WEEK 3: A Conversation with Guest Speaker Serena Ehrlich by Emma Felicity

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By UCLA X469.21 Student Emma Felicity

Emma Felicity

Emma Felicity

“The Aspirational Nature of Social Media”

When Serena Ehrlich of Business Wire spoke to our class recently, I was struck by her charming nature and realistic outlook on the task of monitoring corporate social media. She was genuine and informative, and despite her modest attitude it was clear that we were in the presence of one of those rare and elite ‘masters’ of social media.

Serena brought a wealth of useful information, starting with techniques for how to crawl social media and monitor discussions on behalf of your company. While it was all fascinating, I was struck by how she began her presentation focused on an idea that I have not been able to get out of my head. That idea was how social media is inherently aspirational. Deep down, I already knew this to be true; I myself sit firmly in the center of that psychology. However, I had never really thought of it the way Serena presented, and now I am hooked on this new outlook.

Serena Ehrlich

Serena Ehrlich

It isn’t necessarily that people are more likely to put up a false front when creating their personal or business social media profile, or that they will tailor their posts to the point where the feed no longer resembles their actual life. Rather, people tend to create an online image of what they believe to be their ‘best selves.’ It can be hopeful, it can be goal-oriented, and it seems to me that it is almost more honest than literally posting the minutiae or the setbacks of someone’s day. When I say ‘almost more honest,’ I mean it in the sense that people are showing their ideal trajectory in the form of the landmarks they have hit, are working on presently, or hope to achieve in the future… and this is extremely telling in an age when most people keep their strongest desires hidden from the world for fear of appearing to fail or being ridiculed for having dreams.

We all think we appreciate enthusiasm, but in our real lives it is elusive and often mislabeled as fanaticism, zeal, or simply ‘nerding out. We hide our love, our hope, our daydreams and fantasies, all because we have been trained that to be aloof is to be cool, and being unaffected is the key to fitting in. The only reason we have guilty pleasures is because being pleased with something publicly opens us up to judgement, and if for some reason this band, or show, or video game doesn’t fit with our perceived public image, it must be tucked away safely where nobody – except maybe one’s siblings or partner of many years – will see it. Playing hard-to-get is the only way to play successfully with the vast majority of other people, whether it derives from the strategy that being coy will attract and maintain their interest, or the fear that showing your hand will put you at a disadvantage. Being 26 as I write this, my views could just be shaped by my generational experience… but I believe they are deeper than that, and that some form of inner-self protection has always been an integral part of western culture, and perhaps the human experience at large.

Social media can be an outlet for these passions, these areas of expertise and enthusiasm. It provides an arena for our fanaticism and love for our hobbies, crafts, pets, skills, sports trivia, comic books, alt-jazz history knowledge, or collection of vintage typewriters. All the hours that we’ve spent falling down these rabbit holes are made respectable in our own eyes when we can add these attributes to the list of credentials possessed by our best selves online.

That is why I am so impressed with the realization that the average person’s use of social media exposes them and shows the world (or perhaps only those given access to a private profile) who the person thinks he/she wants to be. I am also beginning to see the merit of bloggers, which had thus far escaped me. I wasn’t sure why these people, especially young people, were quickly becoming experts and trusted information sources for so many millions of relative strangers.

Of course I feel a pang of bitterness when I hear that a 16 year-old could be paid up to $100,000 for a post endorsing a new makeup product… but that pang melts away when I examine the filter of my own envy, and see that she has several key things that perhaps I am too shy to have or to display myself:

A) Knowledge – She knows how to apply makeup at a professional level, in spite of her youth.

B) Generosity – She is willing to share her useful information with others, and does not covet these tips to keep herself looking better than those around her.

C) Drive – She works to learn new and better ways to do the things she already knows how to do well. She seeks unfamiliar techniques which can create beautiful effects, she goes through the sampling process of a variety of cosmetic products and gives insightful reviews on quality and applicability. This is time. This is dedication. This is enthusiasm, in its most raw and powerful form.

Suddenly I see why so many people admire her, and truly pay attention when she speaks or writes. I see it now, because I feel it myself. She isn’t afraid of the inevitable trolls who lurk the internet. Or if she is, she displays the courage of conviction that they can come for her if they like, but she has something to say and is willing to share her enthusiasm for creative cosmetics even in the face of potential naysayers. She is trying to help people, not just because her best self is knowledgeable and capable of communicating effectively, but because her best self is, simply, helpful. Her best self wants the best selves of others to come to fruition too, and via new technology she is enabled to reach countless people who can and will benefit from her advice.

She is aspirational, and she inspires others to be aspirational. She uses the tools of social media to share her best self, and it is beautiful.