Building Yourself In Public

Outlining a model of social media usage that maximizes social interaction and engagement from close friends.

This article was tagged with: Social Media

There are 2143 words in this article, and it will probably take you less than 11 minutes to read it.

This article was published 2024-01-26 00:00:00 -0500, which makes this post and me old when I published it.


Background

Social media should be about connections. Twitter used to be a place where you posted casual thoughts or updates about your day: how or what you were doing. Nowadays the dreaded Algorithmic Feed has taken over and shows content that it thinks you want; regardless of what you may or may not actually want. Social media networks have been enshittified, where they are no longer serving the original purposes that they were created for because they are instead attempting to be profit engines for the massive corporations and investors who have an overwhelming stake in the platforms.

In the age of technology, we should be able to connect more with the people that we love, and I think that the Internet does in fact give us the tools, it’s just a matter of how we use them. I used to be very good about texting people back, but these days I feel like I’ve lost the skill and may never fully recover to my peak days. In talking to other people, I’ve heard things along the same lines, mostly focused on the insurmountability of the task of keeping in touch with all of your friends in a constant and meaningful way. As an alternative, there is the relationship model of the “monthly meetup” friend, but that leaves much to be desired when they’re the kind of person that you do want to be closer with.

A friend of mine has been posting on their private Instagram account for awhile now chronicling much of their daily life; both of the wins and tribulations of the day. In doing this, it has allowed me to remain feeling connected with them even if I haven’t been engaging in daily conversation with them or seen them in-person for a couple of months. This kind of usage of social media has deeply inspired me, and in examining it through the lens of “building in public” I have been able to develop a sort of framework for staying connected with people online at scale.

What is Building In Public?

Building in public is a concept developed by startup founders wherein you are building a company or product in a way that is transparent to your audience. This concept usually begins and ends in entrepreneurship, but I think a similar thing can be done at a personal level via social media, more specifically with “finstas” and/or Close Friends Stories/Posts on Instagram.

Instead of building a product, you are building yourself in public; which is to say that you are developing, learning, and growing while sharing your experiences to your closest circle. You are sharing both the good and bad times with your friends; allowing them to share in celebrating the good times with you as well as giving them the chance to comfort you or offer you advice in your bad times.

I know the importance of being able to let people in to help you, but often struggle with actually doing so. When I was in an internship program during university, my mentor said something to me that I will never forget, she said, “Rees, you are very independent and I really admire that about you and that is a good trait to have, but because of that I felt like the other mentors and I didn’t really get to know you that much.” She went on to advise that I could potentially stage fake reasons to need help as to make opportunities to connect with other mentors in the future throughout my schooling and career.

I think that posting to your stories is a good model for enabling voluntary self-disclosure, which is the way to build emotional intimacy in relationships. If done correctly, in a way that is true to yourself, it will allow your friends to get a more holistic and realistic picture of who you are as a person. This is because you will be sharing in a place that is outside of conversation and mediated by those norms and expectations of society and that other person.

How To Build Yourself in Public

A clarity and aligning of intentions must first be reached before you start posting. The main intention behind your posting should instead be connection. You are providing information and/or opportunities for people to learn more about you, help you out, or talk deeper with you. Posting for validation and/or posturing will cause a certain kind of addiction to posting or an over-reliance on engagement.

Social media posturing is micro and macro level curation of your personal online image. People are often criticized for what they do or do not post, so it’s understandable why people do this. This usually results in people posting the highlights of their lives, with some braver souls choosing to post to their stories about causes that they are passionate about. However I think that this robs people of connection in a very real way.

On the other hand, if you are posting for validation you’ll begin to post things that are “like bait” or constantly be wanting to post because you want to receive the small amount of dopamine that comes from receiving post engagement. This is by design so it’s not exactly your fault, but it’s something to keep in mind so that you don’t fall into its trap.

How to Share

As for how exactly you should carry out the sharing, I would recommend using Instagram:

  • You are meeting people where they are on a platform that they already use on a day-to-day basis (assuming that most of your friends are using Instagram)
  • Feed/Story posts are fairly accessible and post notifications can be turned on if nothing else so that you know that your friends will see your content
  • Instagram has built out Close Friends Story and Feed posts which allow you finer-grained control over who you are sharing to
  • You can easily create a new Instagram account if you want to keep it small and separate from your main account
  • You can have Story Highlights to archive/categorize and make Story content a bit more accessible

On Instagram you can either create a new, separate account, or try utilizing your main account and rely heavily on the Close Friends feature:

  • Pros of Separate Account Approach:
    • Can have further ring delineation (Main Account, Sep Account, Sep Account Close Friends) which allows a bit more granular control.
    • You can worry less about accidentally posting content to all of your followers on your main account.
    • You can focus on your closer friends in Main and Stories feeds because it is less cluttered with other people.
  • Cons of Separate Account Approach:
    • Do you want to switch back and forth between accounts on the Instagram app? It’s relatively easy but can be annoying to manage conversations between both apps.
    • There’s a certain amount of friction involved in inviting your close friends to follow your new account.

What to Share

I think that Instagram was initially all about Feed posts, but I think that for our purposes of building yourself in public, Story posts will be better. I used to scoff at Stories as a social media modality, but now I think I believe that they are the best option for this kind of sharing and connecting. The ephemerality of it greatly lends itself to the idea of casualness when capturing an image. Additionally, there is a suite of tools that allow for quick editing or adding text to convey more information or to prompt viewers of the story. Lastly, the ability to “swipe up” to immediately direct message someone in reference to a story allows the conversation to be private. With that being said, I don’t think that Feed posts are completely obsolete, and I don’t believe in the potential for an all-stories social media app, but I think that both are integral parts of a healthy social media network.

Your content will be heavily dependent on your own interests and desires, but here are a few ideas:

  • Story Posts:
    • Post screenshots of other apps on stories
      • If people don’t follow you on apps like Goodreads or Untappd, you can still update your friends about the books that you’ve finished or beers that you’ve tried
    • Post polls (music/book reccs) or text posts with questions for advice
    • Food posts
  • Feed Posts:
    • Post weekly/travel dumps
      • These are nice because you can do square/non vertical posts that Story posts don’t allow for.
      • These can include photos that you’ve posted to your stories as a kind of weekly round up
    • Tier lists/rankings of your favorite things
      • Favorite books, albums, foods, etc.
    • Longer rants or written stories about whatever you want to talk about

You can post as much or as little as you want. I think that you should be sharing during the good and bad times of your life, so that people know what’s going on but can also be there for you in both times. Just as important, or perhaps even more important is what NOT to share. That is something that isn’t really a hard and fast boundary, but something that is decided by and negotiated internally by you. All I can say is that I think that you should keep some things close to your chest. Sometimes you might share something that you only feel in the moment and then don’t clear up after the fact which means that people just operate under the assumption that you still feel that way because they don’t know and don’t have any way of knowing otherwise.

Benefits

There are long stretches of time where your friend might not post or you miss their posts in the Feed or clutter of the Stories panel. I believe that if people were more apt to post about their hardships or just small things about good or bad days that they are experiencing there would be a lot of options for more small interactions with friends. These small interactions I believe would add up over time by providing a sort of sense of presence and closeness between people, even if the interactions themselves aren’t all that substantial. Close friendships are often supported by small interactions over time interspersed with intense small periods where lots of connection and catching up are able to be done in a small amount of time.

I think that something closely related to the idea of building yourself in public would be sharing about mental health and lessons learned on how to live a better life. The destigmatization of mental health treatment, in my opinion, first comes from demystifying therapy. Therapy is incredibly personal so it is completely understandable that someone wouldn’t want to share what happens in a session, but there are ways to share learnings without being too personally revealing. You get to democratize therapy while potentially opening up avenues for your other friends to share relevant information as well. This can be reassurance or more substantive discussions about therapeutic advice.

Potential Drawbacks

A potential problem I can see particularly with Instagram is that you do not get notified if a user screenshots a story or feed post. Technically this shouldn’t be a problem because ideally you trust everyone on your Close Friends List, but I think if screenshot notifications were available it would give me more peace of mind. My only advice would be to never post anything too incriminating/would want potentially permanent evidence of. You can’t stop someone from talking about what you say and telling other people so in that way it’s the same, but they don’t technically have any hard evidence that you did in fact say those things.

One worry that I initially had and I imagine many others would have would be as follows: In not knowing what your friend is up to for long stretches of time, it allows you more to talk about when you actually do get to see them and catch up. What do you then talk about when you do get to hang out? Would this disincentivize you from trying to hang out IRL with a friend? I don’t blame myself or anyone else who had this thought, but upon a bit of reflection I think that posting can give you even more to talk about. It does this in two ways, one of which is reducing the reliance on memory. Relying on your own memory to catch up with someone means that you’ll often let things slip. The other way is that it gives you more anchor points in conversation, the more you know about what’s going on in your friend’s life, the more that you’re able to ask them about/discuss with them.


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