When social media as we know it emerged in 1997, it had the simple mission of helping people connect with each other. 

Now, social media carries a much larger weight: It’s a personal branding tool, a vetting mechanism, and a way to document our lives for the world to see. There’s pressure like never before to get social media “right.”

But at its core, social media was, and to a degree still is, a way for family, friends, and colleagues to stay in touch without actually corresponding each day. It’s an opportunity to share the behind-the-scenes of our lives and it provides us the freedom to share as much (or as little) of that information as we choose.

I posed this question to 11 successful female founders:

What would someone be most surprised to learn about your real life if they had only looked at your social media profiles?

Rather than a unanimous consensus, I uncovered a beautiful, eclectic blend of differences in how each of these incredible women show up online each day, and, most importantly, why they choose to do so.

An important lesson emerges from this diversity in motives: There’s actually no one “right” way to do social media. While authenticity always trumps perfection, it’s your choice alone in how you display the moments of your life. 

The “Solitude Sandwich”

“All of my social media accounts show me out in the world, whether it be leading a workshop, dance class, or networking event. What social media fails to show is the downtime that I take in between events. I like to call it the solitude sandwich — the event is the contents and the bread is the solitude. I tend to prioritize taking photos when I’m doing externally facing work and unplug when I’m reading, writing, or doing any other more solitary activity.”

—Stephanie Thoma, Networking Strategy Coach, The Confident Introvert

A Jill of all trades

“I spend a lot of time trying to teach myself new things, especially technical stuff, operations, or systems — and ripping my hair out. I don’t help my clients master the intricacies of email marketing systems for example, so I don’t share that piece of my business. At the same time, I know my clients and prospects are ripping their hair out about other things, so maybe I will share more of that — some good laughs and relatability if anything!”

—Arielle Shnaidman, Business & Mindset Coach, Arielle Shnaidman LLC

More than a pretty picture

“People only see the pretty side of meeting with prominent travel founders, CEOs, and global content creators via my travel video interviews. In fact, it takes a lot of work over the weekend/holiday season, being proactive on cold-emailing, and following up. We curate such a perfect and flowery life that we feel ashamed to showcase the ugly side. We want to make sure our thousands of followers see us galavanting the world and not sharing our personal/financial problems on the road.”

—Shabrina Koeswologito, Founder & Content Creator, Slow Travel Story

Real is better than perfect

“I try to keep my social media pretty transparent. To me, it’s part of authentically representing myself and my brand. I find all of the perfection on social media disheartening, and I know that there are a ton of real people out there who actually need to see the imperfections of life. So I push myself to share my face even when it’s not perfectly made up and I’m tired, and to share the harried truth of life as an entrepreneur and parent of two.”

—Marianna Sachse, Founder, Jackalo

The curated highlight reel

“I own a fashion company, but I often don’t prioritize my personal appearance because I have two small kids and a startup. On social, I usually share pics of me when I am a little dressed up with my hair and makeup done, but I rarely share my day-to-day. I think for a lot of people our social feeds are an edited version of our lives — the parts we would like to emphasize and remember.”

—Nicole Robertson, Founder & CEO, Swap Society

Self-work is tough work

“I have a small journal (if I’m traveling) and my larger notebook if I am in NYC where I reflect on successes, moments of gratitude, and what is no longer serving me. I have always understood that self-work is not glamorous work. Therefore, I don’t pretend to glorify it on social media as I think topics oftentimes do on social media. This work is for me and only me so I don’t have a desire to showcase it to others who aren’t immediately in my circle.”

—Chante Harris, Vice President, Capalino and Company

The truth behind the travels

“We travel a lot with our daughter and post beautiful travel pics, but what you’re not seeing are the tantrums, the tears (mine and hers), the frustration, the embarrassment, and the exhaustion. I personally have a hard time sharing my struggles because I truly believe that when we highlight the good, more good is to come. When I speak to people IRL I try to focus on the positive or on the lesson, so it would be strange for me to be any different on social media.”

—Jacqui Somen, Founder, VIVAMA

The chef who orders take out

“I’m a chef and a food business owner — and my feed is full of beautiful food and recipes. But burnout is real — and feeding my family after I’ve worked in a kitchen all day can seem like extra work.”

 —Lily Scott, Founder, Lily’s Ladle

The private poster

“If being on social media wasn’t necessary for business these days, I probably wouldn’t be on it. I am naturally more of an introverted and private person, so it feels counterintuitive for me to share every moment or thought from my day.

—Anit Hora, Founder, M.S Skincare

The rise of influencers

“My channels make it seem like I’m always traveling or out gallivanting around New York City, but as a founder, I spend 99% of my time working on my business and the fun stuff is what you see on social. As influencers have been on the rise, the amount of content being shared that is aspirational has gone up exponentially, and now everyone feels the need to share the top 1% of their life. We’ve all fallen into the same thinking of only sharing the awe-inspiring moments of life because that’s what gets the “likes.””

—Kirsten Baumberger, Founder, Director of Partnerships, minisocial.io

The everyday life of a travel writer

“In my job as a travel writer I go to some of the most luxurious places in the world but my life in NYC is very different. I spend most of my time in my decidedly not luxe apartment, working from my couch, cooking meals at home and hustling on my computer. Recently I met up with a girl I went to high school with who follows me on Instagram who said, “you’re either super rich or get to do this as your job” in reference to my photos. Definitely the latter!” 

—Rana Good, Founder, Naïra NYC