Facebook reports 1.13 billion active users as of June 2016. Like other popular forms of social media, Facebook pits narcissism against altruism at a near-mythological level. To achieve balance — to build a lasting brand — both traits are equally important, and one extreme or the other initiates feedback responses that force these polarities back into balance.
The classic Greek story of Narcissus reflects one half of the inherent pull in social media towards narcissism. In this ancient tale, Nemesis lures Narcissus to a pool of water, where Narcissus immediately falls in love with his own reflection. Not realizing the reflection is only an image, and devastated that it does not reciprocate his feelings, Narcissus kills himself.
The pool is representative of today’s social media platforms. Whatever we put into the water is reflected back to us, and to our followers. If the images we project are nothing more than a fantasy of one-sided perfection — if we don’t imbue them also with the authenticity and altruism that fuel our offline lives — their value will diminish and our reflections, our personal brands, will fade.
As the managers of our own online brands, we make decisions every day about what to post and what to keep to ourselves. Strong online identities require a balanced authenticity, but how do we get there when so many people use social media as shallow reflection pools? How can we strike a balance between the narcissism so innate to these platforms, and the altruism required to add true value to our social media presence?
We can start by asking ourselves these three questions every time we create a post:
Be honest with your answer. Are you sharing a unique story or a valuable message, or are you simply seeking praise for the way you looked or behaved?
So often we use social media as a highlight real, showcasing our successes and glossing over the bloopers. But those bloopers are what make our stories real, relatable, and universal — by sharing the obstacles we’ve overcome, we can amplify our success and inspire our followers.
By using our social media presence to illustrate and promote our highest values — and the values we share with our followers — we can ensure we’re using our platforms to serve our audiences, thereby keeping their interest in our image.
As in real life, online connectivity requires a balance of give and take — showcasing ourselves, but also offering a more balanced and true value in the images and stories we share. In striving to form authentic connections via social media, we can certainly make the pool far more interesting — and far more influential — than by merely gazing at our own reflections.
John Demartini, D.C., is a human behavior expert, international speaker, business consultant and founder of The Demartini Institute in Houston. He is the author of over 40 books published in over 29 different languages.