“Have you seen Kaitlyn’s instagram lately? She’s trying to be an influencer HAHAHAHA”
I just turned 30. I am a true Millennial. I am not old enough to try to get out of that oh so loaded and stigmatized label. Nor am I young enough to feel like I have reaped the benefits of the insta/youtube/etc. influencer mentality. Instead, I find myself caught dead in the middle — feeling historically ridiculed by society for leading the world into being driven by internet, cell phones and selfies, but not understanding how to use all of that to my own benefit as a way to build brand or make money like Gen Z.
None of my friends are Youtubers. No one I am close with has a podcast. None of us really understand how to use Snapchat or if that is even still the thing to do. None of my friends use their Instagram account to really grow or further their business. I know a couple of acquaintances who try but ultimately only get ~100 likes on their photos… and I say “only” (even though I personally would be elated to get that many likes) because the reality is you need AT LEAST 1,000+ followers and likes to be considered a “nano” influencer. I didn’t even know that was a thing until I just researched how many likes it requires to be an influencer and found this graph:
I am the millennial surrounded by other millennials who scoff at the “influencers”, laugh at the idea of an “instagram husband”, and feel our eyes pop out when we see our younger sisters and brothers who aren’t even trying to be influencers getting hundreds of likes for vapid content. (Anyone remember when it was exciting to get close to 20 likes?)
So why does this matter? Why do I care and feel the need to write about this position? Well the other day I was in an airport and saw a Refinery29 video (on the actual monitor in the flight waiting area — how old school of me) about how to keep house plants alive (a thing I struggle with immensely). It was hosted by this bubbly and attractive young woman Lucie Fink (instagram @luciebfink). I then followed Lucie and started to obsess over her. She is only a few years younger than me. She is a producer, host and influencer. She has the type of job and personality I would love to have. She got her “big break” when she took to instagram showcasing her stop motion hobby. That big break was followed by another big break which was getting hired by Refinery29 who mostly hired her because she ALREADY HAD A BUNCH OF CONTENT AND A BUNCH OF FOLLOWERS.
And this all got me thinking: Should I be building my own brand online? How would I do it? What would I do? I can barely write this article without having a heart attack wondering if I should actually publicize it — who would read it or care — what if I say something stupid — blah blah blah insert crazy anxiety thoughts here. How could I ever put myself out there constantly through multiple mediums and applications? Why would anyone care about what I have to share? Would all my friends just laugh at me the way we always laugh at those trying to be “influencers”? Oh and also have I mentioned — WHAT WOULD I EVEN SHARE?
I used to work for PwC as a management consultant. We were always encouraged to “build your personal brand”. What that really meant was — find a way — ANY WAY — to stand out and just harp on that, build your career around it, and most importantly — promote it promote it PROMOTE IT! It is your responsibility to make sure others know you. We didn’t even work in a media world! And I had no clue what I wanted my personal brand to be about. I mean doesn’t it take years of experience to figure that out? But we didn’t have that time and it didn’t matter — you figure something out even if you have to force a lie down your own throat and that’s how you get to the top in a competitive corporation where just being consistently stellar at what you do isn’t enough.
The whole idea of just keep your head down and be good at your job without complaints was and is a recipe for eventual mediocrity and middle management. If you want to be on top, you need to be have a memorable ego and you need to self promote like you want to be class president— possibly more than you need to be good at the work.
It bothered me then as it bothers me now. Self promotion is hard. Not just because many of us — WOMEN MEN ALL — can feel unworthy and shy especially when we were taught that flaunting, being overconfident, and self-centered was inappropriate and unclassy behavior. But also because it is literally difficult from a dedication/ time management/skills perspective. Instead of being a writer, you must also be the editor, producer, marketer, PR manager, distributor, admin, etc. Eventually you might hire people to do these things for you but for most who haven’t “made it” — this is what is expected. And before any of that even happens you need to be good enough at a skill you are passionate about to start.
Many of us don’t actually have a passion or can’t seem to figure out what it is or don’t have the time or privilege to investigate. And even if we do have one, that doesn’t mean we are remotely good at it. I studied Finance because I thought that was the smart thing to do. I didn’t have passions on the side because I worked crazy hours. I am not alone.
I do have something closer to a passion and direction now. But I am only just beginning in that learning journey. Do I show the world my attempt to learn it? Or would that be bad for business because people would know I am just learning? Do I wait for years to build up a skill and then share it? Or how would I get jobs in it then if I am not showcasing it? What if I do put myself out there and it is embarrassing? Why do I even feel like this is a requirement now? Can’t I just hide from the world and have someone magically discover me when the time is right?
If I don’t have a strong social media presence and brand, do I even exist?
The practice of a company hiring promising individuals who have proven track records via resume and references has evolved. The resume and track record is proven via social media and the references are the people who like your content enough to follow you and give you the literal thumbs up. Even actors these days are being evaluated for their social media presence and following rather than their talent in an audition. But could you argue that is the same as old actors getting jobs someone else deserved because they were more famous with the public just in a different way?
I sat down to write this because it has been on my mind. I didn’t have a direction or purpose. But writing it out has helped me process it and I think the learning is this:
If we want to be competitive we need to stand out. If we want to stand out we need to call attention to ourselves. In order to call attention, we need to find an edge. In order to find an edge, we need to stick to a story we want about ourselves and practice it day in and day out when others are relaxing. At its core, personal branding is no different now than it has always been. It is just new channels and tools for all the same rules.
So do I want to be bitter and resentful, enviously mock Gen Z, wish the times were different and expect to get magically recognized for my potential and skills while I hide away? Or should I go with the flow, learn from my youngers (opposite of elders?) and dive into the unknown even though it makes me extremely uncomfortable and puts my reputation at public risk?
I think the answer is now obvious. I guess step one is determining the story I want to tell about myself… then maybe finding some younger friends to show me the how.
P.S. This is the first article I have ever published! I hope it starts an interesting conversation. I am very open to thoughts and advice!
My passion is in the VR/360 storytelling and education space. So I plan to follow my own advice above and start posting about that. If you’re interested in that content — let me know and follow me!