- Text Elise Bang
- Design D1A Staff
I post, therefore I am… or whatever Descartes said. An unfiltered selfie. A lo-fi photo dump with blurry, high-flash photos. A polished Reel sharing a day in the life of an Uptown influencer. An ironic Create Mode text post. Whether consciously or subconsciously, the way we use social media becomes another way in which people perceive (and even judge) us. Do you create content for an audience or do you quietly post to a small group of close friends? Either way, you are establishing a sort of personal brand. A synecdoche for what you are, where every tap of the ‘post’ button feeds the narrative you’re shaping as the conductor of your life. After all, what are we if not the sum total of our cultural preferences—the books we read, the albums we listen to, the restaurants and bars we frequent, the clothes we wear, the memes we share.
A personal brand is an exercise in curation to communicate a public image to the world. In marketing terms, this effort is calculated and intentional, but the way we use social media recreationally is a little more complicated.
Whether we post a lot or post very little, we curate our personal profiles for outward perception, adopting practices we’ve seen used by brands successfully to manage ourselves. But we’ve also seen brands act more “human” and “authentic” and “less sell-y.” What came first: the chicken or the egg?
We brought together a group of D1A posters and lurkers to discuss how they use social media and examine why we feel inclined to share… or not.
When did you start using social media?
Dave: Probably like 2004, on Friendster.
Sinead: When I was 15! My parents didn’t want me to have social media any earlier than that.
Do you think of social media as an extension of yourself or something else?
I see Instagram as a kind of “business card.” It’s the first form of communication I exchange with someone. I check mutuals/stalk new friends to see if we have anything in common. If my friend is telling me about someone I don’t know, I’ll look them up to see their vibe. So, I feel like I curate accordingly? My profile doesn’t feel authentically me, but it’s my outward facing self.- Sinead, D1A
Terence: I can see how it is an extension for others, but I use it more as a tool for information and entertainment.
Andrew: I think certain platforms are an extension of myself. I post often, and it’s usually things I’m doing or things I’m creating. But at the same time, I use it as a tool for info and entertainment like Terence said.
Asia: I definitely use social media to share my interests, but not everything. It’s a sliver of myself. People think I’m always out and about, but I definitely feel like I’m a movie-watching loaf on most days.
Adeline: I think of it as a place to share exciting/funny moments from my life, and also a place for entertainment and information. But as Sinead said, I do think of it as an extension of other people when I am meeting new people/stalking.
Using social media to get a feel for someone’s “vibe” is interesting. One time the writer Haley Nahman said on her podcast, Maybe Baby, “Instagram doesn’t say anything about you, it just tells you how someone uses the app,” and I always think about that.
For me, it’s important to not share everything online. I like that there are certain interests and passions of mine that you only know if you know me in real life, or really pay attention to my pages.- Andrew, D1A
Do you use social media professionally or for fun?
Asia: I use it for fun. Using it professionally stresses me out. Aside from LinkedIn.
Andrew: It started out as fun, and still remains mostly fun. But I’ve booked many gigs and brand deals through Instagram and TikTok.
Dave: I have a side account that I run as part of my passion project (a skate zine), so [I’m] not sure if that counts as business or fun.
What kind of content do you post? Whenever I see that Close Friends green circle and a front-facing camera video it’s time to grab popcorn...
On TikTok, I post almost daily, and it’s usually just whatever trends are going on. Twitter I also post almost daily because it’s like a personal diary and alter ego (big Tumblr vibes). I post some IG Stories throughout the week and a photo dump on the grid every month, but my grid definitely has a curated aesthetic.- Patty, D1A
Sometimes I wish I was famous with a ton of rabid fans just so I could mess around and post easter eggs like Taylor Swift.- Andrew, D1A
Asia: I typically post recaps on IG feed. On Stories, I post BeReal-style content of what I’m doing throughout the day or funny Reels or memes. I used to share current events or support resources on my Stories, but there is too much to keep up with nowadays. On Twitter, I post random updates and vent every so often. TikTok, I post once-in-a-blue moon trip compilations. I share very minimal personal details online, but I love when my friends share theirs.
Dave: I post consistently on IG, more Stories than anything else. It’s almost all skate related-content: photos I’ve shot, video clips of friends (or occasionally myself). Lots of Story reposts because usually other people are posting photos I’ve shot of them and are tagging me. I almost never post personal details. I think I posted a wedding photo when I got married, that’s about it.
Sinead: I pretty much post only if I did something cool or if someone took a cute pic of me. I’m not very into taking photos just to post (although, I was definitely that girl at some point in my life). I avoid posting personal details, but you can figure out the basics from my profile anyway.
Terrence: I rarely post and definitely don’t like to post details. I like to have more control.
Adeline: I love posting fun restaurants I’m at on IG Stories, trip recaps and carousels of photos over a period of time (a week/month/season). I would like to think I don’t share that much about myself online, but from the amount I can easily find out about others, I am sure they could easily find out a lot about me.
Andrew: Yes, I post often—sometimes 10+ times a week on TikTok. I used to tweet a ton, but now I’m much more of a lurker on Twitter. IG Feed is maybe two to four times a month, depending on what I did and the photos I got of myself. IG Stories, quite often. I post mainly what I’m doing, what I’m wearing and where I’m eating. I used to post a ton of creative work, but not so much anymore. I don’t post many super personal things.
If you are more open to sharing on social media, why? If you are more elusive, do you have any fears around sharing your information?
I’m on the elusive side. I’m too self-aware that most of the details around my personal life aren’t that entertaining and everyone’s scrolling social media to be entertained. It’s no fun when your posts don’t perform. Also, I find that when my friends share too much online, there’s less to catch up on when we chat in real life, so I try to avoid that.- Dave, D1A
[On] Snapchat during my college days, I posted everything —nights out, story times and whatnot. It was my “finsta” before “finsta.” Now I’m solely an IG Stories girl. IG makes things feel prettier and more curated, so I naturally steer towards the curated and pleasant content, meaning fewer personal details.- Asia, D1A
Adeline: I love being public for the Instagram insights you get, like the amount of shares/saves. It’s more fun that people can see my profile without having to follow/accept their requests. I have started to think a lot about sharing locations and have tried to limit that information, because it is creepy how closely accurate it can be.
Do you feel pressured to have a “personal brand?”
I feel a lot of pressure, personally, for TikTok. There’s so much content about “growing within your niche” and all that. I think that’s great for a lot of people that do one thing all the time. But that’s not me, nor is that how I live my life. So, not that I try to grow on that platform, but I have always thought to myself, “Damn, if I just doubled down on one thing…- Andrew, D1A
I don’t feel pressured to have a personal brand anymore. I’m too lazy and all over the place on social media to keep up with it.- Asia, D1A
Sinead: I don’t feel any pressure. I just wanna look cute on Instagram for myself.
Patty: It’s not that I feel pressured to have a personal brand, but it’s more that I aspire to look cool and be a trendsetter. I just wanna be THAT girl!
Adeline: When my job was being the community manager and helping with content for brands on social, I would get comments like “Oh, your profiles must be great then.” They’re not—so that was slight pressure. But I mainly just want to feel excited and confident about whatever I am posting.
Andrew: I know a ton of social media managers that never post on their own accounts. It doesn’t really tell you if someone will be good at their job or not.
For those who use social media to brand yourself, what has been your experience “marketing” yourself? Why do you think people curate their accounts?
Andrew: People curate social media for a lot of reasons, but mostly because the majority are just private and (rightfully) don’t want to share extremely personal stuff.
Asia: People curate their accounts as an aesthetic or vibe control. I definitely get it. Curated content is easy on the eyes or super niche to help drive like-minded people to your page.
Dave: I still think it’s funny that people I don’t know want to follow me, but also kinda cool.
There is a lot of discourse around brands that speak to us using slang, like real people. But in what ways do people act like brands?
Yeah I agree Andrew. The same thoughts go through my head when deciding if I should post something to my personal IG and when putting together a post for a brand.- Sinead, D1A
Andrew: Once you start saving photos/videos and planning posts out (even if it’s in your head), you have crossed the line of being a brand, or branding yourself as something other than an NPC [“nonplayer character” in video games, term colloquially used to mean person who cannot think for themselves].
Asia: I’ve definitely crossed that line.
Andrew: Nothing wrong with it! Embrace it.
Adeline: When people start frequently using polls/other engagement tools and having a “call to action” and questions in their post/comments, to me that feels very brand-like.
Andrew: I feel like real people used those first though, and then brands used them to act like people. Now if a person uses it we think it’s a brand thing… Whoa.