As well as being a marketing coach for legal services businesses of all sizes, I am CMO for a global community of women driving change in the legal industry called She Breaks the Law. Very often, my professional expertise as a marketer will cross over with issues our community are keen to discuss. And so I gathered together with other lawbreakers recently for a session on Social Media: Keeping It Real in 2021. Are we really “authentic” or are we in fact damaged by its relentless narrative?

We started off with a poll to discover more about usage and attitudes to social media. We had a fascinating response to this question:

Usage and attitudes to social media

A whole spectrum of emotion there! Love/hate seemed to sum up the mood.

Out of our group, LinkedIn dominated as the platform du choix, with 9.1% of the group using weekly and 7.8% using daily. FaceBook ranked second place with 5.5% & 5.3%. Twitter was not far behind followed by Instagram and other platforms at the bottom (and we think that might just be Helen on TikTok.) The stats make sense in terms of the professional audience and demographic involved, many of us having given our data to Mark Zuckerberg before we knew better – tut tut.

At any rate, considering some of the negative feelings about social media, most of the group were using at least one channel on a weekly or more basis. And in doing so, what kind of narratives are we being fed?

We talked about the need to be authentic on social media. It is difficult to get through a session on social media or personal branding without some reference to “ensuring you are authentic.” And as a result, platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram, are full of heartfelt and authentic posts.

But are they really?

Is it authentic to post about how important it is to have a break and have balance in your life whilst frantically about posting this on social media? Is it “in the moment” to post about how mindful you are being whilst curating the perfect yoga sunset shot? Is it positively authentic to post pictures of seamlessly running your business whilst simultaneously home educating your children and baking the perfect sourdough?

How much posting is toxic positivity, authenticity and flexibility which can often act as a trigger to those around you, especially during a global pandemic?

Katherine Thomas shared some brilliant thoughts about what prompted her to post on this topic In January. She posed a series of powerful questions:

  • Has ‘fake it till you make it’ led us collectively to create a narrative that can be damaging?
  • Have we replaced one narrative – “work all the hours” with another “labour of love” that has become just another form of social coercion to encourage focus on work at all costs?
  • How gendered is this issue? Is toxic positivity a form of machismo we all get dragged into? Do women have a role to play reclaiming this space for genuine connection and honest communication?
  • What about social media elevates us and what depletes us?
  •  How do we show up in ways which are authentic and meaningful?

There were a few wry smiles when Katherine told us about a report by the British Psychological Society entitled “You can BS a bullshitter (or can you?)” that suggests that people who communicate BS are less likely to discern BS from others. The study suggests that ‘faking it’ a lot can turn into self-perpetuating behaviour so that BS becomes reality. We called this ‘the BS cycle’.

Taking all the above into consideration, it’s fair to say it’s a tough psychological world on social media. No wonder many of the group erred on the darker end of that satisfaction scale.

So if you spend a lot of time on social media, how do you remain sensitive to possible triggers and remain as “authentic” as possible? Helen shared with us how she keeps it real online with top five tips:

1 – Social media is not PR. Be as real as you feel you are able to be. But with that, be careful with your own boundaries and always share in a way that does not make you too vulnerable. If you don’t share stuff, it’s not that you are not being authentic – it is about ensuring you have boundaries. 

2 – Don’t just broadcast, take the time to nurture your community and create a good energy. Always think when it comes to your community, what am I giving them that is of value? Social media can of course be a great cathartic tool for getting stuff off your chest, but do so in a way that aims to engage and connect. 

3 – Debate, but don’t argue. Whilst social media is an amazing tool to listen and exchange views, do it in a respectful, professional balanced way. Don’t judge. Don’t intimidate. Don’t patronize. Remember that the digital world is a stage and exchanges play out to the world – and this too can leave you feeling vulnerable. 

4 – Remove triggers. They are everywhere. So many things trigger us on social media. And whilst it is important not to create echo chambers and to be out there listening to diverse views you might not always agree with, if something is affecting your well-being and positivity, you can remove it. Nobody need ever know….

5 – Remember the magic ability of social media to make a positive impact on someone’s day with just one kind comment. Right now we are in a world where a kind comment from someone could make all the difference….let’s use that more and feel the ripple effect of digital kindness!

Sadly, we had real experience of trolling in the group. A few lawbreakers shared their experience of being targeted and it was debated whether this happens to make colleagues in the same way. In “chat” it was agreed that, “… thoughtful debates are less easy to find, because people feel less accountable for what they say in the virtual world.” People shared that they had left social media over, for example, the level of ranting about Brexit.

As we finished we asked how people felt. As a group of lawbreakers we had created a sense of connection and that was reflected in what people shared: 

“Feeling understood. Feeling sad about the negative treatment of women on social media.”

“Feeling good about it but reminded to be more cautious than risking too much vulnerability”

” Thinking about how to be on social media as me without sharing too much.”

There was a lot of dig into in just one sitting, so watch this space for further sessions on a similar theme!

 This blog was co-created by three lawbreakers:

⚡️ Nicola Jones – Athena Professional

⚡️Katherine Thomas – Free Range Lawyers

⚡️Helen Burness – Saltmarsh Marketing

To join She Breaks the Law and find out about future events, find our community page on LinkedIn. Our website is currently in development but you can find the link on there under www.shebreaksthelaw.org. See you there!