Podcast

with Jasmine Bina

5: The Emerging Languages and Symbols of Social Medi‪a‬

insights in culture

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We speak with Sony Pictures Television executive Erin Weinger and clinical psychologist Dr. Therese Mascardo about the passing of the current age of social media and the beginning of another. Any time a new age is born, the rules get harder, the audience becomes more discerning, and all of us - people, brands, identities - are separated into those that move ahead and those that are left behind. The question now is, what is this new age that we’re walking into?

Podcast Transcript

Jan 16, 2020

50 min read

The Emerging Languages and Symbols of Social Medi‪a‬

00:00

Jasmine Bina:
Welcome to Unseen Unknown. I’m Jasmine Bina. Something is happening in social media. Let me ask you a few questions. Have you ever tried to explain Instagram to somebody of an older generation, maybe a parent or a co-worker? And you found that even if you could get them to create an account, that they only passively consume content, they never actually create it and become a part of the community? Do you find that now, maybe you’re that person on TikTok? You can enjoy the content and get a good laugh, but you just don’t know what you’re supposed to upload? Have you on social media found your own subgroups, your niche communities, your subcultures? Have you become literate in the specific languages and aesthetics of those tribes? Do you somehow just know to read between the lines of a post? Or when you see a post that you don’t fully understand, do you know that there’s something more there that you’re not privy too? As a brand, are you tapped into all the secret languages and symbols of your space that have started to evolve past their beginnings?

We are living the current age of social media and entering a new one. Our symbols and our languages are changing. And anytime a new age is born, the rules get harder. The audience becomes more discerning. And all of us, people, brands, identities, we’re separated into those that move ahead and those that are left behind. The question here is, what is this new age that we’re walking into?

01:41

Erin Weinger:
There’s always been certain symbols and certain things in society that you just kind of look at and you immediately know who you’re dealing with.

01:50

Jasmine Bina:
This is Erin Weinger. She’s a journalist, an author and a strategist who’s worked at places like The LA Times, The Hollywood Reporter, and Vogue Australia. She’s also company-authored some pretty influential books with huge online influencers like Aimee Song, and she has a new book coming out with Tracey Cunningham. She’s currently Vice President of Social Editorial at Sony Pictures television, where she’s in charge of the overall brand story and communicating it to the Sony Pictures global audience. I talked to her about the symbols we see everywhere on social. Symbols like millennial pink, and Gen Z yellow, the VSCO girl which I just recently learned is not pronounced V-S-C-O. Normcore, the hypebeast, the basic bitch, hotdog legs, wellness shots in bathtubs or saunas. Whether there’s flash or not, using native filters or filter apps, our camera angles. Certainly emoji is their own languages. All the signals that can be caught in a subtext of the decisions that we make on social. These symbols, where do they come from, and how do we know them?

02:55

Erin Weinger:
It’s a really interesting question. I think that there’s always been certain symbols and certain things in society that you just look at and you immediately know who you’re dealing with, why you’re dealing with it, the brand associated with it. But I think on social media, it’s been super interesting to watch these things, because you have nine squares to show who you are. That’s your business. So I think that if you are building a brand, or you are building your own brand, or your own persona, that flash is going to show people, “Hey, I’m kind of cool. I know how to wash out a photo.”

I was explaining to somebody who’s not on social media the difference if you had two restaurants. And you have your nine squares to truly communicate whether or not this is a place that is going to give you socially currency if you tag it or not. So I think that all of these symbols, I don’t even think that they’ve come up purposely, quite honestly. I think that just by nature of Instagram and social media, a lot of things kind of bleed into each other. We don’t even really know why we post the things we do and where they come from. They’ve just started to become symbols unwittingly because an influencer might post using a certain look, a certain pose, a certain washed out background. And now you have 100,000 other people doing it. And then their followers are doing it. And so it just snowballs into something that is meaningful without trying.

So I think that trends are being formed by influencers, by media companies, by brands, by restaurants, by all of these people without really even trying. And they become a symbol of this is cool or this is not.

04:44

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. You know what’s really interesting too is I feel like those nine squares have become real effective shorthand.

Erin Weinger:
Absolutely.

Jasmine Bina:
… for what a brand is about. Because we do so much brand research for competitors, for our clients, even user research. And the fastest, most effective way for me to understand what a brand or a person is about is to just follow their Instagram. That’s just the first thing I do. I learn more by reading between the lines with those images than I do with anything else.

Erin Weinger:
Absolutely.

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah.

05:13

Erin Weinger:
Because I think it really is a curated glimpse into somebody’s mind. How are they thinking? What are they choosing to portray to the world? What message do they want to send? I think it goes that way whether you’re a brand, whether you’re an individual, whether you’re a media company, a publication. You have to constantly be thinking about … even if you’re not thinking about it, you are thinking about it. What am I portraying in my grid? What is the first thing people are going to think about me when they look at those squares?

05:42

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. So you come from the world of media, right? So you come from traditional publishing, big publishers. What you’re describing in terms of how the language evolves in social versus the language that has evolved let’s say in fashion, which some of the publications you’ve worked at is really different. Because in fashion, you have gatekeepers, you have people who set trends. I remember being in grad school, and this woman came in to give a talk about being a trend forecaster. I was like, “Damn, I want that job.” And it became irrelevant by the time I graduated. Grad school was two years by the way. That’s how quickly trend forecasting meant nothing. And people still write about how there’s no point, because trends come and go so fast. It’s hard to even tell if things are trends. They can spread like wild fire and then just dire. And then there are things that spread, that are trends that have way more lasting power, that reflect something deeper, and the cultural zeitgeist, or whatever people are talking about, or feeling, or ready to embrace.

But what you’re saying is happening on social, because it’s not gatekeepers and a select few that are making these decisions. It’s almost by accident it seems and these patterns emerge over time.

06:52

Erin Weinger:
And I think that is a lot of it. And I think that there are still of traditional checks and balances in place, where there are gatekeepers trying to be gatekeepers, and it’s not working. I think the nature of social media, and I have found this very much just by nature of some of the places I’ve worked. The red tape that traditional organizations try to hold their social media to, it doesn’t really work. Because you can’t plan for trends on social media, you don’t know what’s going to catch on. Who would thought that an egg would cause a worldwide phenomenon? I mean, there are things that happen, there’s no rhyme or reason for a lot of the stuff that happens. On the flip side, there is a ton of rhyme and reason for so many of these things that happen. So I think that it really is about finding that balance of how do you be fast and loose and let go a little bit, and have that intimate connection with your audience, and your mission, and your goal, to be able to just relax and put your authenticity forward in a way that just lets people who are meant to find you, find you and connect with you.

07:58

Jasmine Bina:
I don’t know where I’m going with this, but authenticity I feel like-

Erin Weinger:
I hate that word.

Jasmine Bina:
We all hate that word.

Erin Weinger:
We all hate that word.

Jasmine Bina:
Why do we hate it?

08:08

Erin Weinger:
Because the sheer nature of the overuse of it I think has become unauthentic. Inauthentic. I said the wrong word. Inauthentic. I think that it used to a lot of the things, and this is another kind of I don’t want to say a downfall of social media. But this idea of everyone has to be authentic. People are trying so hard to be authentic that they’re not actually asking themselves the questions of well, who am I? What is my brand?

08:38

Jasmine Bina:
Okay. You’ve hit on something really, really smart here. So yeah, I would argue that authenticity isn’t enough. Because I don’t even know that people are interested in the entirety of a brand on social, or the entirety of a person’s life on social. They come to you to meet specific needs. If they need to be inspired, if they need to be educated, if they need to be directed, if they need to tap into something, into some subculture and to understanding something that’s otherwise inaccessible to them.

People come to social, looking for these kinds of not currency, but this is a deliverable on social. This is what people need from you. I find that a lot of influencers or brands fail to understand that this isn’t about what it is that you want to project. But a good place to start is what do you think people are thirsting after? What is your audience looking for specifically?

09:34

Erin Weinger:
I am actually surprised by how many people I encounter day-to-day. I work at Sony. Within Sony, outside of Sony brands, clients I’ve had, the publications I’ve worked for. I am shocked at the number of people that do not start with what is my goal. And I think that people just kind of go. And that’s great, but you have to start with a goal. And I think that within that goal, one of the things you have to account for is what am I giving to my audience? Who is my audience? Who specifically are these people? And doesn’t have to be one audience, but I don’t think people really start with asking the questions to get the answers to allow them to actually cut through the noise on social. So I think that’s a big part of being authentic Again, it’s going back to knowing who you are. Who am I, what am I doing, and why am I here?

10:29

Jasmine Bina:
The other thing while we’re talking about authenticity that this is making me think of is authenticity requires you to take risks, right? So it’s not enough to just reflect to people what they actually want on social. But you have to give them a vision of the future. I described this example in the past, I don’t know which podcast episode it was on. But Chriselle Lim for example, she has this whole future vision about what the future of being a working parent looks like, right? She’s launching this coworking space. She comes from the world of fashion. She’s a self-made fashion influencer. One of the OGs, huge, has amazing collaborations. I’m going to get this wrong, but I think she just had a capsule collection with Nordstrom. She is taking a risk. I think she’s looked at her audience. She understands that they have matured with her over time. This is an older group. I mean older by millennial standards, whatever you want to say. They’re having kids for the first time, and they’re navigating this space. And they’re trying to negotiate what it means to be a working mother, but also wanting to have the life that they had before they became a parent.

And I might be projecting too much onto what this brand that she’s creating is about. But the fact that I can make so many assumptions about what this new co-working space will be shows that she is in a really good job of creating an authentic brand that has taken a risk in painting a picture of the future. And that’s the only risk that matters is risk that pushes us into the future. I think that she’s really done that.

11:51

Erin Weinger:
Yeah. I think it’s really what you just hit on for me talking about that is also modern brands move. They evolve, and they move, and they’re fluid, and they don’t stay the same. And I think if you think about a working mom in the ’80s, you go on maternity leave, you go back to your corporate office. You’re not evolving with the people around you. It’s just a very interesting concept of how everybody does kind of have an audience now. And they become you. You become them. And you move together, and you grow together, and you create this living thing that is always evolving and always changing. And I don’t that that is something that we’ve ever seen really happened before. Even with Coca-Cola, and Nintendo. It’s like you kind of stay the same, and then your core group ages out. And then a new group comes in. And that’s not how we think about it anymore. We don’t think about the next generation. We think about our current audience and how we move with them.

And I think that that’s a really interesting thing that social has given to us. And that’s allowed people to really stay true to who they are because you see all of these Chriselle Lims of the world, the Lauren Conrads of the world, the Whitney Ports of the world. All of these women who do really, they’re just them. They’re just kind of living their life. And they trust and take that risk that their audience comes to them because they too are living their life. And I think that that in itself is a new kind of risk that we haven’t really seen probably since the rise of Instagram I think has really allowed us to have brands that evolve with us.

13:28

Jasmine Bina:
Right. Okay. So you mentioned something interesting about your audience aging in and aging out, and thinking about new audiences, or catering to your old audience. The thing about symbolism and new languages emerging in a space or in a platform is that you start to have multiple languages and multiple sets of symbols. So I barely understood the VSCO girl. I think I only came across that because I was doing research. But I don’t think I would have seen her, or understood her, or realized that she was sending secret signals in her look. I don’t even use VSCO. And there’s a whole tribe of young girls that do.

14:05

Erin Weinger:
I never know. Is it VSCO or VSCO?

Jasmine Bina:
Oh gosh. That just shows you …

Erin Weinger:
I feel like it’s VSCO.

Jasmine Bina:
Sorry.

Erin Weinger:
No it’s fine. I don’t know.

Jasmine Bina:
All right. So we just made our point by me embarrassing myself.

Erin Weinger:
Well I could be wrong too.

14:21

Jasmine Bina:
No, you’re probably right. Jesus. Anyway. So she has a very specific look. And then you have other things like Ana Andjelic. She was one of our interviewees on a previous podcast. She wrote an excellent piece about how if wellness and health are the new luxury. It’s about having the resources to be able to take time out and unplug. But then you still have to prove that you’re able to do that. So you still have to document it and show it somehow. And that’s the weird tension in those things. You can’t just go to a spa and unplug. You still have to demonstrate it. It’s the whole picture or it didn’t happen thing. That’s why there’s such a rash of hot dog legs everywhere. Right? Which I’m guilty of having taken those photos myself.

Erin Weinger:
Have a lot of hotdog legs. Yeah.

Jasmine Bina:
Right? But you show hot dog legs to our parents, they’re not going to understand all of the subtext that comes along with that. So the bigger question here is how do we come to understand all this subtext? Is it because we’re just around in the ether, so we absorb these subtle cues? Or is it because somehow, there’s a codified way of understanding these things?

15:31

Erin Weinger:
I think yes. I think we understand these things because if you are on Instagram scrolling through a feed, you are just getting images all day long. You are inundated with messaging, and images, and videos. And again, it’s these trends that emerge. The more you see millennial pink, it wasn’t millennial pink when it started, it was pink. Pink was having a moment. So one decor blogger posted it. Another blogger took a picture of it at a coffee shop. Architectural Digest picked it up, and declared it a trend, and posted all the photos of it. Then all the designers who wish that they were featured at Architectural Digest reposted what Arch Digest posted, and now it’s millennial pink. So it’s the anatomy of a trend and how trends kind of bubble up. So I think the subtext comes, a lot of it still comes from it being anointed a thing.

So I think that again, we are inundated with images. And I’ve had this conversation with a best friend of mine who’s an interior decorator. And she’s an architectural designer. And she works at a very, very prestigious firm that is featured in Architectural Digest, and Elle Decor, and Vogue Living. And all the shelter mags, all the bloggers want to pay attention to what is going on at this firm.

16:49

She and I talk about where do interior trends come from. Because we all see the same things on Instagram. So are we making trends in the real world because we’re seeing our inspiration kind of mashed together, and we don’t even know where it’s coming from? Or are we getting trends from outside and bringing them to our social media because that is what we like? And I think the lines are a bit blurred. And I think especially when it comes in the fashion, the interior, the art, any creative space right now, the lines are kind of blurred. And I almost think that when I think of the future of social media and the future of creativity, I almost think we’re going to have to … and we’re starting to see this where a luxury as you’ve mentioned is unplugging. It is a luxury to be able to take a step away.

And I think that that’s something that is very much going to be vital to the future of creativity, where you really do take a step away because you are on vacation in Greece, and you are genuinely interested in the architecture, and the color of the terracotta, and the food that you are eating. Not because you need to document it, which obviously you will when you get home or go back to your hotel that night. But because you have to absorb it, because otherwise you have no creativity to give to what you do for a living.

18:11

And I think about this a lot. I have a term that I have coined, Silver Lake beige. Because everything feels very, and I know colors, and there’s a lot of color and texture, and interiors right now. It’s a very creative process obviously, designing an interior. But thinking about Silver Lake beige, I say that because you walk down the street in Atwater Village, in Silver Lake, in Culver City, in any of the creative little hubs around LA. And every storefront kind of looks the same. They have the same aesthetic. They have this kind of beigey, sophisticate, plain, minimal wood and macrame luck that feels like it was birthed from Instagram. So my question is kind of always chicken or egg, where did it come from? So I think it’s really interesting to think about the inspiration that we get from our feeds. And how do you balance and reconcile your true passion, and creativity, and ideas? Are you getting them from Instagram? Are they starting on Instagram? Is everything we’re doing all looking the same because we’re all posting the same thing without even realizing it?

19:28

Jasmine Bina:
So you mentioned something about Arch Digest that I think, I want to print it out because it’s a real device that you can use in brand strategy. And this idea of the fact that pink always existed, but when Arch Digest named it millennial pink, the act of naming something gives you ownership over it. And then it becomes a lot easier for the idea to travel, because so much is encapsulated in those words.

Millennial pink holds a lot of meaning. There’s a lot of subtexts about feminism, and a returning to innocence, and recoiling from the ills of modern society and all that stuff. Silver Lake beige I think is even more profound. Bravo. Because honestly, if you’re on the West Coast, you understand all of the layers of meaning in what you just described. It’s like you can watch Arrested Development and enjoy it. Or you can watch Arrested Development as somebody who grew up in Orange County and really feel it in your blood. Again, just layers of meaning.

20:27

But that’s something we talk to brands about sometimes is a lot of founders will come to us, and they won’t even realize that they have subconsciously created an idea, or a brand, or a company around something that’s happening culturally that hasn’t really been brought to the surface yet. They just have an intuition about it. And what’s great about our job is a lot of times we just bring that to the surface, and we name it, or we package it, or we put a bow on it. And then it becomes a thing that is easily identifiable. It carries all that subtext. So it does this huge, heavy lifting culturally, and then to be the one brand that brings that entire story to the collective consciousness, that’s adding value to culture. Right? And that’s pushing us forward. That’s a lot of what branding is. And I think your Arch Digest example is a perfect demonstration of that. So do you see any other symbols or languages coming up? I mean, there are so many subcultures. I mean, I didn’t even mention basic bitch and stuff like that. What are the things that you’re seeing that are kind of top of mind for you that are interesting right now?

21:34

Erin Weinger:
Top of mind that are interesting. That’s a very good question. I still think when I really think about the future of storytelling on social media, I do think that we’re going to have to do a little bit better. I think that the public and the general audience is getting really bored. I think that there’s a lot of noise to cut through. And I think about this every day at my job at Sony. How do we cut through noise to allow people to understand what the Sony brand is? And that Sony is a creator of premium television. Do I think that that can be done with low brow viral videos? Quite frankly, I don’t. I think that the era of being able to trick your audience into consuming is over. I think you have to do better.

I still think when I think of how do you tell an actual story on social media? I look at things. For example, The New Yorker just did an amazing, amazing collaboration with an agency in New York, where they built out user generated caption contest platform on Instagram. The New York Public Library, they partnered with Mother, another agency in New York and they-

Jasmine Bina:
I know Mother. They’ve done great stuff.

22:48

Erin Weinger:
Yeah. And I love what they did. They did this Instagram story novels come to life activation. And that’s something I think is incredibly, incredibly interesting. I look at last year, there was a really incredible, and I know that this can be a little bit polarizing, because there are a lot of people who actually did not like this. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. But an Israeli tech investor, biotech investor I believe. I could be wrong, but an Israeli billionaire and his daughter basically financed a feature film that they then spliced up into an Instagram story series about a Holocaust survivor, or a Holocaust victim I should say, that they asked the question, “What would it be like if somebody had social media during the Holocaust?” They essentially created a late-1930 set. They showed what it would be like if this girl, very much in the vein of Anne Frank. She was a real girl who sadly did not survive the Holocaust. They took her diaries. They took her story. They showed her life. They showed her life before. She was with her phone. She was with her friends. She was hanging out at home. She was going to go food. They showed what happens when the Nazis started to come through town, and people didn’t think it would happen to them. And they just kind of watched. And it progressed to the end obviously.

I thought it was brilliant. I thought it was brilliant because what’s so wonderful about Instagram, you have all of these things that there that are pretty putrid. But then you have this mechanism where there are seven or 800 million people who are potentially a captive audience to a message and a story. And something like that for me when you’re reading reports in the newspapers of children who don’t know what the Holocaust is. And every year, that number only grows because it’s not being taught. And here is a way to modernize a story and make it accessible for a different audience who knows how to consume content on this medium. So I think that it’s almost like you have to be platform-agnostic and think about what’s the story? Splice it up, cut it up, figure out what’s my story? Where’s the audience?

25:00

Jasmine Bina:
So you feel starting with the story is the most important?

25:02

Erin Weinger:
I think it’s absolutely vital. You cannot do anything without starting with a story. And I think that is what, when I think about where I see the future of social media going, especially in an election year, especially when there is a lot of stuff going on and a lot of anger surrounding the platforms on kind of where the world has ended up, largely because of what the platforms have allowed us to do. I think that we have to do better.

So I look at premium storytelling. The kind of storytelling that we’ve all been used to, and our parents were used to, and their parents were used to sitting and listening around the radio. Look at the golden age of podcasting. Look at long form and some of the beautiful stories that are coming out in the documentary space. I just think that people are going to hold themselves and brands are going to start holding themselves to a higher standard.

Even with content marketing, when you look at I think what REI, the outdoor company just did, they got rid of their catalog, and they launched a magazine. It is an awesome magazine. They have interviews, they have celebrity profiles, they have hiking guides, they have gear guides. And you can shop it obviously. But it so resonates with their consumer, and it’s so on-brand for their consumer. I think translating strategy like that into social media and portraying storytelling that connects to your consumer, brands are going to I think invest more heavily in that. And there will be more thought given into how you use that across all of your platforms across your site, across your social, across your newsletter. So you get the investment out of it. Because it’s not always cheap to create premium storytelling. That’s not to say I think the TikToks of the world are going away. I think there’s still room for viral dance videos, and throwing American cheese slices at the wall, and having it become a cultural moment. But maybe this is more wishful thinking than a trend I think we’re going to see. But I don’t think it’s important for every brand to jump on every bandwagon. I think it’s really important for brands to think about what’s the story, what’s the goal, and what’s actually the right thing to do here?

27:12

Jasmine Bina:
And speaking of the goal, I think the thing that a lot of companies, especially larger companies kind of, it’s a vital mistake that they make consistently. It’s that they see social as a sales channel or as a profit center. It’s none of those things. If you’re talking about storytelling, you really have to commit to the idea. This is a longterm investment in creating a halo effect over the brand that will encourage loyalty, encourage recall, recognition.

Erin Weinger:
That’s a very, very interesting point. I think for me and my work, I encounter executives all day long where I have to kind of explain how a brand story is exactly that, what you just said. It is an investment. It is investing in the future of your business. It is investing in the future of your audience. It is showing that you believe in your audience enough that they will evolve with you and they will continue to consume your product or convert into whatever metric you need them to convert into. And I think that I have a different perspective obviously because I don’t work in a startup and I am not around a lot of people who are making purchasing decisions, shall we say. Who maybe have been as immersed in all of this as we are currently. So there’s a lot of education, and there’s a lot of explaining, and there’s a lot of talking about why investing, or why this is an investment. I don’t like really the term content marketing. It’s really communities of interest. How do you build a community of interest, and how is that an investment for your business?

28:47

Jasmine Bina:
Wow. Even just using those words, exchanging those words immediately makes you think of approaching it very different.

Erin Weinger:
Absolutely. But that’s it. And it doesn’t have to be one group. It’s who are my tribes. And I think thinking back to symbolism, that’s really what it is. It’s tribes. It’s figuring out who are my people. And social media communicates that with a visual language. And I think that’s kind of the heart and soul of the story. How do I visually communicate who my people are and who I am so my people find me?

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah, absolutely.

Erin Weinger:
Building a brand story is like just making an online dating profile. It’s easy.

29:29

Jasmine Bina:
Right. Okay. So you have a really interesting history in the influencer space. You’ve actually worked with some amazing influencers as a coauthor coming from your publishing world. Tell me a little bit about that.

Erin Weinger:
Yeah. So I co-wrote Aimee Songs, both of her books. Capture Your Style, which really was all about Instagram.

Jasmine Bina:
That was the first real Instagram book that just blew up.

Erin Weinger:
It did well. We were very happy with that. It did very well. And she has such an interesting perspective. Her blog is 11 years old, so ancient as far as bloggers go and influencers go. And she’s somebody who very much fell into it accidentally, truly. And working with her, and learning about her story, and her journey. And how she’s built, to say that she has built a following does not do what she’s done justice. We would be in a coffee shop in LA working on the book. She would post a picture of something. And the next day we’d come back, and there would be a line of people waiting to see her. So how she has done it. And again, I know we don’t like this word, but authenticity. Thinking about, she is somebody who she’s just herself. She’s eating her food. She loves her fancy clothes.

30:49

Jasmine Bina:
She talks about her anxieties, her fears of her body image.

Erin Weinger:
I always equate when you get to just kind of be, and just be you. She’s just breathing. She’s breathing and documenting it along the way. And I think she does it in a way that I don’t want to say she does it without trying, because it’s a lot of work. And it takes a big team of people to keep her running. But she really does it in a way that it’s her, she breathes. She enjoys it to the point where she keeps it going. And I think that it was a really good education for me to get a glimpse into the whole influencer ecosystem. Because quite frankly, she’s the best. She’s the biggest and the best. So I learned kind of from the biggest. And the best and working with her, DBA, with her management company. When I was at Vogue Australia, working very closely with our, we had our own in-house influencer team essentially. So we had a blogger cohort that we worked with, and we worked on branded content with them. So very interesting glimpse into very different sides of the coin from the management aspect, to the talent aspect, to the brand aspect, and how brands want to work with influencers. So it’s been really interesting for me to kind of see all sides of the industry.

32:03

Jasmine Bina:
Okay. So you have a leg in all worlds. Publishing, social media, influencing, now in actual, straight traditional media as well. So all these things that we’ve discussed, if we consider how influencers have been a part of and actually created this social media frontier, if we describe this as social media and influencing 1.0, what does influencer 2.0 look like?

32:30

Erin Weinger:
Influencer 1.0 feels very billboard-ey. I think influencer 2.0 again, when you about kind of what we were talking about, what we’ve talked about throughout this conversation about brands have to do better, influencers have to do better. It’s not going to be enough anymore to just hold a package of diet tea and make $500,000. I mean, for some people it will. Listen, that’s always going to be there. But I think if you really are thinking about again, what is my goal? If you are trying to sell something, how do you actually connect? How do you get your product into the lexicon of millennial pink, into the lexicon of Away luggage? Where you take a picture of your luggage, and you just got yourself into an exclusive little coven of people who are travelers. And that in itself is social currency because you can hop on a plane and see the world.

So I think that really again, thinking about doing better. To me, thinking about some of the things that are air quotes I’m giving right now, trending in the world. I think that intelligence is really the direction that I see things going. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking, maybe that’s me praying every night. But you think about poetry, and how poetry is so big right now and-

33:56

Jasmine Bina:
Well poetry is big now because of Instagram.

Erin Weinger:
Poetry. Poetry has been big since-

Jasmine Bina:
No, but poetry has had a huge revival among young millennials and Gen Z because of Instagram. And that’s why you have people like Rupi Kaur Gill, and R. H. Sin, and a whole number of other people that if you look at it, you kind of wonder are they creating poetry for Instagram? It’s very readable on Instagram.

Erin Weinger:
The answer is probably us. There’s probably all kinds of academics rolling over somewhere right now.

Jasmine Bina:
I truly don’t think that’s a bad thing. Or it’s very possible that these ones surface to the top because they wrote poetry that works really well on Instagram. I mean, it’s amazing poetry. I mean Rupi Gill, she’s selling out amphitheaters around the world and doing these spoken word performances that are just changing people’s lives. If you want to do the tattoo test, people are getting tattoos of these writers’ poems on their bodies. That’s the brand pinnacle, right?

34:55

Erin Weinger:
Poetry coming back into popularity, independent bookstores having such an amazing, it’s a golden age of independent bookstores because of Instagram. For me, that’s something that I think is beautiful. When I first moved to Australia, that was something that I noticed in 2015. I was like there are people buying books here, because there is no Amazon. And coming home now a few years later I’m like oh, people are buying books here too.

35:25

Jasmine Bina:
Part of that too is because, also, there’s been writing about this. Books are having a resurgence because it’s another part of that wellness and social currency that shows that I have the time to read a book. Also, books are being repackaged for social … we already know that makeup brands, and even R&D for makeup, and food, and even real estate is all being repackaged for social. Books are another one. So book designers have this new directive where they have to create Instagramable cover art in order for a book to sell.

And it was I believe, they had a designer who said that they are specifically creating for Instagram. A great example of this was Sally Rooney’s book Normal People, which went through the roof. Ironically, I read somewhere her characters would hate the fact that they were even part of, I’ll do the air quotes now, of an Instagram cool culture. But this was all pretty deliberate. Influencing 1.0 is pretty sophisticated. And what you’re talking about, from what I’m hearing is the next level has to kind of evoke some sort of when you say connection, that to me sounds like emotional response.

36:34

Erin Weinger:
Absolutely. And I think emotional response, that’s almost a given. You have to do something that will make somebody feel. And that’s something that in our day and age is not always the easiest thing to do. But I think bringing it back to kind of this concept of intelligence being a social currency, that to me feels very real. And it feels very yes, you want to take a picture of Sally Rooney’s books because look, you’re a reader. You’re a reader. You’re intelligent, you know what’s going on. And if you look at some of the book jackets that are really making waves right now, they’re all throwbacks. I feel like the fonts even that you look at remind me of a first edition Catcher in the Rye. They’re all vintage inspired fonts from a different time.

So I do think there are these trends emerging of we’re going back in time a little bit to when there was no Instagram. So it’s almost bringing this intelligence and this analog look and feel to life, and displaying it digitally. And I think that to me feels like a very big direction that influencing is going. How do you almost bring your persona offline? How do you build a following online to allow you to convert into something offline? Whether that be product, or conferences, talks, books. That to me feels like the future. And I mean it’s not the future. It’s happening. But I think the intelligence thing, reading, and poetry, and going back to school for another degree, and learning financial literacy, I think these are all the trends that we’re going to just start seeing more and more of. Instead of an influencer selling lipstick, we’re going to see the beauty brand trying to hit up the financial advisor who happens to have a big following on Instagram because she’s teaching women how to do their taxes. So I think that that to me feels like a big direction that things are moving.

38:29

Jasmine Bina:
This new intelligence, this new marker of status that people are looking to project about themselves, is a luxury in and of itself. It’s clear to someone in this space like Erin that influence and the very act of influencing others is evolving into something a lot more sophisticated. And this in turn will propagate the next generation of trends that every brand needs to be paying attention to. What I wanted to know now was what does this look like for influencers themselves and the consumers that they’re touching?

39:03

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Freedom is the new wealth and in the spaces that I’m in, which I’m kind of in two. So I’m in wellness. And then I’m also in the travel exploration space. You see that more and more.

Jasmine Bina:
This is Dr. Therese Mascardo. She’s a licensed clinical psychologist here in LA and founder of the wellness community Exploring Therapy. She’s also an influencer. And if you follow her on Instagram, you’ll see that Dr. Mascardo has a very specific brand. She’s in a unique position to talk about the cultural shifts happening in social because she’s both in the practice of mental health, and in the practice of building a social media brand

39:41

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
I’m fascinated by what choices people are making now compared to generations before us. One of the things I recently read in an article is that millennials are choosing more and more to pick jobs that have personal fulfillment and meaning to them compared to jobs that pay them a lot of money. And I feel like our parents’ generation would have never done that.

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. We actually talked about this recently where that’s something that employers have to start thinking about. Because all of these benefits packages and compensation, all the things that were the levers that you would push and pull to attract a workforce don’t really work anymore. People are looking for meaning in the companies that they work for. Which I would argue actually makes the case for branding for a company. Because you have to convey that your brand is more than a job. It’s really about some ideal, or some belief, or some value. The things I talk about all the time when it comes to brand strategy, that people are willing to kind of, they understand that their job is, they’re giving their lives to their jobs.

40:38

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Yes, it’s so much less transactional that it used to be. And it’s so much more nuanced. Because people don’t just want a company that pays them well and has great benefits. They want a company that they get a sense cares about them, cares about their wellbeing. And in the digital nomad world, right, where people are increasingly going into remote work, they want to know that their company offers them that type of flexibility. So that’s one of the things companies are offering is more opportunities to work outside of the office because they know that those workers are happier, and healthier, and more productive.

Jasmine Bina:
Right. So you’re a digital nomad. You have your own business. Businesses, I should say. So describe Exploring Therapy to me, because it’s growing and it encompasses so many things. But tell me, how would you describe it?

41:23

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Exploring Therapy is a wellness community designed to help people build a life they don’t need a vacation from. So we have conversations that cover a wide range of things. It’s not just about wellness. It’s not just about mental health and therapy in a box. But we really talk about lifestyle. We talk about how you spend your time, who you spend your time with, building community, things that are fulfilling and personally meaningful. And our goal is that we would help people live lives that are more healthy, free, and connected.

Jasmine Bina:
So would you call this a lifestyle brand?

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
I guess you can say that it is, although I didn’t intentionally start it that way.

Jasmine Bina:
Why do you hesitate?

41:58

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
When I think of lifestyle brands, a lot of times I think of an individual, and an individual who is showing off those kind of old school ideas about wealth, right? So they’ve got the Gucci belts, they’re in the bathroom taking pictures of themselves at a Shangri-La Hotel somewhere. And that’s definitely not what Exploring Therapy is about. And we have a whole manifesto where we talk about who we are. We’re warm people over cool people. Right? We think that kindness is the most important thing. So it’s really about character more so than just what you’re achieving that people can see.

Jasmine Bina:
So it’s interesting. Lifestyle is kind of a dirty word to you.

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
I didn’t realize until you asked me that, but I think it’s about the heart behind it, you know?

42:51

Jasmine Bina:
Okay. Cool. So you’re a therapist, and therapy is one of those definitely undisrupted spaces. I don’t care if there’s Talkspace or any other number of those startups, which I’ve researched for our clients in the past. They’re not really disrupting anything. Therapy is still therapy. They’re just creating little marketplaces for them. But you are creating a social media brand around being a bonafide therapist. And here’s how I would describe your brand, just on Instagram, let’s say. You go super deep sometimes. And then there’s a lot of levity in some of the things that you post as well. And then there’s a lot of you in the things that you post. And it’s an interesting trifecta of content.

What’s interesting to me is that you have a really engaged audience that really value that I’ve seen, they really value what you have to say. And I don’t think that the masses would have been ready for this kind of brand even 10 years ago. Something’s changed.

43:50

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
I don’t think I was ready for this brand two years ago when I started it. Yeah. You’re so right. Mental health, therapy has been the same for about 100 years. And the stereotype was these old, usually white men with beards and glasses in cardigans, sitting on a leather sofa going [inaudible 00:44:08]. Yes. That whole idea. And I wanted to do something a little bit different.

And what I found back when I started Exploring Therapy in April of 2018 was I was looking for other mental health professionals and could barely find any. And it was because I think if I could speak for some of us-

Jasmine Bina:
You were looking for them on social media?

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Yes, on social media. So I was looking for other mental health professionals on social media. And I found that there weren’t very many. And my guess was that-

Jasmine Bina:
Two years ago? You’re just talking just two years?

44:40

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. There were very few. And I knew because I was looking for colleagues to create community with on Instagram. And I found I don’t know, less than 10 psychologists that were on at the time that seemed to be putting any effort or energy into their social media accounts.

And I think it’s because a lot of us traditionally are trained to be the blank slate, and to basically be a non-presence. You’re just a white piece of paper for the client to project everything onto. So that was what we were taught as professional. And we were basically almost shamed for bringing any of ourselves into the room.

One of the topics of mental health as a professional that we learn about is self-disclosure. And basically, you’re only really supposed to self-disclose when it’s absolutely helpful for the client. Other than that, it was very frowned upon. So social media seemed like a thing we could just never do.

And I felt like we were missing this opportunity to connect with potential people in the world because we were completely silent on social media. So it’s been such an interesting adventure. Because for me, Exploring Therapy was about realizing that the therapy brand was antiquated and irrelevant to a lot of people. And my first intention was I wanted to rebrand therapy. I wanted it to look fun, engaging, fresh. I wanted to demonstrate that smart people, self-aware people are interested in mental health. And I could have never expected where things would go when I look at how it is today. There are so many mental health influencers. So many articles have come out in major publications that therapists are the new poets, Instagram therapists are the new poets. So it’s really made mental health conversations very democratized. Now everybody’s talking about mental health. And two years ago, I can tell you it was barely talked about.

46:33

Jasmine Bina:
Wow. Okay. So this sounds like it went from being a non-space to being a real space. Not just in social, but just the idea of what therapy actually is. Did your self-perception about who you are as a therapist change in the process?

46:46

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
5000%. Because like I said when I started, I was so scared to share personal parts about myself. And since then, I feel like I’ve really learned how to disclose in a way that moves the conversation with intentionality forward.

So I don’t share everything. There are certain things that I personally never share. You’re not going to see me talk about my personal friends very much, or my family. You’re not going to see me show the inside of my home or personal spaces in my life. And that’s because I have decided that those boundaries are healthy for me. But you will see me as a human being and as a therapist who loves food, who loves travel. And because I’m a digital nomad, it’s really opened me up to talk about that part of my life, without it being ‘off-brand,’ right? So that people who are following along aren’t going, “Why is she talking about this? She’s a therapist.”

47:37

Jasmine Bina:
Right. So you’re really cognizant of how the brand and the overall story that you’re telling are cohesive?

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Absolutely. Yes. And I think the one thing that is maybe a little bit unique about me compared to other therapists who might be in the social media space is I made the choice back when I started that I wanted to be in multiple conversations. So I didn’t want it to just be a straight up mental health account. I want it to include elements of myself that fit with what I wanted to connect with people on.

So one of my favorite words in my entire life is delight. And I feel like my personal mission in life is to help people delight in their own lives and to delight in themselves. So that’s why I talk about food, and travel, and things that most of us dream about and enjoy.

48:20

Jasmine Bina:
Okay. So food, travel, they’re the easier topics. Mental health gets a little bit more hairy. But let’s talk about the macro state of mental health in our culture over the last few years. So I feel like social has become a really, obviously so many movements started on social. A few years back, you had things like the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street. There were very empowering. They were gritty, and they forced us to see things we didn’t want to see. But they gave hope in a lot of ways.

This year, it felt like it was a little different. I’m interested in asking you this both as an influencer and as a therapist. It felt like 2019 was taxing. You had the MeToo movement, which was important and empowering. But it was emotionally taxing to just constantly be confronted with the suffering of women. It’s important. We all need to pay that debt, but it’s a lot. Let’s not deny that it’s a lot.

And then you had things like outrage culture, cancel culture, things that you could argue are both positive and negative. It’s the wild west right now of this space, when it comes to cultural movements. Some come and die really fast. Others have lasting impact. As a therapist, how do you feel like these narratives that were born on social really affect us as a society?

49:46

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Well, some of the things you talk about make me think about the idea of different types of trauma. So we can experience trauma on an individual level. We can also experience trauma on a societal level, on a cultural level. So I think we’re running into some of those things. The MeToo movement is essentially a group of people who experienced trauma and who are trying to walk through that conversation and through their own healing together publicly. So we never had that before. That didn’t exist.

And the other thing that I’ve noticed is that social media has given people the opportunity to react at lightning speed. So we’re more reactive than ever before. And that is in some ways really beautiful. And in some ways, it could be really unhealthy. So let me give you an example.

50:36

So when we look at reactivity, one of the things to think about from a neurological perspective is that people are in their amygdala. So they’re in the fear center of their brain, which is designed to help them survive. Right? So that’s why when people are afraid or reactive, or when they’re anxious, they’re not thinking about things like, “What do I want for dinner on Tuesday?” Right? They’re thinking about how can I protect myself, and their body is going through all these physiological reactions in response to that, right? So their body’s essentially preparing them for fight or flight. And that’s what we’re running into with the reactivity we see on social media is that people are in that fear space. And the problem with that is that when people are in their amygdala, so when they’re in fight or flight, they’re not in their frontal lobes. And the frontal lobes are the place in our brain where we are able to have executive functioning, reasoning. The parts of ourselves that when we think about who am I at my very best, that all exists in our frontal lobes. It’s the most mature part of our brain. Whereas the amygdala is in our reptilian brain. Just oriented around eat, sleep, sex, survive. Right? So I think that we are in some ways selling ourselves short, because we don’t have as many opportunities to just sit and think about things and come from a more rational place.

51:56

Jasmine Bina:
It makes sense now that things like ASMR, and even a lot of people don’t know this. But after 9/11, the Food Network had to completely rethink all of their programming because people started watching the Food Network like crazy because they were looking for comfort.

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Self-soothing.

Jasmine Bina:
Yes. Self-soothing. So all these self-soothing phenomena, again born on social, I mean I don’t think it would be too farfetched to say that their reaction to this environment that you’re describing. Right?

52:28

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
So what’s interesting to me about that is a lot of self-soothing are sensory experiences. So the ASMR is all about hearing. And food, all about taste. They’re real experiences, whereas we live in a very unreal world so much of the time. Right? And I find that it’s because we’re probably craving more of that realness because we have so little of it in the real world.

The other thing that I think is really interesting and I just connected this thought right now, is that when you think about mindfulness, mindfulness is also very focused on the experiencing of the presence through senses. So mindfulness is something that has exploded as well with Calm, and Headspace, and all these apps that have skyrocketed. Everyone is obsessed with mindfulness. Why is that? I think it’s because these things help us move out of our amygdala into our frontal lobes. When we are present, when we’re connected to our senses, when we’re grounded. So maybe people were gravitating towards those things and I didn’t even realize why. But now we know it’s because we’re trying to move back into the frontal lobes and heal ourselves out of that survival space in our amygdala.

53:39

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah, absolutely. So this is interesting then. Would you say that this environment that we’re all digitally swimming in has affected the way you engage with people as an influencer?

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Oh my gosh, in so many ways. I don’t even know where to start. I think that one is I’m having more conversations with people than ever before. I think we used to have in wellness at least, and in medicine, we had a model of the doctor as expert and authority. And I mean, think about it. When we were growing up, did you ever think about picking a doctor that you connected with personally? No. You went to the doctor that you were supposed to go to, whoever you got assigned. Because they were a doctor and they were supposed to know what they were doing. Now, I think people are changing and they see that they want to relate to their medical professionals and their mental health professionals. They want to feel like you’re a real person they can connect to.

54:38

Jasmine Bina:
I feel like part of that, if I can interrupt, it’s because we’ve lost some trust in the Western medical system. That’s why I’ve written about this. That’s why things like Goop have room to breathe because a whole class of people, notably females, felt like they weren’t listened to. So they’re open to pseudoscience now because they’re looking for empathy in medicine.

What you’re describing is empathy in medicine with your own brand as well. I check Yelp reviews to see what a doctor’s bedside manner is like before I choose somebody. It’s not enough to just see who your medical or your insurance provider covers anymore.

55:17

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Exactly. So it’s moving away from the professional as expert and authority to the medical or mental health professional as guide, and friend, and person that’s sharing the road with you. And it’s really rewarding, right? Because I think from the professional side, the people that gravitate toward me really know who I am, and they kind of come in. By the time they’ve asked for therapy, they already know me and they know how I work. And I think from the client side, you really get a sense of who you get to work with. and it feels familiar and safe.

Jasmine Bina:
That’s actually a super interesting. Okay.

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
You talked about trust. So you’re right. People are at an all time low with trust with medical professionals. And I’m actually part of a new group, and it’s called the Association for Healthcare Social Media. So I’m on the advisory council of this group of doctors and mental health professionals that has realized that doctors really need to close the gap. So they’re all on social media. I mean, we’re talking about dermatologists that have TikTok accounts, and they’re telling you all about your skin, and you’re learning facts about that. I saw a gynecologist talking about the education related to the herpes virus on TikTok with thousands of views, hundreds of thousands of views. So I think it’s really great that medical professionals are realizing that they need to gain back the trust of people, because they’re losing ground. So AHSM is trying to figure out ways to create guidelines for medical professionals that we can really gain that trust back.

56:50

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. Interesting. So there’s this issue of trust on one side. And I love what you’re describing here, and we’ve absolutely seen it in our own research from a consumer side of things. Where the doctor is no longer the expert. They’re really more of the guide. Or what people really want to feel at least that we’ve seen in, let’s say more a physical medicine, so not therapy. But the fact that the user wants to feel like they’re the expert, and they are employing a doctor to help them kind of discover their own path towards health. A lot of that also by the way is a change in definition and health altogether. Another thing that we’ve seen in our work is that health used to mean getting from negative one to zero, getting back to a baseline. Now people want to go from zero to positive one.

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Yes.

Jasmine Bina:
Health is not about feeling better. It’s about feeling your potential. It’s about unlocking something superhuman inside of yourself.

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Yeah. The way I describe it is moving from survive to thrive.

57:45

Jasmine Bina:
Yes, exactly. There’s another side to all this where okay, if we as individuals are the experts. I feel like especially in female categories, we’re reclaiming things that were taken from us. So body positivity, acne positivity, even mental illness. It’s about clawing back these territories that we were kind of forced to give up where we were defined instead of defining it for ourselves. Do you feel like social media had a hand in making mental health in these kinds of trends an acceptable topic? Or did it just make it popular? Did it popularize it? Was it the right time for it to blow up, or do you think that social actually was the vehicle that we needed in order for it to become a larger conversation?

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
I think it was kind of that magical timing of things. I think our community really needed the conversation, and then social media helped boost it. But I certainly think that it’s more than just a fad or a passing trend. One of the things that never happened before, but it happens all the time now because of social media is someone will share a meme about having anxiety. And I think that is so mind blowing. Because that would never happen in passing conversation the way that it does now. Now it’s so common. And it makes sense because most people at some point in their lives will experience anxiety, sometimes debilitating. So I love meme culture because it’s given people the opportunity to use humor as a way to destigmatize mental health conversations. I think that’s just one example of many, but really you’re seeing people self-disclose more about their own struggles. They feel permission to be vulnerable because they see that there’s a community that exists, that is willing to hold them and support them in that space.

59:28

Jasmine Bina:
Right. So I think if you summarize everything that we’ve discussed here so far, it feels like there’s a movement towards empathy. If I had to label it, that’s what I would say. But I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Is that how you would describe this?

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
I definitely think that empathy has become ingrained into the conversation. And in my field, I see it a lot obviously because we’re talking a lot about feelings and giving people permission to have feelings. But what I see with brands is that brands are really linking themselves to feelings for people.

01:00:03

One of my favorite brands that I think is connected to empathy as part of the conversation is Ban.do. And I think it has a lot to do with one of the leaders in the company Jen Gotch. Jen Gotch is this incredible woman who is a force of nature. But one of the things I most appreciate about her is that she speaks openly about struggling with mental illness. And if you look through her posts, she will go into long descriptions of how she’s suffering from depression and from anxiety. And she is so real. So I love that you have a brand that is about helping people be their best. When you look at it, it’s very bright, colorful, sunny, cheerful. And then you have this leader who is also very open about kind of her shadow side, the dark stuff in her life too. I think people really relate to that, and it connects with them on an emotional level.

The other thing I’ve noticed is the art of the apology when it comes to brands. I pay a lot more attention to brands when they mess up. And I think we have less tolerance for brands that don’t know how to say sorry well. I sure do. So when a brand messes up, I actually think that’s normal. I think they’re going to have times where they miss the mark or they have an ad that it falls flat. But the way that they apologize to me matters a lot, because it communicates whether they care about me or whether they don’t care.

01:01:26

Jasmine Bina:
That’s interesting actually. A while ago, and I’m going to include this in the show notes and everything we discussed with you and our previous interview, they’re going to be in the show notes for people who are listening. But there was a great Hidden Brain episode where they talk about the proper way to apologize, just because there’s been such a rash of apologies because celebrities and brands are screwing up left and right. But so many of these public figures, the mistake they make with these apologies that we subconsciously pick up on is they’re the people who apologize by talking about how sorry they are about what happened to them because they screwed up. Then there are the people who start an apology by acknowledging how much they hurt you by screwing up. I’d say if I had to figure out the balance, I think brands are doing a little bit better than celebrities when it comes to apologizing the right way. But there is an art to the apology. There is a right way to do it that shows true remorse and a true commitment to changing your behavior in the future.

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Then there’s the whole other side of things where brands make it part of their brand where they don’t give an F what you think.

01:02:30

Jasmine Bina:
Like who are you talking about?

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Oh gosh. There’s a small brand here in LA. My friend Nguyen Tran, he has a food brand. And he had a restaurant called starry kitchen. And he kind of made a joke. When people would write bad Yelp reviews, he would get really sassy with them in the comments. And it kind of brought him more attention because he would just not take their crap.

I think people note Yelp reviewers have, it’s a double-edged sword because I love Yelp reviews and I love to read them. But also, Yelp reviewers can seem a little bit finicky sometimes. I don’t like the font on the menu-

Jasmine Bina:
Especially when it comes to food. And in fact, especially when it comes to international cuisines, another article I’m going to link to here, I think it was on Eater about how Americans hold foreign food places to a very different standard. To call something authentic, it’s a different standard they hold them to, and it’s created a lot of problems in the Yelp sphere for how these people, like your friend who’s the founder present their cuisines to the public. I’m going to link to that too. But it’s so interesting that you mention that. Yeah.

01:03:34

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Yeah. And I just really admired him because he was being real and himself.

Jasmine Bina:
Authentic.

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Yes, authentic-

Jasmine Bina:
It’s that word again, authentic. So to bring it back to empathy, if I talk about the snowflake generation, what does that make you think?

01:03:48

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
I have mixed feelings about it. Because on the one hand, I think that I love how culture has become so inclusive and accepting. And I think there’s so much beauty in that. The fact that people ask what your pronouns are and that’s becoming a part of how we communicate, I think is very powerful. Because it says, “Hey, if I can make you more comfortable, I want to do that because it’s kind.” When I was in grad school 10 years ago, we did not even really talk about pronouns. So culture has shifted a lot. And I think it is shifting in many ways toward kindness.

When I think about the snowflake generation, it’s this idea that people are offended at everything. And I have strong feelings about that. Because while I totally respect if someone hates the president, or is really offended at something that someone said, what I’ve noticed is that we’ve lost this appreciation for the process. So we have lost respect for another individual’s process. In other words, instead of me giving you the space for you to take your thoughts and opinions from A to Z, I now just expect you to be where I am. And I actually think that’s disrespectful to our humanity.

Now don’t get me wrong. If someone has opinions that are racist and homophobic, I want them to change their mind. But I think as a therapist, one of the things I value is meeting people where they’re at. And I think sometimes, the snowflake culture misses out on that. Because there’s this expectation that you should just instantaneously believe what I believe.

01:05:24

Jasmine Bina:
I agree. I think a lot of these phrases like the snowflake generation are really misnomers. And they hide the fact that there’s so much more going on that we don’t understand it.

I heard two things when you were describing that. One, it’s kind of mischaracterizing the fact that in our quest to show kindness and respect to other people, it seems like a hyper-defensiveness. And then the other thing that you mentioned is that it’s such a shorthand. It begs the question, do we give people space to actually go through this process that you described, which is so, so important to us.

Something else I wanted to ask you was what do you think the role of the influencer will be in the future? And this is a big one. And the reason I ask you this is because something came up in my feed a while ago that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. I’ve been wanting to talk to the right person about it.

So Gabor Mate, and I hope I’m saying his name right. He’s an addiction expert. He’s an author. He’s a speaker. He has incredible videos online where he’s given interviews about a world of different things. But he had an opinion about our children are the first generation that’s growing up. And their role models are not older people. They’re role models are their peers, these other young kids on social. And other young kids on social are not emotionally developed. Right? It’s huge. It’s like a huge mind bomb.

01:06:44

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Also you just made me think of okay boomer. okay boomer. They don’t trust the boomers anymore. They want to look to their peers.

Jasmine Bina:
You’re so right. You’re so right. And that’s what it is. But the people that they’re looking up to are not fully developed people yet, and they’re idolizing them. And this is a huge experiment. Can you grow up to be a healthy, well-adjusted individual if your role models are not healthy, well-adjusted individuals just because they’re still kids? What do you think about that?

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
My sense is that the influence of the future, that it may actually bounce back. One of the things I’m seeing in mental health is that people are actually really drawn to accounts that show maturity and a journey in the therapist. One of my favorite accounts is called Notes From Your Therapist. And they’re a series of handwritten notes from a therapist that is probably a 40 or 50 something, if not a little bit older. And they are some of the most beautiful, empathic, thoughtful reflections as if she’s writing to her clients. And it’s a beautiful account if you haven’t seen it. But she is a demonstration of an older therapist with maturity and experience, yet her followers are not all her age. There’s a lot of younger folks that I think are drawn to that wisdom. So yeah, I think it’s bouncing back.

01:08:05

Jasmine Bina:
So speaking of authenticity, we know that’s important. I feel like I really just have to ask this because it’s important. You’ve given so much great insight and advice. But if I asked you to actually articulate advice that you would give to others who are building their own brands on social, what would be your top tips?

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
A lot of people building brands on social are DIYers, and that’s really who I speak to. So I think one of the most important things that you can do is get educated about brand on the front end. One of my favorite books is Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller, which helped me really understand some concepts about brand. So I would say take time on the front end to educate yourself and be really thoughtful about your element. So understand why you might pick certain colors, and understand what tone you want to use when you speak to your audience. I think that I have a document that’s probably 45 to 50 pages of all the different things I pulled that I connected with and resonated with when I was creating the Exploring Therapy brand. And obviously, we titrated it down to the essential elements. But that really helped me understand what I was doing and who I was speaking to. I think that’s really important.

01:09:05

Jasmine Bina:
Okay. What you’re describing here is something you’ve talked about our process. And I think in our first episode, where so much of brand strategy is just going super wide and then finding ways to come back and get very narrow once you can see what your whole world looks like. And that’s what you’re describing here.

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Yes, absolutely. And then to that point, I think sometimes we’re so narrow. And using a visual example, it’s like I can only use these three fonts, and that’s it. And then we forget to leave room to grow. And I think one of the things I’ve learned in my own brand at least is that you’re actually not always benefiting from staying so rigid. That actually, you have to build a little bit of room for pivoting in your brand because things are moving so fast. So you’re taking your clients, your audience on a ride. You can either do that in a way where it literally never changes. You can do it in a way where you’re taking sharp left turns and it’s very bumpy. Or you can do it where you’re taking them on a ride. And sometimes you’re taking a curve and a turn here and there. Certainly in the mental health field, there’ve been so many curve balls. So I’m grateful that I’m the only one making decisions and I can kind of shift what people might connect with instead of just staying rote and staying in the routine of just doing what I’m doing, because it’s my brand. Does that make sense?

01:10:19

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. Well if you build a rich brand, your users are going to give you the permission to make those turns. When you don’t put the work in, people aren’t going to get it when you make those pivots.

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
I love the way you said that.

Jasmine Bina:
Okay, cool. So this was a very full, rich, enlightening conversation. I like to end these interviews with something personal. At the end of our episode, whoever the last person is that we’re talking to you. I’m going to ask you a personal question. I already know the answer to this, and I’m very excited and honored that you’re going to share this with us. But tell us the story of how you came to become a therapist and how you came to decide that you were going to turn your practice into something like exploring therapy.

01:11:01

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
When I decided to become a therapist, it was kind of out of innocent reasons, I suppose. I just loved people, and I’d always loved having coffee conversations with folks. And when I realized I could get paid to do that, I was like wow, that’s amazing. And as I’ve grown, one of the experiences I’ve had in my life that has impacted me the most in terms of why I do what I do is the experience of loss.

So in 2009, I lost my brother. I was already a mental health professional at the time. So there was added complexity to the experience. But it was September of 2009, and he ended his life. And it was one of the most tragic, horrifying, difficult, raw, unexpected things I could have ever experienced in my life. And I experienced all the things you could possibly imagine. Not just deep grief, but also the shock of it all and the losing my grounding and not knowing where to go.

So what Exploring Therapy has become for me is this conversation about helping people to delight in their lives, to have lives that are more healthy, is really about never wanting a person to ever lose sight of their own value and their own worth. And to never lose sight of the beauty of this gift of life that they have.

So I think that if I can help one person to find and reconnect with the value in their own life, that will be meaningful to me, that will be my mission happening. But I just never want someone to lose someone in their lives they care about again for things that can be avoided. So if I can help make mental health more accessible, if people can openly share about their struggles with suicidal thoughts, if we can create a space for this conversation, then I feel like it’s so worth it. All the work to create this is worth it to me.

01:12:53

Jasmine Bina:
Amazing. Thank you so much for that. I really, really appreciate it, Therese.

Dr. Therese Mascardo:
Thank you.

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