My other colleague uses social media sparingly: random check-ins with Facebook, a tiny Instagram feed, very little engagement with any other platforms, and a refusal to EVER use a hash tag. They both work for someone else, so they don’t need social media for personal brand promotion.
But really, our conversation wasn’t about social media just for branding (because they get that). It was about social media in our personal and professional lives. About offering information to both self-selected networks and strangers. About fear. And about who we think is listening—and why.
Our conversation went something like this:
Them: “Why would you share pictures of your daughter and hash tag them? Anyone can search that and see it.”
Me: “Because she’s adorable. And why does it matter if other people see that?”
Them: “Because creeps will find it and come kidnap her.”
Me: “Really? I think creeps are too busy being creeps. And most people really aren’t creeps.”
Them: “No, creeps are everywhere!”
Me: “I’m going to write a newsletter about this conversation.”
Them: “Don’t use our names.”
Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit (although not that much). We could set this whole thing up that I’m na√Øve and they are paranoid. But it’s so much more than a black and white either/or scenario.
It’s about your tolerance for sharing. Which is to say, your tolerance for vulnerability. (I told you a few months ago I was going to keep writing about vulnerability!) In the same way that we each have a certain debt tolerance or risk tolerance, we each have a certain sharing tolerance: not just how much can you handle your information shared—but how much do you embrace and actively participate in it?
Although I draw a strong distinction between personal and private (personal I will share; private I will not), my sharing tolerance is set to moderate-high. But it has far less to do with self-promotion than it does what I perceive that I get in return.
Even a Fiery Crash is Better Than Vulnerability
Consider this: every time you get into a car, it is with the knowledge that you could die. And not in some far-off scenario. There is a real, statistically based chance that the car ride won’t end well for you. But, unless there is another factor at play (like total driver incompetence or inebriation), this knowledge doesn’t stop most people from getting into a car. You probably aren’t thinking of the possibility in the moment of opening the car door. But still, you know it. You latch a seat belt each time—a product made for the sole purpose of helping you not to die.
Lots of people are dedicating their lives to trying to make the roads safer (thank you, if you are one of them), so there is passion behind this issue. But never have I heard a passionate argument or discussion that starts: “How can you possibly get into a car? I just don’t understand! How?”
But I know from personal experience and good eavesdropping there are plenty of conversations about social media that start: “How can you put all of that stuff out there on social media? How?”
The point is this: we tend to have a higher tolerance for death than we do for vulnerability. The thought of just not being here at all seems easier to deal with than the thought of people knowing your stuff. Especially creeps knowing your stuff.
Let me just be clear: I am not judging anyone’s sharing tolerance! I totally get the “off the grid,” Ron Swanson-esque approach to life and privacy. I just think it’s good to understand what it’s about, and that those of us who do share (usually) do it bearing the same knowledge we carry into a car with us: this could be dangerous.
For those with a high sharing tolerance, the desire to feel connected (at another level) and to feel relevant make it worth the risk to say: Here is my life, inside an Instagram filter. You can say that connection only happens in person, face-to-face. And I LOVE face-to-face connection. But powerful connection happens across the wire all of the time. The feeling of being in it together: that’s what most social media platforms are really about at heart—that’s true for brand building and for friendship building. It doesn’t diminish the face-to-face moments or mean you can’t have them. It just adds more options for contributing to the conversation, and more options for getting something in return from the conversation. That’s the story economy in a nutshell, if you ask me: everyone with a story, and better ways to share and contribute than ever before.
It’s also an old-school desire to mark time. For all of its socialness and ultra spreadability, social media feels a little bit like getting out the photo albums. In the last years of my dad’s life, we spent hours looking at photo albums with him: Remember that day? Remember that trip? What’s an Instagram feed or a Facebook album except an electronic photo album that helps you mark the moments? Sometimes I think I spend more time looking at my own photos than I do anyone else’s. Do I risk a creep snooping on the family photo albums? Perhaps. Am I exposing my family to dangerous vulnerability? Perhaps. Will the world crush me if I share too much? Maybe. But I’m not ready to give up the things I’m getting.
So, consider that your attitude toward social media may have nothing to do with how much time you have (no one has any time for anything) or how many creeps actually understand hash tags—and everything to do with your vulnerability tolerance. It doesn’t mean you have to change one single thing. It’s just good to understand the context, and why others seem so smitten.
But no matter what, keep buckling up.