Thinking on Social Media: Good Habits and Bad.

Instagram recently put out an announcement that it will be hiding the number of likes posts get. In Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri’s words, the company wants “people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about.” Amidst stories of cyberbullying, excessive competition and unhealthy comparisons, social media platforms are trying to be more conscious of the effects they have on their users. This includes Instagram allowing you to set a timer on the amount of time you spent on the app, Twitter regulating its content and Facebook trying to curb the spread of fake news.

I’m usually a little late to the social media party. I joined Facebook when I was around ten, but quit in less than three years, when I realized I didn’t really like it (but seriously, any old school Farmville fans here?). I had a Tumblr for a while. In my second to last year of uni, I joined Instagram, but only to post pictures of a play a friend and I were directing. My LinkedIn profile began receiving my attention towards the end of uni and I only joined Snapchat at the end of 2018. I REALLY needed to know what I looked like with a puppy filter. I think I also had a short-lived Youtube account for a while?

Social media’s always made me a little uncomfortable. I didn’t like the bubble it put around me, only letting me see what supported my existing world view. I didn’t really…understand the point of putting up pictures or anecdotes of my personal life. Why would anyone care? I understood blogs and online articles, even LinkedIn posts because they gave a story, a way to link missing pieces together. The why, along with the what. So I merely coasted and consumed content, without contributing anything.

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Facebook started off a way to connect with your friends. Quickly, social media seemed to evolve into “everyone’s your friend!” Your boss, family, and acquaintances were now friends and there were no holds barred, leaving out some privacy controls that people still had some power over. From a way to share parts of your life, it had become a combination of networking, dating and snappy one-liners about politics. With the bubble it created and without the unreliability of human memories, prone to forgetting, it became an ongoing contest, combined with a ‘cancel’ culture. Whatever happened on the Internet, stayed on the Internet…and then leaked into your personal life.

Discourses on the benefits and costs of the Internet and social media culture are everywhere and there’s little point in me adding to it. But I found it odd that with all the articles decrying the rise of social media and others merely telling us to get used to the “new methods of communicating”, I’ve read few pieces detailing good social media habits. Ways to be comfortable with social media and reach out to your network, without losing yourself in it entirely. How to get in touch with people, without getting into a rabbit hole of your ex’s pictures from when you broke up. 

There are benefits to social media being a combination of some of our favorite (and most stressful) activities. We can work in old habits to new platforms and hopefully, get a little more comfortable.

From Making Friends: Speaking Up

Everyone makes friends in different ways. Some tell funny jokes, some jump straight into the deeper questions about life and others stick to the tried and tested “Hello, I’m ___”. Our social media reflects that. We know that to get to know people, we have to introduce ourselves and let them into our lives. So we have to believe that we all have interesting stories to tell and that we are the only ones who can tell them fully, with all the details. Our Instagram stories, our Twitter posts give details that nobody else can know, but that people want to know, because people generally want to know those around them. So we have to speak up, we have to believe that we are interesting as we are and that our viewpoints are interesting.

From Networking: Being Genuine on Social Media

Networking and social media have this in common: it feels forced upon us to be memorable and present a version of ourselves that others will remember. However, networking is really about forming real connections with people, rather than catchphrases. Social media works pretty similarly. In order to not feel like an utter slimeball, it’s important to post in a way that allows deeper connections with your followers. Just as in networking, you form connections based on common interests and activities, social media lets people see what you treasure about your life and what you’re proud of. So post pictures about things you want to remember, small and big achievements from your life, even the struggles you’re going through. Like your own personal memoir.

From Working: Learning to Engage

The 9-5 workday doesn’t hold true anymore. A client can call you at 10 p.m. and expect a draft of a new strategy in their mailbox by 11:59 p.m. Coworkers invite you out for drinks. You work on Sundays. Work life beyond 5 p.m. is rarely a choice anymore, but you do get some agency as to which parts you focus on.

Social media is much the same. Having a social presence is almost a necessity today, but not all social mediums were created alike.

People at work focus on different aspects of their job. For some, it is the work they do. Some work for the money and a sense of stability and some find that their friends are their rock. So even when you hate your job, there are still aspects about it you can appreciate and aspects you choose to take a step back from.

So there are parts of social media which we can appreciate and let into our lives. We can focus on the part of social media that inspires us, from fitness accounts to baking blogs. Or we can simply use it to keep in touch with old friends or build our brands.

And then, just like at work, we need to have boundaries. It’s necessary to disengage at times and take a break from outside influences, so we don’t find ourselves burning out. It’s also necessary to know when to disengage. At work, it’s when we find ourselves losing touch with our family or when we are so focussed on a bonus, any success achieved by a coworker feels like a direct attack. 

With social media living in our phones (and requiring far less active focus than reading a report), it’s difficult to know exactly when to step back. But similar rules follow. When you find yourself browsing social media when you feel lonely, isolated or just plain blue, it’s probably best to switch off the device. If you keep analyzing follower counts and likes, keeping the phone away is a good idea. And if you can see that your most recent interactions with some of your closest friends have been through comments and likes, remember to say hi one-on-one sometime.

Of course, in no way is this an exhaustive way to look at social media. It’s all a fascinating study of anthropology, economics, sociology and many other things that I simply do not know. But these are things that have helped me when I struggle to make sense of social media and how it fits into daily routines and long term behaviors.

Has anyone else felt uncomfortable using social media before?

Helpful Links:

Instagram to Stop Showing Likes: https://www.necn.com/news/business/Instagram-May-Stop-Showing-How-Many-People-Like-Each-Post-509316811.html

Healthy Social Media Habits: https://www.bustle.com/articles/105902-5-tips-for-keeping-your-social-media-habits-healthy-because-offline-life-is-stressful-enough

More Healthy Social Media Habits: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nomanazish/2019/01/31/five-healthy-social-media-habits-you-can-start-today/#573d5da7ebaf

How to Talk About Yourself in the Best Possible Way: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-talk-yourself-best-possible-way-julie-zhuo/