#FacebookLife, influencers and how an algorithm can control your life


I love scrolling through the feeds of my Facebook friends to see what they are posting about their lives. I like to see the warts and all daily grind photos of new families. I love the holiday snaps and their carefully curated care-free composition. I also love the temper tantrums and sideshow rants. The desperation. Moments of joy. Even the silence of a broken heart emoji.

It’s a moveable feast of humanity that is in somehow, some way, curated especially for me. By algorithm. By Facebook. It’s the pulse of my social graph brought to life plus or minus a few ads and sponsored posts.

But #FacebookLife is not like real life. It’s a distillation of a moment that has been crafted, mediated, constrained and produced. It’s the poetry of a language stripped of meaning, reproduced almost infinitely, for a nanosecond’s consumption.

Performing Facebook Life (#FacebookLife)

Some of us go to great lengths to present “our best self” selfies. We dress up, change the lighting, put on makeup (yes, sometimes, even the blokes) and adjust the angle the camera, “just so”. We check-in to glamorous locations, share just enough information to tease our connections into commenting. And then we proceed to our next selfie moment. We dance our personal seven veils of #FacebookLife each and every day, like some latter day Salome armed only with an iPhone and a selfie stick.

But the thing is, not everyone can tell the difference between #FacebookLife and real life. We are, after all, lovers of stories. And these digital media streams allow us to weave stories about the lives of others (and ourselves) in completely independent ways. For while #FacebookLife may be built on “moments of truth”, there is no grand narrative that captures the life that we are living.

And we forget as marketers, storytellers, and producers – but most of all – as consumers of stories, that these fragmented narratives are only that. Fragments. Not indications of some higher purpose or way of life.

And this has opened some interesting doors through which whole marketing teams have tumbled.

The dawn of the influencer

In the golden era of TV, Australia was home to bona fide TV stars. The daytime television rituals of millions of viewers revolved around The Mike Walsh Show and all who travelled in his good ship. This one show ran for over a decade, airing each weekday from midday to 1:30pm. The show collected many awards and created the showbiz careers of dozens of people. The show would regularly host performers like Simon Gallaher and Jackie Love, and comedians, Noelene Brown and Jeannie Little. It was variety performance packaged up for the small screen.

It also paved the way for generations of TV celebrities from Kerrie Anne Kennerley to Ray Martin.

But The Mike Walsh Show did another important thing. It created a platform on top of the broadcast network. The Nine Network had created a formula which worked – they had:

  • A network that could reach into the homes of Australians from the east coast to the west
  • A curated pool of talent that was nurtured over time
  • Hosts that were likeable, popular and glowed with charisma
  • A stable pattern of consumer behaviour that could be relied upon day-in, day-out.

With this powerful combination, the Nine Network could literally create a star. One appearance on the Mike Walsh Show could generate book sales, performance bookings and product sales. Marketers would, of course, rush to any opportunity to tap into such a powerful network. We’ve always had a keen sense of audience.

But the days of Mike Walsh have long gone. The process and the mechanisms, however, still work the same way. It’s just that the curation of stars is now handled by Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm.

The power rests with the platform not the performer

“Influencers” and influencer programs are hot right now.

Marketers, hungry for compelling routes to market, are creating their own influencer programs, contracting agencies and generating content for distribution. Instagrammers, food bloggers and social media participants with a “decent audience” are being signed up to programs across the country. The darling platform of choice at present is Instagram – where individual influencers have been able to amass huge followings and generate significant streams of income.

But like any form of celebrity, the power never completely rests with the individual but with the platform. Australian Instagrammer, Essena O’Neil, found this out the hard way. The 19 year old model grew her following to over 600,000 people, generating hundreds of comments on each post and generating a healthy income. To the outside world, hers was a life of glamour and success, but late in 2015, she called it quits.

Where the broadcast media giants like Network Nine found success was not just in the network, content of performance and amplification, it was in the constant nurturing of talent over time. They indeed boasted of a “stable of stars”. But the modern day social media influencers that emerge, burn brightly and fade away are finding ever shorter careers as they learn that an algorithm cares not for their mental health, the realities of every day living, or the constant attention of a global fan base.

The algorithm cares only for the results that come from your snippets of #FacebookLife. The moments it can amplify, connect and monetise. And like anything, the more attention you give it, the more control it exerts.

For marketers embarking on influencer programs, it’s worthwhile considering exactly what you are hoping to achieve. And for influencers, it’s essential to look beyond the next ‘Like’.

Perhaps there are better ways to work together. Perhaps there are new metrics being developed to make these programs worthwhile, fairly remunerated and transparent. And maybe, there are support networks being created to help turn these glamorous influencer moments into lasting career opportunities. I hope so. After all, there is certainly more to life than #FacebookLife.


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