Something I did recently walloped me. And I felt shame and remorse for weeks afterward. It impacted me so profoundly that it sent me down a deep rabbit hole about the state of our online communities and the relationship between online creators and the people they create for.
And that is what I want to talk to you about today.
It’s time we had a heart to heart about this.
Because we are the ones creating our worlds and shaping our collective future, especially in the online spaces and communities we belong to.
And the question I want to ask myself and all of us is:
What are we consciously choosing to create when we hang out our shingles, share our soul’s work with the world, and invite people in to work with us?
And when we are the members of such a creator’s community and consume/get value out of their regular content, what role do we play as members of that community? What responsibilities do we hold?
Let’s dive deeper. Because I have a feeling this will shake you to the core as it did me many weeks ago.
A few months ago my favorite Instagrammer, Dana Falsetti, shut down her personal Instagram account. She is a body-positive yoga teacher, and outspoken about racial injustices, the whitewashing and erasing of black, indigenous, differently-abled, plus-sized, and LGBTQ bodies from yoga culture.
Her final post confessed that her mental health had been suffering whenever she spent time on her Instagram account lately and that even the positive comments just weren’t enough to keep her going anymore. She decided with her therapist to shut the account down for good and only keep her yoga account up.
Let me tell you, that womxn’s account changed my life many years ago when I came upon it. It significantly shifted the way I related to my own size 14 body.
There was one revolutionary boudoir photoshoot she did that completely changed how I saw myself as a sensual and whole being. Here was this gorgeous goddess, with fat rolls, strong thighs, dimples, and curves who looked like me. And she was stunning, beautiful, empowered. It took my breath away when I realized she was me.
Growing up, many of the adult womxn around me constantly told me that men are just not attracted to “fat womxn”. When I became a size 14, my mother tried to stage an “intervention” by holding a secret dinner behind my back with my aunts and cousins to tell them about the “severe problem” I had because I had gained weight. Male and female members of my family confronted me in my parents’ kitchen about “my problem”, telling me no one would ever find me sexually attractive, and that I would be single forever if I remained my size.
Enter Dana and that boudoir photoshoot where I got to see how gorgeous, stunning, and sensual a womxn who looks like me can be. So much of the hatred I had internalized from my familial emotional abuse fell away when I laid my eyes upon her Instagram account. Her showing up how she did gave me permission to show up the same way, too.
That kind of transformation is priceless. I would have paid $100,000 plus for it. Because I spent more than that hating my body and trying to shrink it in the 38 years prior.
Yet, I got the transformation for free, as a member of her Instagram community and follower of her profile.
Day after day, she posted incredible content that shook up how I thought about body issues in womxn, and racial injustices. The education and heart-opening I received were worth millions.
And then, she shut her account down.
That was when I realized with shame what a shitty community member I had been. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I indirectly contributed to her decision to shut it down (more about that in a moment), and I still think about it to this day.
Because here’s the thing: Every time someone we follow posts those unique, life-changing posts that we benefit so much from… those posts, that come from the most vulnerable places in their being — it uses up a piece of their energy.
Especially if it’s something that deviates from the norm and calls out a harmful societal trope. Or gets you to think differently or have a breakthrough. It is an energy expenditure to put that out there, knowing people will get triggered and probably attack you, yet doing it anyway as a service.
And while we sit there basking in their free content, having our lives changed by it, there are just as many people who are triggered AF by someone who would dare to show up so boldly and fully as themselves.
Over the three years I followed her, while half the comments on Dana’s posts were positive, the other half of the comments I saw were the most horrendous, vile comments I had ever seen. Fat shaming. Death threats. Subtle, passive-aggressive micro-aggressions from womxn with internalized body shame. Unsolicited, boundary-violating “advice” masked as a “concern for her health”.
Imagine the toll that takes on you, subtly, day in and day out, reading those comments. You can call it “just triggered people” or try to “love and light” it away. You might suggest she “not let it affect her so much and use it as a spiritual practice to overcome”.
I’m going to call BS on all of those things. Because those kinds of microaggressions and comments are abuse, plain and simple. Experienced daily. For years. And I don’t care how spiritual and enlightened you are, nor how much capacity you have — no human can take that much abuse relentlessly and not be affected at least a little by it.
There’s a reason why so many gurus “retreat” to mountaintops away from the world. It’s easy to be enlightened when you’re meditating 24/7 and only around people you chose to be around. Show me a guru who is living a typical human life interacting with people on the daily and now we’re talking.
Now, you might be asking yourself why I felt ashamed. After all, “I” hadn’t ever left her any abusive comments. I had been consuming her content for years, silently grateful.
But that is the key word. Silently.
I had been a silent observer and beneficiary of her content for years. Yet not once had I liked or commented on any of her posts with a thank you or an encouraging nod.
Not once had I returned the favor for all she had given me over the years by purchasing a course of hers or contributed back to her in any way with an appreciative word, after all the transformation she had given me over the years.
I had simply fallen into silent lurker mode.
Because I was “too busy”. Or some drama was going on in my life. Or I figured she didn’t need one more positive comment from me — what difference would it make anyway? She has so many fans… But my one comment WOULD have made a difference.
You’ll see why. Stay with me.
I, myself, have been running a business online for almost 10 years. I have written probably the equivalent of twelve books at this point. And I too have experienced what Dana experienced. I often joke that by year 10 in your business you feel like you’ve got all sorts of battle wounds on your heart and your body. You’re stronger. Not much affects you.
But you’re still human. And consistent pinpricks turn into a full-on gaping wound before you know it. Even for the most self-aware and emotionally capable among us.
I teach about capacity because I have had to learn how to build it.
I have been attacked countless times on my Facebook ads, blog posts, and social media. I have received angry hate mail. Micro-aggressions from other womxn telling me they prefer it when I smile with an open mouth in my pictures or that a certain type of dress I wear looks better than another one I wore the day prior.
I have had clients pretend they never worked with me after texting me that I changed their lives, then stolen and repurposed my content. I’ve gotten enraged, complaint emails from womxn who never commented or participated in my content suddenly angry over a feature we removed due to lack of engagement.
I’ve been called a greedy healer for wanting to help womxn make more money. Or a high-class whore for making money.
Anyone who has been an online content creator, actually cares about the people they serve and isn’t a cookie-cutter, safe, vanilla-brand business with regurgitated marketing messages has experienced this.
Why on earth would someone subject themselves to this onslaught of abuse on a daily basis? Because we care so much about the people we are here to serve. And we are passionate about what we do. Even if it means risking these kinds of experiences.
We won’t shut up just because someone is not liking their reflection in the mirrors we shine by simply showing up.
BUT, here’s where YOU (and any of US that are members of any online community) come in.
Seeing how I had been a member of Dana’s community and benefited from her content so much… yet had failed to return equally the energy expenditure she had given me all those years, made me think deeply.
It made me reconsider so much about how we do online community and how we treat our high-value content creators.
Creating free content, putting it out there on a daily basis — it costs.
It costs the content creator:
- Energy (emotional, mental, and physical)
So, you see, free content, isn’t actually “free” for the content creator to make.
One of the core concepts I teach my clients in the capacity expansion work we do is this:
Expanding our capacity to hold, serve, and handle the bigger and bigger communities of people we serve, very often means becoming master guardians of our energy.
It’s our capacity to replenish our energy stores that allows us to continue putting our words and heart out there in bigger and bigger ways, to drive that mission forward and help more people.
If we don’t have the energy because we’re depleted, we plateau or stagnate. Or quit altogether in a burnout flash.
There are many ways to guard and replenish our energy. I teach my clients just a few like:
- Proper and aligned boundaries that match the next level of impact you’re headed for
- Self-care and pleasure as a non-negotiable in your day
- And supportive, nourishing relationships with our communities (ding ding ding!)
Yes, we as leaders and content creators get some of our energy stores replenished by having healthy, give-and-take, equal energy exchanges with the communities that we serve with that content.
No, I am NOT saying we are in co-dependent relationship with our communities or that they are responsible for tending to our emotional needs. Nope. Not what I’m saying.
But it is a well-researched fact that what makes good, strong, and impactful communities is that the appointed leader of the community and it’s members have regular, equal energy exchanges. It’s a symbiotic relationships. Not an antibiotic or parasitic one.
And a good leader that serves a community is held up and supported by the community which benefits from their leadership.
It is a universal principle that for every action there must be an equal reaction. This is how energy works. Our entire material world is made up of energy exchanges. And in order for the “system” to stay healthy, the energy that gets put out must be returned equally.
If a high value content creator is giving and giving and giving and they are not receiving the same level of energy from their community in return, the content creator will become depleted and burn out.
Drainage, energy depletion, and burn out is a huge problem among high value, empathic, and service-oriented content creators. I know because I work with such impactful and influential leaders who constantly struggle with this.
This has been made worse by the generally accepted “online marketing” tenet that says anyone that has something to offer the world must bombard their communities with a deluge of free content.
This has created a problem for many reasons:
- People are bombarded with so much free content that even the rare, excellent, and free content now is taken for granted and lumped in with the crappy content.
As a result, we don’t engage with our favorite, high value content creators anymore.
Open rates and engagement rates are down across the board on email, blogs, or social media. We just consume content, lurk, and have fallen into the habit of not returning the energy we just took in back to the content creator.
As a high value content creator, when you are putting so much time, energy, and money into content that isn’t receiving the same level of energy in appreciation or engagement back, you don’t feel as motivated to want to create more of that high-value content.
Engaging with someone’s content — that lets the content creator know you liked it and to make more of that for you.
- Some people now feel entitled to free content from the creator and verbally, emotionally attack the content creator when they try to sell their services or products.
One of my FAVORITE online comedians, @tonybakercomedy has given me HOURS of laughs and entertainment over the last year, especially on a hard day. He creates funny, elaborate videos with voiceovers for animals. I know those genius videos take TIME, MONEY, and ENERGY to produce!
Recently, he was asking his followers to buy his $7 comedy special. I was SO happy to give him seven dollars in exchange for all the hours of uplift he had given me. To be honest, I wasn’t DYING to watch that comedy special in particular — I bought it anyway as a contribution of energy in return for all the energy he gives me with his videos. (It ended up being awesome anyway!)
I was stunned by how angry some of the commenters were, calling him a sell-out, or telling him they would unfollow him because he was asking people to buy things. How is the man supposed to pay his bills so he can continue to create his funny videos that millions watch?
Simply put: all of these things, plus the relentless trolls that hide behind their screens and abuse content creators, are making it harder and harder for content creators to create that free transformational content you consume and are changed by on a daily basis.
When Dana shut down her account on Instagram, I wondered whether or not it was a combination of a) relentless troll attacks and, b) tons of energy put out with JEWELS of content… only to have a small percentage of people who WERE benefiting from it actually give some of the emotional and mental energy she expended back to her with a comment, a purchase, or a kind word.
And I was guilty of that.
I wondered how different things might have been if me and all the other silent lurkers stood up for her in the comments. Liked and commented more on her posts to let her know we were there supporting her when the trolls were at their worst. Purchased more of her products as a thank you for all the FREE stuff she had sent our way all those years.
Basically – I wondered if she would have had to shut down her account if we had been better community members.
Ever since then, I’ve become a much more engaged community member in the communities of the content creators who regularly impact my life in a positive way. No matter how busy I get!
I want to make sure that I am keeping that leader of the community encouraged, on track, and informed that their work makes a difference for me. I want to do my part in returning all the energy and support they give me, instead of just sitting there consuming and consuming for free.
I buy their products more often now, I subscribe to their Patreons, I make sure to not just read a post that impacts me and move on, but to also leave a like or a comment as an equal return of the energy they put out there.
And as a high value content creator, I’m pondering a lot of things I don’t have answers to yet.
I’ve already noticed myself pulling back from posting as much on Facebook. Yet, I got messages from several people recently telling me they missed my 3x daily posts that impacted them so much.
I wanted to ask them, “where were you all this time?” Too little too late.
When I did 3 months of FREE video posts recently (which took A LOT of energy and money to create), a womxn wrote in that she was annoyed that we had switched from text to video.
This womxn has been on our list for years, has been consuming the content we create all that time and benefiting from it, yet had never ONCE written in to say “thank you” for the posts she was now claiming to miss and never purchased a thing. But instead she chose to write in for the first time to complain.
All of these experiences have left me pondering whether free, high-value content is actually as good for our communities as we have been taught it is.
I’m not so sure it hasn’t trained us to take our best content creators for granted. And that it hasn’t devalued the energy, time, and money these creators put in for us.
As a person who deeply cares about serving others, I’ve pulled back on the amount of free content I used to put out there because it started to feel like an abusive relationship where I was giving and giving and getting very little in return. I wouldn’t stay in a relationship like that in my personal life, so why would I in my professional life?
I know that many activists and content creators online are doing the same and moving towards patreon-like membership models for their high-value content.
I don’t believe that as community leaders and content creators we are stoic islands who can have endless supplies of motivation supplied only by ourselves.
That is actually an outdated, toxic, patriarchal perspective that keeps people isolated, disconnected, and divided.
In my work with womxn leaders, I constantly emphasize that part of building our capacity is building strong, supportive communities and networks. We cannot lead at the levels of impact we desire to, alone.
As humans, we are naturally interdependent animals. Equal energy exchanges matter. They are healthy. They are soul food that keep us going when we want to give up.
And good, next-paradigm leaders lean on their communities in an emotionally responsible way. Strong communities that impact the world operate on a healthy system of give-and-take between leader and community.
You wouldn’t stay in a relationship with someone who you constantly gave, gave, and gave to, and in exchange, you got 20% of that in return, would you?
So then why do we expect our community leaders and content creators to operate that way with us?
PS: If this has struck a chord with you, like it did with me, here are some things you can do to be a better community member and support the people whose content changes your life on a daily basis:
- If a post impacted you or shifted you positively, say so! Don’t just read it and click away with fuzzy warm feelings in your heart. Like, comment, and/or engage with that post to let the content creator know it made a difference for you.
- Share their post, blog, or email with others, on your social media or with your community. This is a great way to “pay back” someone who wrote something that helped you.
- Buy their product, service, book, or program. You’d be shocked at how many people don’t buy their favorite content creators books. Of all the people that raved to me for years that my free blogs changed their lives, only 20% of those people bought my book last year. This is often the cheapest way to support your content creator if you’re tight on funds. And if you can’t even afford to buy what they are selling, share it with your community to expose them to more potential buyers.
- Engage with your favorite content creator’s posts regularly if you get something out of them. Algorithms are affecting everyone’s reach. It’s always a boost in my day when someone takes the time to comment on how much something I wrote helped them.
- Send them a little thank you in the mail. One of my all time favorite things I received in the mail from one of my most active community members was two small paintings she had made that were visions she had during one of my free meditations I sent my community.
I STILL look at those paintings when things are tough and they keep me going, knowing that my work does impact other people — those paintings are living proof!
- Introduce them to someone you may know that would open up a whole other world for them. I recently connected a womxn whose books have changed my life with a colleague who could help her make even more money and I was so happy to do that as a thank you for all her books have given me over the years.
- Write an email in reply to their newsletter letting them know how it impacted you. No one likes writing to a black hole of nothingness. Responses keep us going!
- Show up regularly and open their emails.
- Comment on their blog posts
If you have any other ways to show appreciation and return the energy your favorite content creator has given you, put them in the comments below!
I’d love to know what resonated with you in this post.
This is a deep discussion and an important one that needs to be had on a larger spectrum. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts below!
In love & capacity,