Insta Is The New LinkedIn: How Work Took Over ‘Social’ Media

Photographed by Kate Anglestein.
I no longer post pictures of my friends to Instagram. You won’t see birthday parties or dinners or even weddings on my feed. I no longer dig out a photo I took of a best friend looking hot and caption it with a birthday message. In fact, from looking at my social media you would have no idea who I spend my Friday nights with. Instead I post pictures of Instagram acquaintances, colleagues and women I’m on panels with. I screen-grab press releases and crop them to look less boring. I post articles I’ve written and recording booths I’ve sat in. 
The freelance economy is booming and 84% of organisations now use social media, including Instagram, to recruit. This shift in work culture has turned Instagram into a hustle hotbed. My Instagram feed is filled with power lists, award shows, book reviews, event announcements, press trips, work mantras and job moves. It’s become an anxiety-inducing version of LinkedIn and I can’t help but wonder: Where has the fun gone? Where are the photos of mates holding pints aloft in the pub? More importantly, what does it mean to depend on a social media platform – which we know messes with our mental health – for work? 

My Instagram feed is filled with power lists, award shows, book reviews, event announcements, press trips, work mantras and job moves.

"There are two Instagrams: The one where my friends and relatives who are nurses, teachers, doctors – who have jobs where public self-promotion is not a thing – post holiday snaps, photos of babies and nights out. And the other one, where everyone’s hustling – for jobs, likes, to show off their talents, beauty or distinguished social circle," says Sarah Raphael, co-author of Mixed Feelings: Exploring the Emotional Impact of our Digital Habits.
Like many self-employed people, I fall into the latter group. I can no longer draw a neat line between my Instagram and my work, meaning everything I post feels fairly high stakes. Sometimes it’s shameless promotion of something I have done, like speaking on a panel, posted with the hope that someone will see it and give me more of the same work. But if I’m truly honest, even a photo of my son is another 'achievement' on my Insta CV, as I write about motherhood for money. 
"I think one of the reasons social media makes everyone feel so anxious is because it’s not clear who is using it for what," Sarah continues. "My friend is a science professor and is building the robot to go to Mars next year. She says to me, 'Oh you’re so successful' and I say 'No, I just use Instagram differently to you'." That’s just it – on Instagram we are as successful as we tell people we are. It’s quite literally a self-fulfilling prophecy. 
For a place we call a 'social network', Instagram has actually become a very self-centred space. "It’s very individualistic," says Sarah. "It’s all about self-improvement and self-congratulation – most of the pictures you scroll past on Instagram are of people on their own." With more and more people working for themselves, it's no wonder they’re promoting themselves too. Also – and I hate myself for saying this but I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing – when I post a picture of a friend, or even of me and a friend, it just doesn’t get as many likes as when I post a picture of myself.
In the nine years since Instagram launched we’ve given it our social lives, and now we’ve given it our work, but at what risk? A paper by researchers Brooke Erin Duffy and Emily Hund, titled "Gendered Visibility on Social Media" outlined "the risks of online visibility for women occupying certain professional sectors" including "those whose careers demand a high degree of social media publicness." The report discusses the negative effects of what the authors call the "visibility mandate" (those whose careers are linked to data-driven metrics of likes and views), specifically that "visibility and vulnerability seem to rise in tandem" especially for women. 
"We’re still in that awkward toddler stage of social media. We’re still experiencing new trends – we haven’t had things come around again, like with fashion," says Lucy Sheridan, a comparison coach. Confirming my worst fears about Instagram, Lucy continues: "Everyone is participating in their own fame bubble."

Self-promotion isn't dirty – it's how many of us keep our businesses afloat – but hustling in a place where others are socialising can feel dirty.

Considering Lucy’s job only exists because "social media has caused a comparison epidemic", she is surprisingly optimistic about Instagram. "It provides people with proactivity. You don’t have to sit around and wait, you can tell people you’re available to work. You can provide them with reasons to hire you." As Lucy says, self-promotion isn’t dirty – it’s how many of us keep our businesses afloat – but hustling in a place where others are socialising can feel dirty. You know how you wouldn’t really want your best friend to see you having to charm a dull client in a work meeting? That’s how I feel about my Instagram use, but I can’t stop. I’ve convinced myself that if I stop posting, the work will dry up – but perhaps I’m just addicted to the likes?
I ask Lucy if she ever recommends coming off Instagram. "I’m actually not in favour of a digital detox," she says, explaining: "We can’t keep hitting the emergency button. It is possible to have good habits. Social media is not going away, and we can get more from accepting that we will have to roll with this… Join in, take the bait. Positive self-promotion can feed our families, it can put you in rooms you might never have been invited into otherwise." Lucy does have a warning, though. "You always need to check the energy. You know when someone is coming from the wrong place. If you’re having a gush from a place of acknowledgment, that is okay. If it’s overly braggy, it’s not."
Lucy Hume, an author at Debrett's, said there is one very crucial thing to remember when hustling online: "It's important to celebrate the successes of others as well as your own." And while this is absolutely necessary, I think the right answer might lie in being the kind of person who builds robots to send into space and doesn’t feel the need to post about it on social media. I really wish I were capable of that.

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