Media—social, traditional, or otherwise—is not the ideal place to seek honesty, vulnerability, and genuine connection. It’s not a place to understand reality. It’s a place to create and interpret perceptions.
If you’re doing creative work, your image and brand are an inherent part of the art. There’s a notion that work should be appreciated for its inherent quality; that’s not how people experience work nowadays, especially with artificial intelligence being able to imitate visual styles and generate beautiful creative work so easily.
People want to understand the story, the characters, the conflicts, the confrontations, and the value proposition you’re putting forward. People want to cheer for you. They want to be entertained, inspired, and leave your work feeling energized in their own way. They’ll bring these perceptions of you to the work, and they’ll go to the work to find more perceptions to interpret.
That’s why it’s important to behave and communicate intentionally to create an image through social media and publicity. If this feels disingenuous and inauthentic to you, as it does to me, treat it as another medium to convey and present your artwork. You can get creative with it, treating as a transmedia project like Donald Glover did in 2013 (he wore the same clothes in his interviews that his character did in his screenplay). If you want to get really intentional, you can put a mask on, like Deadmau5, MF Doom, and Daft Punk.
Creating a perception is hard, thoughtful, work. It could be as simple as taking five minutes before a conversation or interview to consider how you want to leave your conversation partner and their audience feeling.
It’s also important to know when to stop creating perceptions; to just unclench, let go, and be real. That’s why I feel like I learn more about my friends in a one-hour conversation than in a year’s worth of social media posts. There’s just so much that’s omitted from a short video and caption that you can’t possibly begin to understand the reality of what happened.
The reality of social and traditional media is it’s just a big perception machine. It’s designed to entertain us and to serve our imaginations, not to give us facts and reality. Keep your radar up when you’re on social media, and discern between perception and reality. When in doubt, don’t believe any of it.
P.S., If you’re using social media and soaking in these perceptions, treat it like baby boomers treat TVs and movies—“It’s just TV.” I used to drive myself crazy wondering how certain people were so productive, or had achieved such incredible accomplishments, and soon realized that much of the perception was embellished (i.e., they couldn’t even live up to their own image!), or that “the easy life” was more difficult to maintain in reality. Ironically, I also appreciate when people are honest about creating perceptions vs. perpetually maintaining a perception.
(Can you tell I try to limit my intake of social media?)
P.P.S., The framing of, “Creating a perception,” is one of the most valuable concepts I took away from Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter. One example 50 Cent writes about involves his lyrics to “I Get Money”:
People loved it when I rhymed:
Have a baby by me, baby, be a millionaire
I’ll write the check before the baby comes
Who the fuck cares
I’m stanky rich,
I’ma die trying to spend this shit
Sounds like I’m just throwing money up in the air, right? But those lines simply created a perception. The reality is that Curtis Jackson is not reckless with his money at all. In fact, I’m only putting my money behind things that (a) I’m passionate about and (b) I’ve done all my homework on. Even though hustlers are always aggressive, they’re not always gambling. A skilled hustler will always strategically assess all the risks and rewards before he commits to something.
There’s also the fact that in spite of being a proponent of partying and running liquor brands, he doesn’t drink regularly. There’s the time he didn’t deny false rumors of him being a bitcoin millionaire because it created a favorable image of business savvy. And, this:
You might see a picture of my new car or a view from my apartment on IG with the hashtag #workhardplayharder. The cars and the view are real, but the hashtag is fake. The truth is that I work much harder than I play. That’s because I enjoy the work more. My attitude toward my career is “whistle while you work.” Every eighteen-hour day on the set is fun for me. Every all-nighter in the studio is a joy. Every 4:30 a.m. wake-up call is a blessing, the signal that I’m getting another chance to do something I love.
Hell, I honestly don’t know what to think, because when I’m reading the book, I realize he’s also still creating the perception just like with his music.
For example, there are 27 mentions of the word strategy in the book; it’s a motif he’s clearly trying to tie in with his personal brand. It’s similar to the perception he’s trying to create for industry insiders when he does his press runs (“If you want the show to sell, you bring it to me”).