10 ways to be a smarter consumer and creator of social media content

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Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, it is becoming increasingly more obtrusive and omnipresent in our day-to-day lives. As more businesses use platforms like Instagram as an invaluable advertising tool and social media becomes even more watered down with meaningless and even harmful content, it’s ever-more important that we learn how to be intelligent and responsible consumers of this relatively new form of media.

I will be one of the first to extoll the benefits of social media. It allows us to connect with others, share our passions, engage with a wider audience, meet like-minded people, and it provides us with a platform to inspire, educate, and positively influence others. Throughout my life I’ve been ingrained in multiple online communities, from film buffs to foodies to fitness addicts, and I’m deeply appreciative of the connections I’ve made, and the friendships that I’ve formed.

Pretty much everything I know about fitness and nutrition, two of my biggest passions, I have learned from YouTube and Instagram (and bodybuilding.com god bless), and I’m so grateful for those who have chosen to share their knowledge and passion and enabled people like me to gain the confidence and courage to lift and grow stronger.

That being said, it’s absolutely imperative that, as consumers of social media, we are informed, aware, and critical. Social media poses a significant danger to the unaware and impressionable, but, just as with the mainstream media, this is easily preventable by being smarter and more critical consumers of social media.

I. Consider their motives

Social media is flooded with advertisements in disguise, sponsored posts, and users trying to sell products to their followers, such as ebooks, guides, plans, coaching, apparel, merch, pyramid schemes, skinny detox teas, magical beauty products with hefty promises, slimming body wraps, etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using Instagram and other social media platforms as a business/marketing tool. I am so inspired by social media influencers like Amanda Bucci who have built legitimate businesses through social media and have used their social standing to positively influence others and sell legit products/services.

That being said, never forget that everyone has their own motives and intentions when it comes to promoting themselves and various products on social media, especially if their goal is making a profit. As consumers, we make a conscious CHOICE to purchase products, and it’s okay to go off of a social media figure’s recommendation when purchasing a product; it’s okay to buy an ebook from someone you admire who you believe is qualified to give you solid and beneficial advice. As smart consumers of social media and as smart customers, however, it is important to consider a couple things:

  • Everybody and every BODY is different and what works for one person may not work for you. Be aware of your own expectations and do not expect to magically acquire someone else’s body type by following a guide or product that they sold to you.
    There is nothing wrong with buying someone’s ebook that they worked hard to create to share the knowledge they have acquired, but I have had both good and bad experiences with workout/nutrition guides, and I definitely advise caution and careful consideration and evaluation of your expectations and their motives.
    Above all else, LOVE YOUR BODY and don’t strive to be like anyone else. Aspire instead to be the best and healthiest version of yourself.
  • Consider sponsorships.
    Again, there is nothing wrong with social media influencers and celebrities using their influence to promote a company’s products, but consider before making a purchase on the basis of a recommendation whether or not that person is getting paid to make these recommendations.
    For example, if Whitney Simmons tells me she loves a product, I’m approximately 105% more inclined to purchase it because I’ve purchased things based on her recommendations before and I view her as a trustworthy and reputable recommender of stuff, but I still always do objective research before making any important purchase (for example, when buying SUPPLEMENTS!!! — I always check like 5 different sources before purchasing any supplement because I TRUST NO ONE *cue X-Files theme music*). Which leads me to…
  • Do your research on a product before purchasing it. Simple as that. Don’t take one person’s review as gospel when it comes to big purchases or purchases that can have an impact on your health/nutrition/results. There is also SO much misinformation out there when it comes to advice that people offer, particularly in regards to health/nutrition/fitness, and it’s important to recognize that not every source is a reliable, qualified, and trustworthy source. Educate yourself and digest all the information that comes from your phone screen with a grain of salt.
  • BONUS PRO TIP: ask yourself: is this a pyramid scheme? 🤔🤔  Just throwing that out there because people are always messaging me trying to recruit me for their pyramid schemes.

II. Consider YOUR motives

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As a creator of social media content, I think it is equally important to ask yourself what your motives are. Take time to really truly and honestly examine yourself, your social media usage, your motives, and how much of the day you spend on your phone. Take the time to think about why you’re doing it, and how it is benefitting your personal growth and happiness. I think it’s also important to ask yourself, whenever you post something, what purpose it serves. I’m definitely guilty of posting pointless mirror pics, and, no, there is nothing wrong with posting a bomb selfie because you’re feeling yourself, but I also like to challenge myself to create meaningful, original, and (hopefully) informative content that contributes something.

Audience engagement is important when trying to grow your social media presence for entrepreneurial reasons and otherwise, but be wary of placing too much importance on likes and follows and gleaning validation from something that is, in the end, meaningless.

I’m so flattered when I receive kind messages and compliments, and the genuine support from girls across the world who share my passions definitely make it all the more worth it, but I never post anything with the intentions of having my self-esteem bolstered. On the flip side of that, there are also a lot of shitheads roaming them great wide web, so it’s equally important to be able to brush off negative comments and not allow your self-esteem to be derailed by some weirdo with nothing better to do than spreading negativity and hate.

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Don’t fixate on likes or followers, and never let your happiness or sense of fulfillment hinge on the validation of a little pink heart. If you’re doing it for validation from total strangers behind glowing screens, you probably shouldn’t be doing it at all. Seek validation from within, and love yourself first. Because you are enough, and you are your own beautiful and amazing and original and supercool human being.

And post what you want to post and feel comfortable posting. Never post something because you feel pressured to by trends and what others are posting. ~BE UR OWN BEAUTIFUL SELF~🦄

Speaking of trends…

III. Know the Trends

I have a lot of clothes piled up in a spare room in my apartment that I’m trying desperately to get rid of because I bought them on a whim before they quickly went out of style. The world was so different when Baby Erin was a lil freshman in college back in 2013. THAT BEING SAID, don’t invest too much money on trends. And definitely don’t do anything dangerous because of a trend. I spend approximately zero time on social media outside of looking at stuff related to food and fitness, so I don’t really know what kids today are doing on the Internet, but anything with the word “challenge” in it (e.g. “kylie jenner challenge”, “cinnamon challenge”) immediately scares me.

Likewise, recognize what the trends are across social media and don’t invest yourself too heavily in what’s “trendy”. I’m glad that some positive messages, such as body positivity and “reality vs. posed” have become trendy, but it’s also important to consider that the sentiments at the core of some of these messages can become diluted when it’s “trendy” to post about them, and the message can also become kind of muddled and manipulated. Again, consider motives and true intentions. Sam James (@sjamesfit) has a great post that touches on that here.

Another thing I’ve noticed for me personally that I’ve been paying more attention to lately, is that urgent, pressing need to have the latest, trendiest styles that I see on Instagram (obviously I’m referring to gym clothes because I don’t wear real people clothes). Because I see so many people with stuff I want, the fiercely and intensely materialistic part of my soul convinces me that I need to have that, need to spend money that I don’t have, need to don the latest styles in order to slay, when the truth is I actually already have a ton of gym clothes, don’t have enough expendable income to buy a new gym outfit every week, and I can slay in the stuff I already own.

I definitely feel like there’s a tremendous pressure, particularly in the fitness instagram community (I don’t really look at other social media so this is just a wild guess lolz), to constantly be “on trend” and have the latest trendy things, and it’s okay to want those things if you just honestly think they’re cute as heck, but just always be aware and smart and conscious about your purchases, and whether or not you really NEED something. Yes, it’s nice to have nice things and to treat yourself to new things that you really, really want, but don’t feel pressured to buy the latest such and such because of a trend. If you have the money, go for it. But if you’re like me and you’re a 22-year-old college student with absolutely no financial support from your parents, resist listening to the voice in your head that tries to convince you that you need it, and don’t become unhappy and depressed and dissatisfied with your life because of what others have.

I wasn’t born into an ideal financial situation, and I definitely struggle and feel down about the extra hoops I have to jump through sometimes when I see Instagram models who *seem* to have it all. But I always have to stop myself and consider: yes, I want to have nice things, but that’s why I’m keeping my head up and working hard every day to work for what I want to achieve and to better myself and my situation. Not to mention, I’m extremely grateful for all that I do have. I would never begrudge or resent anyone who worked hard or whose parents worked hard to achieve a better financial situation than mine, and I don’t think worse of myself for not having that financial security yet. Never let your sense of self-worth and your enjoyment of life depend on whether or not you have x, y, and z thing that everybody else does.

Just as an example, when Gymshark launched their new burgundy and light gray seamless collection, I had convinced myself so completely that I NEEDED them that I was utterly devastated when I realized I couldn’t really spare the extra cash. But then I thought to myself, I already have more shit from Gymshark than I can even wear in a week at the gym; do I really need red seamless leggings to achieve fulfillment and lasting happiness? The answer was no and I’m just as happy with my life now as I was before I knew the red seamless leggings existed. Do I still want them and would I get them if I had more money? Of course I would. But I don’t have the money right now and I’m not going to allow that to make me unhappy.

Lately I’ve been investing more of my money in good food and my health and experiences and nice dinners/movies with my boyfriend, and I don’t have as many hawt NEW gym outfits in my rotation and my sneakers aren’t a gleaming surgical shade of white, but it’s ALL GOOD. I love looking cute and feeling confident in the gym and, yes, being “on trend” with my ~gym fashion stylez~, but I also realize I don’t need to constantly buy new things to achieve that, because in the end, when it comes to gym clothes it’s about what you’re comfortable in and enables maximal performance.

IV. Do it for YOU, not for Social Media. Be Present

One of the most shockingly surreal moments of my college career was hearing these two haunting phrases: “Let’s take candids” and “Now let’s pretend like we’re laughing”. It sounds too bizarre and darkly ironic to be a real thing that someone would actually say, but I promise you, it was all too real.

Don’t pretend like you’re laughing. Live for joy and for genuine laughter and smiles and real moments. Live for the present moment. Don’t live for hollow, imaginary, depthless moments staged for a social media photo op. I’ve had nights out with friends where we spent more time staging photos and taking selfies and videos for our stories than actually talking to each other. Yes, I like having pictures to look back on, but remember to practice all things in moderation.

Be present and cherish experiences in real time, not through the lens of your camera. If you’re doing it to post about it, stop and think about the implications of that when it comes to living a genuine, fulfilling, and fully present life.

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Even more importantly, don’t do it for the gram. Do it for the experience. Do it to live. Do it for YOU, not for social media. I have witnessed people go to certain places or do certain things for the sole purpose of posting about it on Instagram.

While I understanding taking pics for the #memz, if you’re doing something for the sole purpose of posting about it, try to bring yourself back to the present moment and remember to have experiences for the sake of having experiences.

V. Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Ass; i.e. stop comparing yourself

This is one of the most important things I think social media users should consider, particularly young women. Everyone uses their best poses/angles — which is fine btw, but be aware. I’ve never photoshopped or altered my images except using the tools on Instagram to edit for color/brightness/etc., but some people DO edit their photos, so consider that as well. Not everything is what it seems to be when it’s so easy in this day and age to manipulate perceptions and portray a false reality. Don’t compare your life to someone else’s; as much of themselves as they may share on Instagram and as much as you feel like you may know them, you don’t. You are your own beautiful and shouldn’t strive to be like anyone else or have what they have. Do it for YOU to be the best and healthiest YOU.

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I work out not only to feel better and to feel more confident and stronger, but I also LOVE the feeling of being able to see the physical changes in my physique, and see the physical results of my hard work, and witnessing goals being reached. Like anyone, I have aesthetic goals, like growing my delts/quads/glutes/achieving a leaner look. Not because I hate my body, but because I’m addicted to setting goals and grinding towards them, and because I want to be the most bomb version of myself possible. I try to never compare my progress to anyone else’s, because everyone lives very different lives, has very different genes, and responds differently to different diets/workouts/etc. There’s nothing wrong with setting aesthetic goals, but aesthetics is such a surface level factor that I think Instagram promotes too much emphasis on. For me, more than the changes in my physique, the biggest gains have been within.

I used to endlessly compare myself to fitness models on Instagram who have been lifting for years, or were leaning out for a competition, and I would get so discouraged because I didn’t look like them or because I wasn’t seeing results quickly and I didn’t think it was possible that I could ever lean out enough to see ab definition. Looking at people who have made progress and had real results and hearing their stories motivates and inspires me like nothing else, but sometimes there’s a fine line between drawing comparisons for motivation, and allowing that comparison to make you feel worse about yourself.

In short — it’s okay to be inspired by someone else’s journey and to use that as motivation, but never forget that everyone’s journey is different. Learn to trust the process and love the process rather than comparing yourself to someone else whose story and life and genes and journey are completely different from yours. Focus on building your best YOU.

VI. Beware mindless scrolling and addiction

I don’t believe in shaming people who genuinely enjoy spending time on social media (especially because I’m one of them — I follow such beautiful babes, how could I not want to peruse my feed?!), and I see no reason to be ashamed in liking social media or using it as a tool to engage an audience or build a business or spread a message, but don’t let it control your real life, either. Beware of mindless scrolling and time wasting. Whenever I find myself with a lot of extra free time, or, even worse, when I’m procrastinating, I’m always so tempted to scroll for hours through a literally endless stream of images on my phone. Even when I could be reading a book, getting my butt outside, working out, getting things done that I actually really need to do… Yes, sometimes it’s fun to just not think about anything and scroll, but sometimes it’s also counterproductive.

There came a point in my life lately where I had to take a huge step back and reevaluate my social media usage, because it had gotten to the point where I was prioritizing it over real-life interactions and face-to-face relationships, and letting it become not only an addiction but a harmful obsession. M O D E R A T I O N  really is the key for pretty much all things in life (except smiles and kindness and love; no need to practice those in moderation!), and the same goes for social media. I never again want to sacrifice real-life experiences and relationships for the sake of spending more time on social media.

VII. Unplug from content that has a negative impact on you

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As consumers of social media, we can choose what we consume. 

If content is making you feel badly about yourself, spreading a negative message or spreading any message that conflicts with your wellbeing and positivity or your values, choose not to consume that content. Don’t subscribe to people who take more than they add to your life. Think critically: is this content meaningful? Is this content benefiting me?

Pay attention to your reactions to the content on your social media feeds. If it contributes meaningfully to your life, that’s great! If it adds nothing to your life, consider whether or not it’s worth consuming. This can go either way. Watching a lot of videos of Samoyed doggos, for instance, doesn’t necessarily add to my life or contribute to my self-development journey, but it certainly doesn’t negatively impact it, either (unless I’m supposed to be writing a paper or something). But if the content is literally detracting from your life or making you feel worse about yourself or worse about your lifestyle/your life in general… don’t make room in your heart/your mind/your daily life for anything or anyone who impacts you negatively. Life is too precious to allow ourselves to consume and tolerate toxic influences.

VIII. Beware false idols

This is a pretty simple one: don’t make false gods/put people on a pedestal — having a lot of followers does not make someone more worthy of admiration. Nor does having a lot of followers make someone any less human, or less susceptible to making mistakes, or deserving of negativity/bullying. People are people, simple as that. No one deserves to be mercilessly criticized, and no one deserves to be blindly worshipped.

IX. Beware FOMO

Up until my last year of college, I was susceptible to an affliction that affects so many: FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out. I’m here to tell you to BEWARE THE FOMO.

It’s more or less a cliché at this point, but consider this: social media is a highlight reel. It’s not really worth feeling anguish just because you see a picture where it looks like people you know were having fun and taking cute pics without you and you’re sad because you didn’t get any cute pics and you missed out big time and now your life is terrible and you’re going to lose your friends because you weren’t there that one time. That used to be my actual thought process whenever I didn’t go out to a frat on a given weekend night and woke up the next day to all of the fake candids and hated myself for not going, even though I didn’t want to in the first place.

If you want to go to an event, go to it. If you don’t want to or literally CAN’T go to an event, don’t get upset when people post about it on social media, and don’t let FOMO negatively impact you. Again, don’t compare your life to anyone else’s, and don’t assume that because someone is posting a cute pic and you weren’t there that they’re having a better time than you, living more than you, or that their life is better than yours. You do you, boo. If you’re busy or you have work or just don’t feel like it, don’t let FOMO overcome you and drag you down. There will always be more experiences to have, and there will always be more photo ops. And if someone is truly your friend, your friendship is not going to crumble because you weren’t in the latest group photo.

For instance, this year I couldn’t go to my school’s annual summer binge drinking weekend, (“Arts Fest”, or the Centre County Arts Festival), and in the past this would have really upset me, because I knew my personal social media feeds were going to be flooded with pictures of people I know having a fun time and looking cute without me. But guess what? The weekend came and went and the world kept turning and I didn’t get any pictures of myself day drinking in white converse and high waisted denim shorts and a shirt with a ridiculous slogan on it, but I had a great weekend spending quality time with my boyfriend and not really looking at my phone. WHICH FINALLY LEADS ME TO…

X. Come up for air every once in awhile

Pay attention to your peers and anyone around you and see how much time they spend looking down at their phone. Come up for air and look around you every once in awhile, and take the time to notice how much time you spend looking at your phone, and how much time people around you spend looking at their phones, and how much of the day you spend connecting with people without looking at your phone.

Take time off from it to refresh your view of the world. Take the time to disconnect. Take the time to be fully immersed in experiences, to do things for you rather than for the gram, to live life to the fullest and be fully engaged in the present moment. Take time to really consider the content you create and consume, to engage with positive and meaningful content, and to spread positivity wherever you leave your mark on the web, the world, and on your own heart and mind.

Be real. Be genuinely, uniquely, and unapologetically you. Be present, be positive, be happy and be healthy, be content with your own life, and love yourself always.

What do you guys think about social media? I’d love to hear back from you and get some thoughts on how best to manage the influence of social media on our lives. Comment below or shoot me a message!

xo, Erin 💖

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