Yucky Framing: Connecting With People in Tough Times is Good for Your Brand

It is hard to write about depression on social media. First of all, you are depressed, and that is not a state that is famously good for creative output. Beyond that, there is an unwritten rule of social media that thou shalt be positive.

I did a quick search today for advice on how to talk about going through hard times on social media and the first thing I stumbled upon was an article that belongs squarely in the “Yucky Framing” series. It’s from something called the Search Engine Journal and the headline is “How to Use Social Media to Survive & Thrive in Tough Times.” Sounded promising, but the opening line was not at all what I had in mind: “Connecting with people can create strong brand loyalty that stands the test of time.”

After a bit of talk about the “challenges” of these “uncertain times” the article proposes that social media can be used to foster long-lasting relationships with one’s “user base.” Gentle readers, when I imagine who I am speaking to in these posts I am not picturing a “user base.” The article suggests using the 50/50 rule, half your content should be connection building and the other half promotional. Wanna buy a book?

I am not one for a lot of self-disclosure in my posts generally, but if you have been a close reader you might have come across references to my Russian partner. Valery is a ballet dancer and we spend half of the year touring the country teaching ballet master classes. He is my partner in both the business and personal senses of the word. A little more than 15 years ago we started the project in a couple of cities and little by little it grew to 47 states. When 2020 started we were booking two years out and between the tours and writing projects, I was on course to have a very good year.

2021 was to have been our 15th anniversary tour, but embassy staffing issues due to the pandemic meant that although we had visa approval we could not get him a visa. A year went by, the approval expired, we have applied for a renewal. In the meantime, in the political tensions between the U.S. and Russia, the Kremlin is not allowing the U.S. to staff its embassies and they are not processing any visas except for a few emergency cases.

Having your personal relationship and business all tied up together is not for everyone, but it has worked well for us. The problem I have now discovered is that a disruption can leave you without your meaningful work, your income and your relationship all at once. It has been hard, and I don’t know how long we will be in this limbo.

We tend to talk about depression as something akin to a physical disease, a chemical imbalance. It can be. But that answer is also dissatisfying. It doesn’t really say much about the particular experience. Nor does it invite much in the way of reflection or community. I have written here in the past about Van Gogh’s Blues, and the idea that artists are prone to a certain kind of ennui that derives from having a drive to put out creative products that may or may not find an audience at all, which may or may not earn money to survive. The author of Van Gogh’s Blues called it a “meaning crisis,” and that resonated with me, but it is not what I am experiencing now.

John Hari, author of “Lost Connections” said, in the podcast Upstream, that we have been taught to think of depression as an individual problem. “We’ve been told these extraordinarily simplistic stories… Depression is purely a result of a biological malfunction… This thing you think of as an individual problem is largely a response to big changes in the way we live. Think about depression. Depression has doubled in the last 18 months. No one hearing that has any difficulty understanding why. We all know what we’ve just lived through… But what happened in the last 18 months is not some spontaneous chemical imbalance in everyone’s brains. What happened was a huge imbalance in the way we live… If you’re depressed, if you’re anxious, you’re not weak, you’re not crazy, you’re not, in the main, biologically broken, a machine with broken parts. In the main you’re a human being with unmet needs.”

Sometimes things just suck, and you burn out your ability to be resilient for a while. I suspect I am not the only person who has fallen into this state of numbness after a year, two years, of disruption and crisis after disruption and crisis. The scale of the problem defies the “6 things to do today to improve your life” tone of much of our public discourse.

This is by way of apologizing that I have not been a prolific blogger. I have had a lot of thoughts of things I wanted to write about, but no momentum to write them. I hope to share some of them with you in the future. I also apologize that I have been unable to quite pull off the “positive & supportive brand voice” in my post. Maybe next time.

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