Most of us are still trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up. There’s got to be that perfect job out there somewhere, where I can make a ton of money, impact the world for good, be respected and adored, be myself, and do what I love.
For a lot of young people, being a social media influencer seems like it would check all those boxes. More than half of Gen Z and millennials—so those aged 13 to 38—said they’d become an influencer if they could. Even more—86 percent—said they’d be willing to post sponsored content for money. (In China, you can even take college classes to help you become a social media celebrity.)
The internet undoubtedly has changed the game when it comes to possible high-profile careers. But has it really brought celebrity status within reach, or does it merely seem that way? What price has to be paid on the journey to social media stardom?
Let me suggest three things to watch out for.
1. ‘Build your brand.’
It used to be that only people like Michael Jordan or Venus Williams had their own brands. You had to do something, to achieve a level of recognized success within an institutionalized framework. Even then, athletes and American idols aspired to be picked up by an existing brand, signed to a well-known label.
Now, you are the brand. Unfortunately, that means it’s easy to begin pivoting in every direction in order to market yourself as widely as possible. This self-promotional mentality can actually compromise and denigrate the glorious value God has given you as a unique individual.
Celebrities used to mourn the loss of their privacy. Now, we give our privacy away for free, in hopes that someone, someday, might pay something for it. The more driven you are, the less private you become. Every detail, every decision, every relationship becomes fodder for public consumption. Where does the product end and the person begin? Is it any wonder that when you put down your phone you feel anxious and lonely?
Celebrities used to mourn the loss of their privacy. Now, we give our privacy away for free, in hopes that someone, someday, might pay something for it.
As a human being fearfully and wonderfully made by God, you already have value. You are worth celebrating, and Psalm 139:14 directs this discovery to the appropriate place—our Creator. God sees this value, even in places and in times where no one else notices. You have qualities even you can’t see, but that God delights in because he drew up your blueprints.
You’re not a product to be sold or an idol to be worshipped, but a complex, beautiful child of God. We unleash our potential not in trying to guess what our audience wants to hear, but as we discover who we really are in relationship with God.
2. ‘Listen to your audience.’
This message is code for be relevant and media-savvy. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to communicate in a relevant way, but when your income is determined by your popularity, how do you do that? Is it you who is choosing the message, or are you saying what you think will bring you followers?
If your compass isn’t aligned to God’s Word and a fixed value system, how do you have the confidence to do anything but regurgitate mainstream trends and ideologies in your own voice?
In order to know your audience, you have to stay on the cutting edge of entertainment, media usage, and lifestyle. That is not a skill to be dismissed. It requires unceasing study and immersion in media and celebrity personalities. Is that a field you’re willing to devote relentless energy toward, knowing that a misstep on your part could demolish your brand—your identity? Is that pursuit what you want your legacy to be wrapped up in, or could you hope for something more eternal?
In Isaiah 51:12–13, God contrasts the fear of man with a dependency on him: “I, I am he who comfort you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies . . . ?” God points to our fear of man, but then blames that on our pride. “Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies?”
In other words, you’re captivated by the opinion of other people because you’ve tried to elevate yourself to God’s place. You’re not that important. You don’t have to put that sort of pressure on yourself. On the other hand, it’s God who truly comforts you. You can’t comfort yourself very well, and you certainly can’t count on the fickleness of others for comfort.
3. ‘Share the real you.’
When you spend your days pursuing a career as an influencer, do you still have a “real you”? What is left of you that’s authentic? What is still coming from you, rather than being driven by what you hope other people want to hear and see, or the image a brand wishes you to portray?
We aspire not merely to consume, but to be consumed. Our identities are increasingly curated through digital platforms that are themselves consumer goods. We live within social media corporations, constructing our appearance like a NASCAR vehicle, stamping it with what we hope is our own unique conglomeration of brands.
We aspire not merely to consume, but to be consumed.
Why is it compelling when someone shares online about a family member or a friend? It’s because relationships reveal the real you. Relationships bring out a more meaningful, transcendent version of you, one that doesn’t get shelved by the next trend. As your relationship with Jesus takes center stage in your life, you will want to share more of his hope with others. You’ll have simultaneously more freedom from others and more value to others.
A Goal and a Motivation
None of these things mean that the goal of social media celebrity or the desire to influence others is inherently bad. But for a Christian, social media branding should look different.
Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” This means there’s a change in internal gravity. There’s a shift in the center of your being.
As you live your life, as you speak, as you consume products, there is a clear and stable goal ahead of you, as well as a motivation behind you. It is Christ. As a Christian, you seek to develop your thoughts and desires to align better with Jesus. You also have an inner sense of self-worth in Christ that is infinitely valuable, no matter how many likes or retweets you receive.
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