One of the largest social media news stories this week has been around the ‘retirement’ of social media celebrity Essena O’Neil.

As an 18 year old health and fashion blogger whose Tumblr, YouTube and Instagram accounts had over 500,000 followers, O’Neil had established herself as an online influencer amongst a demographic group that companies were interested in reaching.

O’Neil was publicly successful, with companies paying her to endorse their products to her fans, an Australian agent and a US agency looking to pick her up.

However this week O’Neil released a video announcing her withdraw from this aspect of her social media stardom, expressly pointing out that the image she had so carefully shaped online to be appealing and authentic was just that, an image.

She’s followed that up with the video below, which emphasises how easily people can get caught up in chasing likes and followers and lose sight of the values that make them authentic.

Why I think social media sucks from Essena O’Neill on Vimeo.

O’Neil’s actions speak to a truth of social media that is rarely discussed in pop articles or social influencer videos and blogs.

Being seen to be authentic on social media is critical for individuals and companies seeking to establish themselves as relevant and influential with their audiences, however even more importantly authenticity is important for one’s own self-image and value.

O’Neil is a young person, and it is no surprise that she became caught up in the social media marketing machine. At some point in her journey from fresh face to online model she lost one of the most critical elements of authenticity, being true to oneself.

Fortunately O’Neil has realised this and is in the process of reassessing who she really is and what she stands for – a not uncommon journey for an 18 year old, though generally not carried out under as much public scrutiny as O’Neil faces as an Internet celebrity.

O’Neil’s story is one that other individuals and organisations seeking to build their brands online should be mindful of.

It’s great to build a successful brand online and being seen to be authentic is key to it, but authenticity must involve being true to one’s own values, self-image and aspirations.

Gaining the world while losing yourself ultimately is not authentic nor healthy for either a business or an individual.

Those seeking to build their online authenticity should regularly assess whether they are simply trying to be seen as authentic or whether they are being true to their own values, personality and goals.