January 11, 2018

"Remember to Like, Comment, and Subscribe" - Self-Worth in the Internet Age

You post a photo to Instagram that you are convinced will gain a ton of attention. And then, the unthinkable happens: no immediate likes. No comments. Not a single heart. Here’s the million dollar question….how does this make you feel? Or even alternatively, when the likes and emojis come pouring in, do you feel your self-esteem flourish with each “like” added? Perhaps you are one of the fortunate ones who remain relatively indifferent to how others respond to your posts, but given the dopamine boost we receive when someone likes them, it’s no wonder it’s driving our behavior.

Facebook boasts stats that suggest every minute across the globe, “510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded.” Technology has benefited our lives in so many ways, and social media has connected us in ways we never imagined a decade ago. Whether it’s work related or personal, how you respond to your social media feedback may indicate something about your self-worth. I fear, however, that in this age of immediate feedback and gratification, we aren’t doing ourselves - or our egos - any favors by indulging in this behavior too frequently.

While social media can bolster our confidence when we choose to put ourselves out there or provide a low-risk space to share our ideas, it can do exactly the opposite as well. We’ve all seen various posts from people in our networks who pour their lives out to the public in search of reinforcement or attention.

Becoming reliant on these connections as a key input to fuel your tank with support often results in one of two immediate outcomes: (1) positive feedback and/or many likes can make you feel much better; or (2) receiving negative input - or worse, no input at all - can likely make you feel even worse.

But maybe that’s not the end of the story. I, for one, believe that achieving balance is possible, and you can use social media in a healthy way to add value to your day to day life. But it starts with understanding what your purpose is.  

While responses to social media feedback may provide input to our self-worth, having a personal purpose is a contributing factor to this delicate puzzle as well.  Healthy self-esteem can ebb and flow based on events and moments in our lives. However, when we have areas in our lives that really matter to us - a job we feel we contribute to, volunteer work we cherish, friends and family who love and value us, etc. - the relationship with social media seems to play far less of a significant contributor to our overall self-worth.  
No, I haven’t done scientific research on this, but I do pay attention. While I adore the accessibility social media creates for us, I have observed countless of examples of people’s self-esteem taking a hit when, after posting a selfie, they just didn’t get the response they were hoping for. And yet,  I’ve also noted when people have other really meaningful things sustaining their lives, that sting is far more short lived. In other words, approval from others via social media may carry significantly more weight if we don’t already have a strong sense of purpose.

While the world has now embraced being online as a standard part of our everyday lives, teens and young adults are especially vulnerable to this dynamic. Those of us with a little more age and experience grew up without social media as a key contributor in our lives and learned to earn approval in a different way. For those who don’t know life without this element, and who are in the midst of discovering who they are and what their purpose might be, the draw to social media to earn those likes and attention is that much more tempting.

Social media can be an incredible tool to connect us. It can aid in forming relationships, introduce us to new people and ideas, and help keep you up to date with what’s happening in our world.  However, whether it’s in your business or personal life, keep it in perspective. When you have a meaningful purpose in your life, social media attention just becomes an input.  Sure, it can give us a temporary boost - or ding - but our self-esteem stays largely intact.

In other words, if we focus on the big picture of finding things in our lives that truly matter to us, all that outside input becomes far less significant.  

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.