Social Media is PR for the masses

Not only are the tools to build an online persona, and to gain a following, at the fingertips of everyone in possession of a smartphone, but the platform that it presents has led to the rise of a new breed of digital celebrities with a numerically greater power base than many mainstream print magazines.

This should hardly surprise us. It is, after all, the exploitation of a new, more democratic, medium. A ubiquitous medium, and one in which PR has become a self-concious act that we all participate in.

Reflect for a moment on the impulse that you have to keep on informing an online responsive audience about the minutiae of your life. A blizzard of confetti, each tiny piece capturing our thoughts and actions, from the banal, to the significant, and back to the banal.

With every update, tweet, post, and photo, we are all turning our hand to PR.

In his interview with Sarah Bailey Putnam, the New York Times columnist David Brooks put his finger on two significant ways in which social media has recalibrated our self-perceptions and habits:

There are two ways social media challenges us. The first is, the idea of broadcasting yourself all the time where we create an avatar of ourselves that is the fake person of ourselves. It’s the highlight reel we put on Instagram. That’s an act of propaganda. The fatal line of propaganda is, the only person it persuades is the author of propaganda. As we put fake images on Facebook and Instagram, we come to believe that’s who we are.

Perception, in this case, is a form of reality. The avatar of ourselves is how we wish to seen and perceived, even though we know that we are constructing it. It is not entirely fake, but it is carefully selected for PR purposes. It is there to communicate our core, sometimes wordless, messages to our digital audience. Precisely because we are forging this online persona, we are, at the same time, aware that others are doing exactly the same thing.

To live and breathe in this atmosphere is to willingly collude and participate in a world of artificial perceptions. In some shape or form, these are the rules of the game. The medium demands it. The really foolish thing is to be self-deceived by it, to believe our own propaganda.

Brooks drew out a further way that social media has recast our internal landscape:

The second is the distraction factor. I find it very hard to sit down and read books and read important things because I waste so much time answering e-mail and on Twitter. It’s like candy that’s always there, mental candy, and makes you shallower because you don’t carve out the time to read something that would make you spiritually enriched.

Doubtless this is partly because social media is not only PR for the masses, it is also a long term PR campaign.

The act of digital self-iconography makes constant demands on us precisely because others are, as we want them to be, responsive to each effort we make at re-presenting ourselves. And that takes time, the time that we could give to other things.

When a New York Times columnist complains that he finds it hard to sit down to read books and important things, we should all pause and worry a little about our own habits and practices.

Will any of us ever confess at the end of life, as we ponder our failures and list our regrets, that we didn’t spend enough time on social media?

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