For those who don’t know, I have been working on Gary Vaynerchuk’s personal brand team for well over a year now.* For anyone familiar with Gary’s content, you already know that Gary is the literal embodiment of the word “hustle.”
Not too long ago I received a DM in my Instagram inbox from one Gary fan that really got me thinking about the storytelling portion of social media. It started, “Congrats on the lifestyle!” He was not only congratulating me on my job with Gary, but more so that I also get to take so much time off to travel.
I laughed. Hard.
And then I replied.
I wasn’t on vacation and hadn’t been in a while. You don’t go work for someone as driven as Gary and expect to take much time off. In fact, over the course of my year with Gary, I only took one official vacation (I went to Portugal in May, making sure I only took ~5 business days off). This isn’t to brag or tell you how many hours I put in. It’s just the case.
This wasn’t the first time I had gotten a message congratulating me on my perceived excellent work-life balance or travel schedule.
Here’s why I replied and why I wanted to write this piece:
The content that people and companies put out is the content they want you to see.
I post a lot of lifestyle and travel pictures on my social media feeds, particularly on Instagram. However, just because I post a picture with a geotag in Paris, it does not mean I am in Paris at that exact moment. Was it taken in Paris? Yes.
That’s the difference.
To be fair, I could be in Paris at the time of posting and it’s not necessarily the case that I am. (That’s where context comes in — I’m most likely not going to be in Paris on 3 separate occasions within a two-month span wearing the same clothes).
My personal Instagram feed is curated when I want, the way I want because it’s mine. If anyone really cares about where I am in real time, it’s better to check my IG Story, my Snapchat, or reach out to me — I am not evasive about where I am.
The truth is, I am almost always in an office. I am not globetrotting and just collecting checks… at least not yet. I don’t want anyone to think that a life where you can just travel and have no responsibilities is a legitimate option. If it is, it’s not one for me and I don’t sell anyone that idea.
The scary part is that I know I could.
I love that I have the power to control my own narrative. I love that I can help other people craft their narratives. This is great news for anyone trying to sell something. It’s amazing how you can tell whatever story you want to tell and there’s huge upside if you can tell it well and convincingly.
Marketers pay lip service to the power of storytelling, but it is very, very, VERY real. The ability to tell a story on social media means everything to your brand or business. A great story can sell a product much faster than any data point can.
I’m not against monetization at all. If people wanted to pay me for my advice on (fill in the blank), I’m all for making money and I wouldn’t be against creating a product or business around an area I can add value.
The Dark Side to Influencer Marketing & Personal Branding
However, there is a darker side to this storytelling. Not everyone cares about adding value. There are way too many people following huckster “entrepreneurs” and other fakes, who are selling their “secrets” behind a paywall. There will always be shady people who will try to prey on the gullible, but it’s just easier than ever to convince massive amounts of willing people.
In some ways, I have a sick respect for those hucksters. If they can convince you to follow them and/or pay them for their product, they must be doing something right in the marketing department. The perception that you can make a ton of money by taking “X’s” online course or after reading “Z” amount of books or some passive income scheme is crazy to me, but millions of people buy into it.
I just want to remind everyone that a large personal brand is a business. The larger the account, the more heavily curated, and the higher production value that can be put into it. Content is specifically created to tell an intentional story. It’s work for fake gurus to convince you how hard they don’t have to “work” anymore. Whether it’s going to the bank to take out money to photograph it on a borrowed yacht or hiring models to hang out for an hour, content generation takes time, effort, and often a team.
Influencer marketing is one of the most undervalued forms of marketing in part because many people still don’t realize they are being sold.
There is generally some level of trust between the influencer and the audience in order for it to be effective. However, just like in real life, sometimes we trust the wrong people.
I always try to think about why something is being posted and the motivation behind it. For anyone who has a huge following or anyone trying to move up the influencer ladder, each post is very deliberate.
I just want to encourage everyone to consume content critically.
Is that vegan startup founder actually a vegan? How did that person selling their business advice actually make their money? Did that “serial entrepreneur” actual build more than one successful business? Look through their feeds, think about what they are selling, and use Google liberally.
Entertainment and escapism is one thing, paying “experts” is another. We religiously read Amazon reviews before we buy something small, but don’t apply the same level of care to paying the “rich” guy on Instagram for his pricey “limited time only” course and “exclusive” newsletter.
Next time you’re scrolling through your social feeds and before entering your credit card number: do your homework, ask the questions, and dig deeper.