On Essana O’Neil & the conversations “social media isn’t real” should REALLY be sparking

business n' branding, Essana O'Neil, pop culture, Social media

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This is a young woman named Essana O’Neil.

If you haven’t read the news about her yet, just spend ~30 seconds scrolling down your FB newsfeed, and you’ll probably see her.

(But, just in case, here’s the link.)

Long story short, Essana is an 18 (or 19?) year old woman who was a very popular Instagram celeb with over half a million followers. She posted a ton of pictures of herself, her abs, her “life”, and sponsored products. Pretty standard IG-model behavior, right?

But what’s caught the attention of the planet is what happened next:

She has since deleted a ton of shots – and possibly her whole account (gasp!) – and revealed the darker stories behind a number of the pictures. She’s also been hammering on her personal credo “Social media isn’t real.”

As an extra bonus in her efforts, she launched a new website around the same time, focused on self-help called Let’s Be Game-Changers.

Needless to say, she now has thousands of people lauding her as a hero.

I, for one, am not entirely aboard the hype train. And I want to start a conversation about why.

I’ve gotta be real with y’all, I’m of two minds about this whole thing: 85% yay, 15% mehhhh.

On one hand, good for her. I think there are a lot of young girls who idolize women like this, and don’t necessarily grasp how powerfully advertising/photoshop/personal starvation plays a part. This kind of “real life” pretending can be incredibly toxic.

Now, breakout moves like the one Essana has made are contributing to the growing revelation that these “perfect” social media models have internal darkness and demons to fight, just like everyone else.

So: 85% YAYYYYY EMPOWERMENT! You get a sticker, Essana. Love the hair, btw.

Now to the other 15%:

Honestly: does anyone else get the feeling this chick just did psychedelics for the first time, and had a *~*~*money isn’t everything mannnn*~*~* revelation?

She has flipped from a modeling contract and making money on her instagram account, to doing a 180 into “CONSUMERISM IS BAD AND EVIL, SOCIAL MEDIA ISN’T REAL, THROW AWAY YOUR TELEVISION” mode.

While (thankfully) this is not nearly as harmful as tricking young women into believing impossibly flat tummies and insane gym routines are “‪#‎goals‬”… it’s not actually helpful for everyone either.

The fact is: social media CAN be real. But the way this young woman was using it wasn’t.

I have so many clients and friends who are genuinely good, authentic individuals, for whom social media has been a precious gift to help them promote positivity and grow their businesses.

They are real. They are honest. And they inspire hundreds of thousands of people every day.

Additionally, sweeping generalizations like the ones this young woman is touting contributes to the “self promotion/self-created fame is toxic” dismissal… and it’s keeping people who would otherwise do so well from putting themselves out there – at risk of being shamed or seen as attention-seeking.

Hear this:

There are ways to be picky with the products you promote on social media.
There are ways to be authentic online, even with a major following.
I work with people who do this every day of their lives.

I think the tidal wave of “SOCIAL MEDIA PERSONALITIES ARE ALL FAKE LOOK HOW MUCH BETTER WE ARE AS PEOPLE BECAUSE. HIGH FOLLOWER COUNTS = PHONY” sentiment is oversimplified, unfair, and dismissive of people working hard to juggle their genuine selves with their brands and businesses, and making the world a better place.

For this reason, “social media isn’t real” is a lazy CTA in this writer’s opinion.

Social media can be real if you want it to be, and if you approach it with mindfulness and authenticity.

Now more than ever, people have a platform to design and promote themselves as personal brands. But with great power comes great responsibility – and effort to remain conscious in the steps you take to expand your reach.

But fame in that realm should NEVER automatically be assumed to be inauthentic and money-grubbing. Social media is just that: media. The only thing that makes it different from traditional outlets like TV, movies, and magazines is that the user is in total control. Or rather, they should be.

So let’s move the conversation away from “SOCIAL MEDIA = BAD AND FAKE”, and instead into a discussion about what it means to self-brand on a massive scale, while staying real on the internet.

I understand the hype, but this loudly lauded move by Essana should spark discussion, not outright dissent and dismissal.

Why don’t we use this event as an opportunity to examine our personal perception of social media, as well as its production?

So, in the spirit of opening the floor, let’s cover the key points – models online, on self-created ‘brand vibes’, and on advertising in the social media space – from the perspective of consumers, and creators.

Perception #1: This is a model who uses Instagram to post pretty pictures of herself, so she must be a fake human poisoning the minds of our youth.

First off, there is no shame in being a model, and using Instagram to gain a following. This can be a powerful leveraging tool in contract negotiations of any kind, from annual renewals to book and movie deals, etc. Having 500k followers will never, ever go against you in that arena.

The conversation we should have as consumers: “Why are we still pretending to be shocked when a social media platform is treated the same way as the pages of a magazine, or a TV commercial?”

Professionals are called in. Image is examined. It’s a job. So why not shift from demonizing the “popular” ladies and gents of Instagram, and instead start explaining to our daughters and sons the gargantuan effort and investment it takes to create a life like that online.

The conversation these personal brands should have: “How can I remind my tribe that I am a real person, with flaws and fears, just like them?”

Perception #2: If your life on social media isn’t your life all the time, and you’re a fake human poisoning the minds of our youth.

Honestly, a good percentage of “internet famous” people worked their asses off to attract the draw they have now, and they have an end game in mind with whatever they’re doing that goes way beyond the validation of “likes”. They want a show, or to take their standup on tour, or a book deal, or just make people happy.

So what do they do? They create a “vibe” and environment to attract like-minded followers who are pickin’ up what they’re puttin’ down. There is no shame in creating an (authentic) vibe for yourself on your social media platforms. It’s a branding tale as old as time.

The conversation we should have as consumers: How is this person’s vibe making us feel about our lives? Does it encourage us? Make us happy? Inspire positivity?

No? Unfollow. That. Person.

We are in control here. There are hundreds of thousands of well-loved brands and communities on social media geared SPECIFICALLY toward helping you feel awesome, healthy, and happy. Go find them.

The conversation these personal brands should have: “Am I creating an honest feeling, or an illusion? How can I reveal the work and effort that goes into creating this environment, while maintaining a positive relationship with my audience?”

Perception #3: If you accept money from brands to promote them on your page, you’re a fake human poisoning the minds of our youth.

Oh come on. There is no shame in promoting products for kickback cash if you’ve worked to build up a following. Besides – and this might blow some minds here – brands big and small have been doing this for nigh on a century now. And that’s what these internet-famous people are.

The conversation we should have as consumers: “Why, after years of social media being around, do we not automatically assume most products influencers discuss offer some form of monetary compensation?”

We don’t assume traditional outlets just run commercials and product placements because they just like them, right?

Granted, the lines are blurred when it’s a single person’s feed, but it’s more “advertorial” blurring; content designed to blend in with its surroundings, but isn’t actually too hard to spot if you know what to look for.

The conversation these personal brands should have: “Am I actually promoting products that align with myself and my values? Would I actually use and approve of them?”

If the answer is no… don’t do it.

Being mindful of the brands you choose to work alongside is a crucial part of remaining authentic.

OK guys, I’m all written out. But I did want to leave you with one small thought:

With this whole “social media isn’t real” movement going viral – homegirl is probably getting 10x the amount of followers with double the engagement potential.


I’ll leave that convo up to you. ;)

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One thought on “On Essana O’Neil & the conversations “social media isn’t real” should REALLY be sparking

  1. Everything on that news page is gone… video, images… I wonder if she woke up one morning and decided to turn back to celebrity again. Anyway, I 100% get what you’re saying. Sometimes it feels like people do authenticity and transparency just because it’s become trendy, and that’s not in itself authentic. By the way, all of your articles are super thought-provoking, only now going through the bunch. KEEP WRITING! <3

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