where I speak about my inner world view on everything — a record of me growing up and learning about the world.
There is so much information on the internet about how to strategize and monetize your content. The two key ingredients to becoming an influencer are to find your niche and to write content your target audience likes.
I didn’t want to lose the following I built up, so I was desperate to keep them by becoming the cool Chinese girl in London in their imagination.
The other me behind the words
A publisher in Hong Kong contacted me and eventually, I published a collection of my posts in a hardcopy book (you can get it here now as an eBook).
The editor has shaped my brand further. On the front of my book, there’s a tagline about how everything in my life starts with a glass of Negroni.
Of course, I didn’t start my day with Negroni, because my day started at 6 a.m. as an over-worked junior employee. I also didn’t write about how dangerous and risky it was to go home by yourself drunk at 3 a.m.
Although I was writing as me, my brand was no longer the “me” in reality.
I posted fancy lifestyle pictures such as afternoon tea at a hotel or spontaneous weekend trips to Paris. I exaggerated stories from elitist parties. I thought of myself as the narrator in the Great Gatsby, when I wasn’t even as cool as Fitzgerald.
This is the kind of reality my audience wanted to see and believe, as Daphne in the book Big Summer observed.
Finding my authentic voice
As I was healing and learning about my true self and desires, it has come to the inevitable realization that authenticity was everything I missed in my life, even in my writing and social media, a world I created.
That voice and character I’ve built as the London-Chinese Carrie Bradshaw is now a stranger to me. I don’t want to write like that or live that life. I fled London and became a van lifer by the seaside.
Many ‘fans’ have left me because I’m no longer sharing stories about fancy house parties at Putney or the gossip from brunches at the Ned.
I needed to start afresh. So I started writing on Medium and making videos on Youtube — I even changed the language! I love the fans I have managed to keep dearly, and I will never take them for granted.
Me and my content become coherent again.
Provoke, challenge and communication
In this Q&A video about van life, a fan commented that I shouldn’t have shown my actual She-wee because it’s gross.
I asked him why not because it looks exactly like a new one and I’ve cleaned it properly. I didn’t show people how I actually pee (which would be indecent). This is when I learned that an authentic voice for a content writer is to be aware of the line between pleasing your audience and standing on your ground.
The She-wee guy has followed me since 2011 and he is very posh. He was challenged and shocked by my life changes and perhaps disillusioned by the fancy image I’ve built up over the years. He doesn’t want to know I’m peeing to a bucket.
But it’s my job to provoke, challenge and communicate. I started writing as a medium to organize my thoughts as I learned about the world I live in. And here it is, at the age of 31, instead of numb and complacent by comfort, I am exploring life radically again.
The fine line as a content creator
I urge content creators to have a concrete idea of what their principles are. As a writer with a whopping 21 years of experience, here are a few tips on how we can find and maintain our standards.
I have used my friend’s B Corp business as an example to avoid imposing my own standards on you.
- Be precise and concrete about why you want to create content — it can be for money, but there could also other reasons.
- Write that down somewhere — that’s your mission statement.
- I’ve learned this from my friend’s ethical business — write down your bottom line (a position you will never change, no matter how big the profit/temptation is). One of my friend’s bottom lines for his business is to never go for unethical suppliers and business partners because they are cheaper.
- Based on that bottom line, list out what you’ll do. For example, my friend would do detailed due diligence on the ethical practice of their business partners, they will always use recyclable packaging, they will hire consultants to monitor their carbon footprint, etc.
- Think about the consequences of everything we put out there.
- Revisit our mission statement regularly— when we are being shamed/hated/challenged, the original reasons for doing everything we do become clearer and clearer from our own words and standpoint.
A clear understanding of our values is the only way to be authentic and resilient to criticisms. This will allow openness and conversation, and it’s our job as content creators to educate and engage critically with our audience.
I wish there’s a B Corp/Social Enterprise certification for content creators. Given we are a brand and making money from our content, we should be subject to certain ethical guidelines.
We should also be recognized and credited for being honest, carefully researched, and transparent with our position and practice.
As social media platforms are saturated with money-makers and brand-curators, we should become clear at which point it becomes so over-the-top that our brand doesn’t represent us anymore.
More non-clickbait authentic articles on intentional living:
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Recommended playlist from a classical piano player included
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