Social Media Proofing your Brand

Have you ever stopped to think - What if social media platforms collapsed, what would happen to your brand?  Would your brand survive a social media meltdown? 

Today many users of social media platforms monetize their brands. In fact, studies show that by 2020, 40 percent of all working Americans would be independent contractors working for themselves (Intuit). Many of these contractors will look towards social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to grow their brands. However, never than ever before has it been more critical for individuals to think about what that means – how will they be situated in the context of other brands such as social media platforms and what that means for brand sustainability? For many, like myself, in the Knowledge and Technology space, this is already a reality – the pendulum of the incoming "gig economy" is out the gate. In fact, many of my peers are their brands establishing their post corporate identities wondering which social platforms will be leveraged for their brand and type of service offering. 

In this new digital economy, independent brands are awarded work contracts based on the value that they bring, based on past performance and reviews generated by past engagement within their network. This is already evident in such freelancing apps like Fiverr, where creatives lend out their skills in short-term engagement for those looking for extra work support. Alongside the growth of the gig, economy is the idea of digital economy.  For many, the platforms upon which many envision growing their brands are social network sites, where many are forming tribal like alliances – like-minded folks finding each other – some not yet fully understanding the power of these connections. But what about the power of the space in which they reside?  Will your brand survive if the social site went away?

By most account, I am a newbie to Instagram, if counting actual usage since the company’s inception. I initially opened an account when Instagram launched around 2010. At the time, like most of my friends, I did not yet see the value of another vanity application where everyone was an "Instagram model." I distinctly remember sitting with my friends over dinner discussing the onslaught of social media applications and what that means for friendships regarding human connections, and socialization. Concerning Instagram, most of the feeds at the time were monotonous in content, for me – contrived facial and body angles with strained pouts, contoured faced and voluptuous bodies. Everyone was so much the same; once you had seen a few feeds, you had seen them all. Personally, I wanted to find some real people, with real faces and bodies who were relatable and perfectly imperfect. So, with that Utopian dream, I dropped off the platform.

It wasn't until 2016, and I decided to give Instagram another try. My growing dissatisfaction with the Facebook and how politics had reared its dirty head on my Facebook feed had become my battle cry.  For a few happy years, I  shared pics with my family and friends, and nothing more; many of my friends and family were hundreds of miles away, and it was an excellent way to stay in touch, until one day it wasn't. So, with this said, I deleted my Facebook account, and the nearly 400 people who followed me are vaporized into the ether of the internet dustbin. I was not the only one of my friends who left Facebook at the time.  Looking for more positive and inspired spaces, I packed my virtual bags and moved to Instagram – first in Private mode then finally getting the courage to go Public, sticking to moms and cooks.  At some point, a few Facebook friends and followers were suggested, for better or worse. However, as I processed how I felt about the same crowd following me in this new space, I also noticed something odd.

Instagram was a new ball game. Of curiosity was the follower war that seems to set the tone for social interactions. My Instagram conversations were so insubstantial and so what? I was learning to speak Emojis, and my then 6 and 9-year-olds thought I was "cool'. I spent my early days looking at inspirations pictures and figuring out which filters made things look good - a far cry from processing the growing toxicity on Facebook.  Terms like #lfl #fff and all the other insta tags were like learning a new language. While I was not shy of unfriending negativity on my Facebook feed, it seems people were more focused on getting followers with a premium of quantity over quality. Instagram was not Facebook. Like Alice in Wonderland, I had just gone "down the rabbit hole" There was a frenzied, inorganic follower war -  one minute you were followed then another you were last minutes news of bots operating for busy people who had found your posts and tags attractive enough to follower for 1 minute. This manner of vetting who was worthy could not be normal human behavior. 

Understandably, for many individuals and businesses, Instagram is semi-automated where bots can do everything from Like/ Follow/ Unfollow/ Comment. But what does that mean for a brands longevity?

The follower dynamics on Instagram was laughable at best, and I quickly learned to ignore the "Instagram model" who had 10,000 plus followers and followed only 30 people but decided that my puppy was the “instagood” pic of the moment and worth following for 30 seconds. Inherent in this social media dynamic is a presentation of one users’ positional value to another, based merely on the number of followers. The inflated sense of self-importance made for some interesting thoughts. There was a broad sense of an inherent deception, accepted as a commonly held social media values.  As a Design strategist, working with clients to help them fool-proof their brand, I spend a lot of time thinking about these dynamics and what that will eventually mean as more brand proliferation ensues.

And to bring this home in more currency,  you may be following the current predicament of Facebook, the social media giant currently at the center of hearings on Capitol Hill. Facebook sits in the hot seat after news broke about how the company allowed users data to be illicitly used by Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm that was contracted to work on Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. The idea is frightening but also underscores the fragility of brands built upon social platforms? Given the backdrop of Facebook's legal predicaments, coupled with how we engage on social media platforms we need to revisit a few questions about brand constitutions: 

What if the technology and social media usage changed drastically? what would that mean for individual and business brands?
Would your brand survive outside the social media space?
Does your brand rely on social media solely?
What if users dropped the social media platform where you market your brand – would you survive the shock?
Are your social media brand values transfereable outside social media?
Are your social media brand values authentic enough to survive reality?
As more personal brands flood the market, will your brand survive on a level playing field where everyone and everything is a brand?
Are there ways to social media proof your brand so it can exist outside the bounds of social media reality? 
And lastly for an injection of humor – would you still be a model if Instagram vanished from the face of the earth.

I added this last item for fun but also to underscore the risk of building straw brands that only hold relevance in a virtual space of other social media platforms. While I do not have any ready solutions to all of the questions, these are the critical question to consider as you decide to grow your brands. A focus on building portable and sustainable brands that can survive a social media apocalypse is something worth thinking if you are to survive the personal brand proliferation that is our inevitable end.