Kill the Social Media Fairytale

March 30th, 2019

Years ago, my friend Dave packed his two kids in the car for their first day of elementary school. It was a bright and sunny Monday morning. The kids had fresh haircuts, bright smiles and new backpacks. They were ready to go.

But there was one detail their dad didn’t account for: the first day of school wasn’t for another week.

It didn’t take Dave long to realize his error when he arrived in an empty parking lot next to an empty school. So, he did what anyone else would have done: he laughed at himself. And then he did something few of us tend to do: he shared his embarrassment with everyone else. Dave posed his two kids in front of the empty school’s locked doors, snapped a photo and shared his tale on Facebook.

As I scrolled through Facebook that morning, I gave Dave’s photo a “like.” Hundreds of his friends did too. Not all of us had driven the kids to school when it was still summer. But we all knew the feeling of screwing up like that. We could all identify with Dave.   

So, nearly 10 years later, why do I still remember a failed-first-day-of-school Facebook post? Because it was real. And most of what I see on social media is not.

If my Instagram feed is to be believed, then nearly all my friends live beautiful, problem-free lives. They take amazing vacations and land exciting promotions. They go on long runs every morning and take short trips to the organic grocer each night. They rear soccer-star children who never get a B.

Identify with our struggles.

Embrace our daily problems.

And root your message in reality.

Good for them! Meanwhile, away from the internet, the rest of us live in a different world. Sure, we take a road trip now and then and we love our kids and try to eat healthy food. But sometimes we argue with our spouses. Sometimes our kids get Ds in math. And most of the time we’re not at the gym. We’re on the couch with Chinese takeout and a Roku. 

Here’s the problem: as we sit on the couch dealing with reality, we scroll through Instagram’s fairytale. There’s our neighbor on the beach for the third time this winter. There’s our cousin with another post about her fabulous kids. And how do we feel? Like crap. We know our Instagram friends deal with problems just like everybody else. But it’s hard to believe that when you’re sitting in snowy Omaha under a blanket looking at 10 photos of your friend’s perfect trip to Costa Rica.

Marketers everywhere, here’s my advice: reject the temptation of the Instagram filter. Don’t add another chapter to the social media fairy tale. Identify with our struggles. Embrace our daily problems. And root your message in reality.

What if companies acknowledged that parents are sick of hearing their kids bicker? Or that spouses don’t always get along? Or that most grocery carts contain more processed chocolate than organic veggies?

A little reality could go a long way in this world. We’d all appreciate a little more candor. Especially as we sit in the car, waiting for the kids to get dressed for school. One week early.

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