How many times per day do you check your social media profiles? Several people check their smart phones, mobile devices, and computers constantly for social media likes, shares, retweets, mentions, friend requests, status updates, comments, and more. In fact, people spend an average of 3 hours per day social networking. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, WhatsApp, Tik Tok, Reddit, and many others are all household names, with people waking up to them in the morning and then checking them one more time before they go to bed at the end of the night.
With all this time spent daily on social media, it is surely having an effect on us as people and as a society. Can you even remember a time when at least one of the social media platforms listed above was not a part of your everyday life? Baby Boomers, Gen X, and some Millennials might be able to remember a time. But the generations after have never known a world without internet and smart phones, and thus, they've never known a world without social media.
Marketers, in general, are very familiar with social media and its benefits to our strategies - increased traffic, ability to grow brand awareness, connection with our audience, building up of customer loyalty - the benefits are endless. But what effect is it having on our customers? Is it mostly beneficial, like it is for us?
The "dark side of social media" was a trending theme in 2019. Some of the top concerns mentioned included social media usage being a detriment to real-life relationships, people becoming addicted to their social networks or spending too much time on them, the increased spread of fake news, cyberbullying, and the negative effect on identity and image. Marketers who are involved in any kind of social media marketing need to be aware of these concerns so they can stand in the gap for their customers and make sure their campaigns aren't promoting anything that may have a negative influence.
Keep reading below as we address each of these concerns and discuss how marketers can steer clear of them in their social media marketing.
Social Media's Effect on Real-Life Relationships
Back in 2017, Facebook unveiled a new mission statement: "to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together." But is that what happened?
Facebook and other social media platforms may make it easier for diverse groups of people to communicate anywhere in the world, but communicating online is vastly different than communicating in person or on the phone. Many of these online conversations are empty, impersonal, or prone to misunderstandings (which lead to hurt feelings or petty disagreements). Relationships can't really grow unless there is one-on-one human connection in real life, but this simply isn't possible when communicating solely through email, chat, and social media.
Furthermore, many relationships formed through social media can threaten the relationships that people have in real-life. This is usually due to people paying too much attention to their social media friends or getting distracted by them, which results in the neglect of their personal friends and family. Many people have also caught their partners in acts of infidelity via social media. Marketers can dodge these negative effects on relationships by running social media campaigns or sharing content that show the value of friends, family, and staying in touch in real-life
Social Media Addiction
As we mentioned in the beginning of this article, many people are starting their day on social media platforms, checking them frequently throughout the day, and then checking again right before bed. Needless to say, people are addicted. Psychologists have characterized social media addiction as a behavioral addiction, and estimate as many as 5 to 10% of American social media users meet the criteria.
Addiction to anything is bad, but among the problems associated with social media addiction are psychological issues (depression, anxiety, PTSD triggers), personal issues (low self esteem, lower self-control), social issues (deterioration of interpersonal relationships as mentioned above, "Hive Mind", and "FOMO" or fear of missing out), and physical issues (overeating, weight gain). Marketers need to address these issues and ensure that their social media campaigns are not perpetuating the addiction. They can do this in the content creation stage by setting goals more oriented to experiences and actions than simple consumption.
Social Media and Fake News
Fake news can be defined as any information that cannot be verified. At best it is misleading, and at worst it is a total lie/hoax. Though fake news existed well before the internet age, we all know it spreads like a wildfire on social media. This may be due to the fact that many people prefer to get their news through social media, so social media networks are often the chosen medium for creators of fake news.
The reason fake news is so harmful is because it creates confusion, fear, and unnecessary misunderstandings. It can even be dangerous, especially when it comes to medical claims. And it is almost always damaging to someone's reputation, whether socially or financially.
Marketers can avoid the spread of fake news on social media by never resorting to "clickbait" or other exploitative marketing tactics. They can also stay alert to any manipulative social media campaigns they encounter and alert others in their network to stay clear of them as well.
Social Media and Cyberbullying
Most social media networks allow pretty much anyone to join and have an account, which means various kinds of bullies and internet trolls will also sign up so they can take their abusive behaviors into the digital world. Cyberbullying is especially prevalent among teenagers on social media. Studies show that almost 60% of teens in the USA have personally experienced cyberbullying or some other kind of abusive behavior online. No one likes being made fun of, and bullying of any kind leads to an increase of depression and anxiety in victims, as well as the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions.
Instead of ignoring the issue, marketers owe it to their audience, especially their younger audience, to address cyberbullying when it happens. Educate yourself on the dangers of cyberbullying and other hurtful social media content by reading articles and guides that address the issue and offer solutions to help. Customers love and trust brands who will take a stand and aren't afraid to speak out against cyberbullying. So show your audience that you care and want to help put a stop to cyberbullying by joining the conversation and showing your concern. Supporting and promoting organizations and initiatives that combat it is also a great idea.
Social Media's Effect on Identity and Image
Do you ever look at your social media feed and think that other people seem to have a perfect life? Like they always look great and/or are going on an expensive vacation somewhere exotic? Do you ever catch yourself comparing these "perfect lives" you see to your own? You're not alone. Their lives aren't perfect, but many people are very good at making it look like that on social media.
People can post whatever they want to post on social media, whether it is real or fictitious. They can project an image of success or create a personal identity that is more likeable than their real identity. They can make it look like they have the kind of life that others want and envy, even if it has no basis in reality. And as you probably know from experience, this constant barrage of perfection in our social media feeds often leads to feelings of jealousy or inadequacy, and can have other negative effects on our mood and mental health as well. In addition to this, the selfie phenomenon puts an added pressure on people to always look their best, and there is even a mental health condition that is being referred to as "Snapchat dysmorphia."
Knowing how easy it is to feel "less than" due to the seemingly better lives seen on social media, marketers should encourage their audience to be themselves. Create marketing messages that highlight the beauty of reality and individuality. Posting user-generated content that showcases your audience's real life stories and testimonies is another great way to help your customers overcome the negative effect that social media often has on their personal identity and image.