A few months ago I was fortunate to be invited to a small Facebook support group for beauty bloggers. The idea behind this group was simple: share information about how to contact brands, share tips and advice about social media, and gain access to built-in engagement from real life people.
These groups, or pods, are not a bad idea. Several months ago Instagram changed how posts show up so regardless of who you follow, Instagram gets to decide if you see their content or not. For example, a close friend had a baby and posted photos of their baby at a recent Christmas parade. Despite she and I posting pics of the parade at the exact same time, her photos never came up in my feed. Instagram buried them. And there’s nothing I can do about it.
This algorithm change has been detrimental to bloggers as well. Regardless of how many people follow us, Instagram decides at whim who is allowed to see our content and again, there’s nothing we can do about it (unless we pay for promoted posts, but we’ll dive into that more later).
So, pods help. They can give us a boost of engagement that assures our posts will be seen by the people who follow us OR by people who might find us through hashtags and the Explore tab. It’s a great concept, in theory.
Where it all breaks down is when you have an entire community of beauty bloggers jockying for position and resorting to ultra competitive tactics, despite it being obvious that there is plenty of room for everyone at the beauty table. I recall one thread in this engagement pod started by a good natured blogger who asked why we, in this group of 200, didn’t all follow each other and wouldn’t it look less spammy if we followed each other while we were commenting and liking? She made a valid point. Instagram perceives repeated likes and comments to and from accounts you don’t follow and who don’t follow you as potential spam. This can be detrimental to your growth. Many people agreed with her and so began a happy little follow spree with bloggers making friends, following each other, talking collaboration. It was great.
But there was also a faction of this group (I’d say half of the members) who refused to join. On more than one occasion the quote in my title of this blog was uttered:
“I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to build my business. LOL. Sorry not sorry, but I’m not following a bunch of random accounts back.”
This is such a disappointing mentality but it’s also inherently disastrous for the person who rejects collaboration and the reason for this is simple: we are small fish.
Have you heard the phrase, “Big fish in a small pond?” For those of you unfamiliar, this means someone who seems successful and huge and influential and important, but only because their environment and their reach is very limited. Like the most popular girl in your high school. Sure, she’s important in your home town, but if she moves to LA, suddenly she’s just another pretty face. She goes from her small pond to a massive ocean and it turns out, she wasn’t really a big fish after all…it just looked like it because the pond back home was so tiny.
There were quite a few big fishes in our small pond pod. Accounts with about 10k followers (and not surprisingly, they were the ones who did not want to follow others). That seems like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things and in the world of beauty influencers, it is SO not. However, these numbers had driven these relatively small influencers into manic fits of competitiveness. They were worried more about their numbers than about their community, and were alienating themselves from a large portion of the group becsuse of it.
Inevitably this will lead to their demise.
And a little lesson about the ocean will tell you why.
You’ve probably heard the term “school of fish”, but you may be less familiar with the term, “shoaling”. Fish who school are fish who are moving together, but fish who shoal are fish that LIVE together, as one unit, constantly, or at least most of the time. Fish who tend to school and shoal are, you guessed it, SMALL fish. This behavior is purely survival.
To quote Wikipedia, “Fish derive many benefits from shoaling behaviour including defense against predators (through better predator detection and by diluting the chance of individual capture), enhanced success, and higher success in finding a mate. It is also likely that fish benefit from shoal membership through increased hydrodynamic efficiency.”
This is a survival instinct. These fish inherently understand that it’s a big ocean and they are small fish and if they want to survive, they have to work together.
Nature has figured out something humans can sometimes be stubborn to understand: the smaller you are, the more you need a community. And even larger fish work together.
Take the Orca. These awesome and terrifying whales hunt in groups as well. And these groups are aptly called pods. Coincidental? Not at all. Despite their size and power, even Orca understand the value of working together. Through evolution they’ve learned the benefits of collaboration. And because of it, everyone eats, everyone mates, everyone survives.
There is a time and a place for competitiveness. As fish (and all animals) grow they’re more likely to fight over territory, resources, and potential mates. And therefore competitiveness does exist in the animal world, as it should.
But, small fish know better than to destroy their communities. And that’s a lesson small bloggers, influencers, and content creators should learn.
For those of you curious, I didn’t end up staying in that engagement pod. As sad as it is, I found that this particular group and its leadership was just too competitive and too toxic. But, you don’t have to join a formal group to build up your community. No matter what platform you release content on, find people who are of similar interests and build relationships with them. Follow their blogs, accounts, or pages. Interact with them and show them support. If you do this, you will inevitably surround yourself with good people who will think of you the next time a brand asks who you could recommend for a future campaign.
The above conversation took place yesterday. I was happy to recommend a good friend who, like me, believes in the power of friendship and collaboration. She didn’t even have to do anything but be my friend. And because she was, I sent her info over to a company. That right there is why collaboration matters.
So, school and shoal together, little fish. It’s a big ocean out there and we are stronger together. And despite what anyone else tells you, there really, really is room for all of us in this big, ol’ ocean.