The Other Side of Parasocial Relationships

Before you read: know that I have already said plenty and then some about parasocial relationships and entitlement on the part of viewers, and regularly clap people up on main about being weird and/or on some nonsense behavior when it comes to these things re: a content creator’s energy and time. For example: this, this, or this. I’m not talking about the viewers today.

This is about content creators.

Anyway, I read yet another take that went something like the following:

“Unpopular opinion, but content creators are not your friends. While we appreciate your support immensely, we don’t know you. We are NOT comfortable with you getting familiar with/joking with us. We don’t owe you friendship. I genuinely enjoy interacting with you guys & a lot of you make my day. But you only know the side of me that I choose to show on social media. I don’t know you either. Not every person you meet will become your buddy.”

Sure. I agree that people are not entitled to anything about us no matter what, however, I also think this. The same people who share and retweet these sentiments also get spotted on their streams and social media:

  • Calling people fam/friends/friendos/etc
  • Telling people they love them
  • Talking about their personal lives (good or bad)

Regularly and purposefully.

You get on your platform or stream and, following conventional wisdom, work to be engaging by co-opting the language of interpersonal bonds then somehow look at the outcome of that behavior and go “y’all need to stop being overfamiliar like this”. We’re doing this to ourselves and we don’t have to.

Where is the accountability in all of this for us as content creators? Where do we get into talking about the language we use and the rules around what we choose to share on socials and how we create that boundary across the industry when it comes to the behaviors we encourage? Because the truth is we love to say that people aren’t just a number when they come to our streams. That we care about each and every one of them. That we love them and care about them…

…only to then have to end up posting things like that earlier statement, which is to say that we feel that invoking the language of friendship and family is something that we see as a necessary part of our job – but don’t want the responsibility or consequences for – because making people feel a part of something like this means they are more likely to engage/buy our things.

“But you’re policing our language; I should be able to post whatever I want on my social media and set boundaries and…”

You’re right, I am. Why? Because y’all co-opt the language of friendship and family when it benefits you, then turn to the language and mindset of business when it doesn’t and you can’t have it both ways. 

I’m not telling you not to set boundaries. I’m telling you to pick a side and stay there

You don’t get to invoke care and empathy to get sales on your books or a  bump in your youtube subs or twitter follows, but not when someone shows up on your socials commenting on the bits of your personal life you decided to place out there for public consumption.

If we’re going to draw the line on what we want people to comment on, then that means keeping a far tighter rein on the information they can comment on in the first place. 

Otherwise, we’re gonna have to have a reckoning about what it means to get online and talk to people – sometimes in overwhelming detail – about mundane offline life, family, mental and emotional health, personal trauma, medical happenings, etc. only to then go “Nah, gtfoh.”

Let me be specific: keep the word “friendos” and “besties” and “love” (among others) out of your mouth when you’re talking to your audience across your platforms if that’s not what you mean. At least then, when you then say “Hey, we’re not friends and you don’t know me…” it would hold more weight since you haven’t built a portion of your brand around making people feel like they are closer to you than they are.

These things cannot continue to co-exist. We can’t keep offering the familiar feelings, phrasings, and textures of family or friendship when that’s not what we are offering.

There will be a part two to this. 🌻👑