BeReal is the latest in a stream of new apps and social platforms to hit the public space, where it’s focus is on capturing an un-gilded moment, right-there as it happens with no filters, no retakes and no curation. It feels like a positive step forward, but there are still things about this platform we aren’t comfortable with… but more on that in this blog.
BeReal is ultimately about lashing back at the unhealthy patterns people have fallen into where they become the main character in their own social world. Many brands fall into this trap too, and we think it’s a damaging facet to social media. So, how do you avoid main character syndrome when pushing your brand out to the world?
When it comes to social media, the operative word is “social”. It means that social media was invented so that people could be sociable with each other. And this sociability was initially predicated on conversations that take place on the platforms being a two-way dynamic.
We’ve all heard of the phrase ‘main character syndrome’, and that people are said to have ‘main character energy’ on their social media accounts. These aren’t phrases coined to flatter someone and are used when people want to throw shade at someone else.
‘Main Character Energy’ seems to be endemic in social media influencers. This behaviour is then often mimicked by many people on social media, who from their very first posts in the world, choose to flood their friends’ timelines with pictures of themselves, seeking approval through likes and comments. This is an act that is both needy – posting for the approval of others – but also disregards the wider world to make a much more myopic view centred around their own existence.
Main character syndrome is typified by timelines and grids that are stuffed full of selfies and highly filtered and stylised photos of individuals ‘living their best life’. Quite often the selfies feature only that person, even when other people were involved in the event that is depicted. If you take a second to think about this, why would other people want to see endless of pictures of you, and only pictures of you? Is there not some value in seeing what you’re doing, what you are experiencing, and who you are doing these things with?
The negative effect this kind of behaviour has on young peoples’ collective mental health is the subject of another blog in itself given that a staggering 85% of girls have edited their body in photos by age 13 …but maybe we’ll write about that another time.
Let’s wind it back a bit to see how we might have got to this point culturally. If we roll back a couple of decades, we will find brands like MySpace, Bebo, Friends Reunited, the launch of Twitter, a few years later the launch of Facebook and a few years after that Instagram and TikTok. Instagram and TikTok might well be the new big thing, with TikTok now hitting number one position for the most-visited domain in the world earlier in 2022 to knock Facebook off its perch for the very first time, but in the grand scheme of the timeline of the internet, they are still only in their youth.
Back in the day, there were message boards and forums, text-based IRC apps, graphical virtual chat rooms and member registered websites like Friends Reunited. The objective with each of these websites was to allow communication to take place between people online. The emphasis was on communication, and mostly the communication happened in text format only.
Fast forward a few years and we saw the launch and rise of Facebook which was based on similar principles to the UK-based Friends Reunited that got overwhelmed and knocked out of the market by FB.
In both, the principal is the same. To take part in these types of platforms, you signed up to find people you know or people from your past by searching for them by school, college, workplace and so on. However, an evolution started to take place where people started to ‘collect’ people and not always because they were friends, which started to change attitudes towards publicly displaying your popularity to others. Friends’ requests went out to people from their one-time enemies, and they got accepted! We’ve all got a story about people they’re connected to on Facebook that we really rather not have bothered saying yes to, so why did we do it?
With the advent of these types of websites, the social elements shifted from one-on-one communications or participation in group chats towards the concept of publishing posts out to an audience for anyone to take part in the conversation. Posting on your social media timeline is a little like shouting into a room full of people and seeing who will listen, take the bait and answer you back. Which is a bit weird when you think about it isn’t it?
As Facebook, and it’s more recent stablemates in Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and even LinkedIn started to dominate, the emphasis in social media has moved much more towards somebody saying something on their timelines and everybody in their connections group talking about it or commenting on it. This is a distinct shift that means that they become the main character. All the phrasing to describe how you manage your personal social media accounts hinges around ‘curating’ your own timeline and building your ‘personal brand’.
With the invention of Instagram and TikTok, photographic and video-based platforms then took this one step further by forcing users to post pictures and videos along with their social posts and we feel this is where main character syndrome has been able to evolve in a hot house of narcissism.
We’ve all seen pouting influencers acting as the only character in their own narratives. There are plenty of TOWIE, Made In Chelsea, Big Brother and other Z-list celebs who believe that their fans just want to see pictures of them living the dream. Sadly, people who follow people like this then started to mimic the aesthetics that celebs put out on their own Instagram grids as a form of imitation that makes them feel good. But it is pretty shallow behaviour and leaves a huge gap between a curated online life and what’s happening for that person in reality.
Is there anyone who doesn’t put their hand up to say that they have been guilty of carefully curated photos they’ve posted to social media to crop out the messy background or to make the best of the view that they’re taking a photograph of? And when it comes to pictures of ourselves, we will raise our hands and state that we believe there’s not a human being who *hasn’t* experienced the horror of seeing pictures of themselves taken at a weird angle, or pulling a strange face when the shutter went.
When you are then behaving like this as a reaction to your own face as you take a selfie, it stores up a world of mental health problems. Facetune and filters are used to create a reality that doesn’t actually exist. This ability for people to readily construct a reality that doesn’t actually exist in real-life has them operating within that fabricated world, and it’s not healthy.
But back to the topic of business use of social media and how main character syndrome relates to this. You may have heard of the 80:20 rule? The received wisdom when curating social timelines was always to use social media to talk about things your audiences is interested in 80% of the time and then push what you’re selling on your social timelines 20% of the time. So many brands out there have thrown this rule out of the window and concentrate solely upon selling themselves by making it 100% about them, 100% about their products and 100% asking people to buy what they are selling.
Nobody likes being sold to. If you take a second to think about how you feel when a pushy salesman approaches you in real-life trying to convince you to buy something you don’t want to buy. If they go straight in with the hard-sell you’re more likely to be turned off by that person’s approach than be interested in what they have to say.
A good in-real-life salesman will know to ask the person about themselves first to get themselves a way in, in a conversation. They would then go on to figure out what motivates them as a person, eventually getting to the point of what they are selling in a much softer way. These types of sales people can often more effectively sell to their target. Moreover, their target ‘prey’ feels pretty happy about it by the end of the conversation too. It’s the magic of being taken on a good sales process by a talented salesperson. So, if we as individuals don’t like hard-sells happening to us, why would we want to keep doing it other people?
With the 80:20 rule you employ a much softer sell process by broadcasting information that is wholly useful to others that follow your social media platforms which gives your followers something to genuinely reach out to you and engage with you on. An engaged audience is a valuable audience. Just as we all like to act more readily on a word-of-mouth recommendation, rather than respond to obvious advertising that comes at people from out of the blue, so it goes with building your brand online.
If you can tap into the needs of your audience and service that need, they will engage with you. If your audience feels like you are dispensing advice, tips or tricks for free and with no expectation that they need to buy something from you, they are more freely to give away parts of their own personality and needs as an individual by interacting back with you.
When you have an engaged audience with whom you have built up trust, you can then introduce your “20% sell” messages and they will react to you in a much warmer fashion.
Don’t believe it? Take a look at this graph and try and spot the point at which the 80% disappeared.
If you are a business owner and you feel that your social timelines need to be curated to only include your own content and nothing about anything else, you might need to re-appraise this approach.
It doesn’t mean putting out stuff for the sake of putting it out there, but it does mean finding what your audience is interested in that roughly relates to the things that you sell. If you can entertain people, answer peoples queries or signpost them to the things that they need on subject matters that don’t directly benefit you as a direct sale, they will find your brand to be helpful. Later down the line when they do need to buy what you are selling, they will come back to you because they remembered that you did them a favour with no expectation previously.
You might sell products for use in the kitchen, so this one is easy. You are only one step away from sharing recipes that use your products, or interior design ideas for this important area of the home or in sharing tips on gadgets for the kitchen to encourage people to think about spending more time in their kitchens.
If you sell gardening products, then sharing information about tips and tricks on growing in the garden is a great thing to do. If you sell products for children, then producing content that dispenses advice on parenting tips or hacks are always welcoming by time-poor parents of young kids. You need to think of really easy to understand ways of capturing your audience with the concerns they have and then answering that ask.
If you are in fashion or beauty, offering styling tips, reporting back on Fashion Week trends (including the ludicrous!) and following seasonal influences is one way to fold in what your audience is interested about and that ties into what you have to sell. Dispensing advice on dressing for body shape, tackling skin type issues, opinions on colouring, styling, age and accessorising will all be of interest and value to your followers.
In the business-to-business world you might operate in an industry with standards to which you need to operate. Pushing out information about legislation change or updates on British Safety standards that will affect your industry will keep your audience engaged whilst keeping your timelines on brand.
If you work in accountancy or law and other professional services, then commenting on case law that would affect your target audience, or following things like budget announcements and the impact on taxation is all helpful for your clients and your target audience too.
No matter which industry you are in, there is always something to say. If you can position yourself as a voice of authority, you will have people coming back to you. When the opportunity arises, you can then more easily sell in what you have to offer to this audience as you have already earned their trust by giving away quite a lot of your opinion, tips and tricks for free. In a multitude of surveys, trust is high on the list of priorities for customers, “Whether you trust the company that owns the brand or brand that makes the product’ is the second most important factor when purchasing a new brand. Trust is second only to price.”
So, avoid the business version of navel-gazing and start looking at your social media as a mechanism for engaging with your customers and your target audiences.
If you’d like help with digital marketing strategy, social media or even how to avoid main character syndrome in the way you market yourself… then email us on email@example.com or give us a call on 01629 810199.
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