Lecture 5: The Consumer and Free Labour

1. Rise and grind: Hustle culture

Nowadays, “rise and grind” is hustle culture’s new motto. What exactly is hustle culture? To fully understand hustle culture, we first need to understand its history and how it came to be. A lot of what we understand about social media and labour comes from the “California ideology” which blends together “neoliberal politics” and ideal status quos on social media (Turner, 2006). In essence, this ideology pushes the agenda that we should want to be productive and become our own boss and always be working. This belief system is toxic because it leads to creative burnout by forcing individuals to feel as if they must be productive constantly and puts them in the “go hard or go home” mindset. This not only negatively affects your mental health but also perpetuates the idea that social media influencers must constantly pump out new content.

2. The truth behind the appeal of social media

Unfortunately, many of us have taken onto the toxic mindset that our worth comes from our productivity. After all, our society rewards this type of behaviour and belief system. Hustle culture and the need to be sharing content 24/7 can take a toll on your mental health. Thus, it’s important to learn how to set boundaries and prevent yourself from creative burnout. Working in the social media industry “is not as fun as it is made out to be” despite the numerous appeal it offers (Terranova, 2000). Despite the attraction of being your own boss and having the freedom to work whenever you want, the truth is many people in the social media industry end up working more than a traditional 9-5 either from not making enough or from fear of falling behind. Therefore, it’s important to take care of yourself and your mental health by setting healthy boundaries.

3. Setting healthy boundaries

It’s important to understand that you are not a content-making machine (nor should you want to be). When you’re burnt out or tired, you reflect that on social media. Your content reflects this change, and your audience can tell you are less genuine or authentic. Bloggers should be “down to earth” as they are individuals with “honest” perspectives and thus should not force themselves to alter or control their reality (Duffy, 2017). Being able to set boundaries is essential when it comes to being a social media influencer. You must decide what to share and how much you want to share with your followers. Of course, this can always change as you grow and understand your audience better, but it’s important to have boundaries and be honest.

4. Knowing your worth

The competitiveness of social media and influencer culture has resulted in many creators desperate for acknowledgement and success. They often turn to making content for free under the guise of “brand exposure” or similar forms of non-monetary compensation. According to Duffy, “freelancers and contract workers are routinely prodded to provide unpaid or low-wage work—all in the name of ‘exposure’” as big companies enforce the notion that free labour is just part of the process to become successful in this industry (2017). The sad truth is most people are not paid or compensated for their work even whilst being authentic and creating quality content online. It’s important to know your worth and limits. How much work will you do for “exposure”? I’m not saying you should never do work just for exposure, but don’t be afraid to ask for monetary compensation and never feel obligated to work for free.

5. A realistic understanding of being a content creator

Oftentimes the jobs of social media influencers and content creators are glamorized by the media. The appeal of free gifts, big sponsorships, fancy clothes, and being your own boss has painted an unrealistic image of what a typical content creator does daily. Although some influencers do achieve this level of success, they are not reflective of the majority of influencers. It’s true that influencers are “billboards for the brands” but it’s also important to remember to personalize your content and make it unique (Duffy, 2017). Moreover, it’s important to have a realistic understanding of what it means to be a content creator and to know why you want to do this. What are your goals? Is it to make a living, or just to share your content for fun? Knowing your expectations can prevent you from being disappointed and it also provides a framework for how to reach your goals.