The Art of Influencing

Photo by Aiony Haust

In 1936, Dale Carnegie wrote a book titled “How To Win Friends and Influence People” which I never read because the idea of mastering friendship and power through a list of how-tos seems farfetched. The title is as much of a joke as “The Origins of the Universe for Dummies” is to me. I’m part of the population that’s big on intuition, charisma, and “it,” and am I’m not convinced that any of the above are learnable skills. In other words, I think that all artists are secret mystics. They use hunches, feelings, knowledge that they don’t have to invent things that they don’t have complete control over, but that has near complete control over us, their audience. They introduce new ways of seeing that are unfamiliar and accessible, making something out of nothing. That’s some kind of magic.

I’m not equating Instagram followers with magic – firstly, because there are bots, and secondly, because that’s gross hyperbole, but I do think that creating a dedicated Instagram following is more than luck and savvy (though both play their respective roles). It takes a real sensitivity to give an audience something that it will respond to. It takes an understanding – conscious or not -of people, what they like, what turns them on, what they hate, what they can’t look away from, what they keep coming back to.

Humans and human psychology are firmly in the “things we don’t yet understand fully” category, and we call most mysterious things “art forms.” Precedent aside, a good number of Instagram phenoms have seen new possibilities for the platform where people before them didn’t, seen new populations to serve, see ways to build bridges into peoples minds and connect them to their ideas.

My favorite Instagram personalities (@jillisblack, @symmetrybreakfast, @blairz) are all masters of the platform. They have an intuitive feel for communication across the internet. What they communicate varies from visual feasts (@symmetrybreakfast) to scathing social commentary (@jillisblack) to fantasies for the fashion crowd (@blairz), but each of them have paired their medium & their message perfectly. 

I am part-expert, part-donkey when it comes to social media. Expert because I pay close attention to how other people go about living, wishing and pretending they live their lives, and so I spend a lot of time on Instagram “creeping” or “studying” friends and strangers. I’m good at watching people, and I’m good with social cues. Donkey because I have the computer skills of a geriatric patient and am deeply suspicious about sharing things I care about over the internet. I’m a millennial so I get that it’s what people do, how we communicate, so I don’t mean I’m suspicious in the way that moms are. I don’t think about the FBI tracking my whereabouts; I don’t care very much about hackers looking through my screenshots, and I don’t care nearly as much as I should about ending up with cancer from extended contact with my devices.

It’s more than I’m suspicious of social media as a means of communication. I don’t trust it with what I want to say, or maybe I don’t trust my fluency with the format; maybe I can’t get it to say what I want it to. I trust forms that are self-contained, forms that prioritize completion and coherence (a novel, for example). I don’t like a mess, and the internet/social media is a place of loose ends. It’s a living art form. You’ve got to make things that keep going on into tomorrow and many more tomorrows after that.

It’s a grind, and the art is the grind. I believe I’ve bothered to think about this at all because I recognize social media as the alien art form that it is. I can see that there are people who have a feel for the medium; who capably manipulate the form: its squares, its grid, its filters. I haven’t embraced it as a medium. I don’t trust it, or it doesn’t trust me, but we’re working on it. We’re still feeling each other out. The masters are there already.