Social media is the most important media channel to come along since television. No other media channel provides brands with the same targeting ability, engagement or revenue-driving opportunities. It’s why Facebook has become such an important global company and a core part of many go-to-market plans.
But there are also severe unintended consequences to social media.
According to the ‘Shallowing Hypothesis,’ the more social media we consume, the shallower we become. Social media has also been identified as a major cause of anxiety among teens. According to Stephanie Eken, a psychiatrist at Rogers Behavioral Health, anxious teenagers from all backgrounds are relentlessly comparing themselves with their peers, she said.
And the results are almost uniformly distressing.
"Likes" and other social-media validations are well-documented dopamine triggers. Social media is legal Ecstasy. As a result, I worry we are raising a generation of children who lack the social skills to compete in the workplace. Many kids today lack the basic skills to resolve conflict face-to-face.
Instead, when they become uncomfortable, they reach for their device and find validation on Instagram. But then, they wind up observing other peoples lives and find fault with their own. It becomes a downward spiral towards depression.
Social media has also connected over 1 billion people around the world. It is credited with social change, made new ideas available to people never before connected to the world, and influenced elections (positively and negatively).
But it’s the unintended consequences that are cause for concern — a media channel that can drive positive change so quickly, and simultaneously cause so many people severe anxiety. It’s as if the speed for good is equal to the speed of social destabilization.
As marketers, we’ve learned to optimize social-media communications. We’ve learned to build ads that work really well in six seconds, built ads to be swiped, and built ads for the small screen.
We pride ourselves on creating award-wining snackable content, and we deploy measurement studies that prove social media investments drive in-store traffic. We know that social media works for advertisers!
Along the way, we built a marketing system that causes the brain to release dopamine better than any other marketing machine before it. We’ve finally created a marketing ecosystem that leverages classic addiction principles. That’s partly the genius driving social media.
Coffee is a giant business because so many of us have to drink it daily or we get painful headaches. Social media is similarly addicting and also has chemical responses. Since the withdrawal effects are not as immediate, we’ve been slow to question the social impact.
But I’ve heard so many parents complain about the impact of social media on the confidence of their kids; the effects on family gatherings like dinnertime; and the mechanism for bullying.
Social media isn’t going away. Society has been transformed. Billions are connected in ways unimaginable just a decade ago.
Too much money has already been made and too much growth has been forecasted. My fortunes have benefited from this disruptive media channel, as have most of the marketing people reading this post.
But I can’t help but ask: Do we have a responsibility to shine a light on the unintended consequences of social media? I think we do. I worry about the long-term effects on our relationships, both professional and personal. I worry about the kids who find so much validation from a "like," and I worry about all the people that use social media as a replacement for making meaningful and deep connections.
I don’t want to live in a society that thinks it’s OK to break-up an intimate relationship with a text. But I also don’t want to live in a society that’s not as informed and connected as ours.
What do you think? Do we have a responsibility to solve the very real unintended consequences of social media?