Animated illustration by Gabrielle Matte
Animated illustration by Gabrielle Matte

Work Culture

Keeping it real: How one social media influencer found a more authentic path


Published on January 17, 2019

Alex Wolf, author of Resonate, talks social media and finding your place.

At 22, Alex Wolf founded Boss Babe. A quarter million Instagram followers later, the millennial social media guru sold her flourishing business to pursue an ambition some might call retro in the tech age: She wanted to become a writer. But for Wolf becoming a writer, and defining herself as an artist, was a more authentic space than an identity dependent on her status as a social media influencer.

The author of Resonate: For Anyone Who Wants to Build an Audience, knows most people will pick up her book, invite her on their podcast, interview her for their publication or hire her to consult because they want to know how she did it. Whether that someone is an aspiring social media influencer with a smartphone or a brand with a megaphone blasting their messaging into the void, they want to know how to get people to notice them over any of the gazillion other things vying for their attention. They’re looking for a way to resonate, what Wolf describes in her book as a messages that will “create emotional fields that suck observers into the present moment and force them to have a reaction.”

And while Wolf does eventually give the people what they came for—the final chapters of Resonate are dedicated to how to establish a following – it’s easy to sense that’s not what she’s really set out to do. Her actual endgame? She’s waging a war against insignificance. “I think one of the big fears, and I think a lot of the questions that I get asked, are around the fear of not being significant.” Wolf is concerned about “people thinking that in order to feel good about themselves, they must be famous or popular.”

Research is beginning to confirm what was once merely a gut feeling: Too much social media can be damaging to your mental wellness. But in "Attention for Sale," a mini-documentary she released in December, Wolf says fighting those less-than feelings social media can inspire isn’t as simple as logging out and deleting a few apps from your phone, “This isn’t about our phones. This about our relationship between our senses and our culture.”

Wolf is concerned about “people thinking that in order to feel good about themselves, they must be famous or popular.”

And she should know, she’s standing in the middle of it all. As a millennial, digital marketer, a self-described social media addict and someone who desperately wants more for our culture than what we’ve been given, she’s looking at the problem from both ends. As a brand, how do you make and maintain an authentic voice that actually connects with your audience? And as an individual, is it possible to engage in social media, and even as your audience grows, remain authentic? 

Wolf believes both are possible. When it comes to brands, “There's more than enough proof to show that it's worth asking and worth building brands and careers off organic reach online, and that we tend to get really distracted by metrics that seem to be helpful or reflective of how much we are appreciated.” 

Instead, Wolf advises brands focus on the clarity of their voice and not fall for the belief that social media has made it possible to see and measure what has always been intangible about audience reach. “Understanding that there is dialog and energy and perceptions that get exchanged between their brand and their consumers that are invisible… because when it comes to creating a brand and building trust, it's always been that way.”

And when Wolf considers the role of social media in our lives as individuals, she senses there’s a lot of shame among millennials around our excessive use of the platforms, but who could have known—young founders included—what we were getting ourselves into? The Internet has totally reshaped ourselves down to how we view adulthood, “We're the only generation that grew up as the Internet was becoming a mainstream service, and our version of adulthood is through adults who didn't use this technology. So I think there is a huge level of cognitive dissonance happening on a societal level.”

But there’s an upside. It’s now more possible than ever to make a living as an artist while remaining authentic to your vision. Wolf explains, this too, is all in the marketing, “I think the art of it comes down to just being really picky about who you decide to serve, when it comes to your business. Because I realized that, I knew exactly the type of person I wanted to talk to. I knew what they already had to know, what they already had to like, what they already had to not like.” 

Basically, you have to know your audience to connect with your audience, “Just really knowing who your customer is and not being afraid to be picky as hell about it because that makes the difference in your experience in working with them. It only becomes a headache, you only lose your authenticity, when you have to dumb yourself down, or change how you naturally engage with people.” Stay true to you, and if Wolf’s any indication, the money will follow.