Brands Beware the Social Media Humbug

Dec 03, 2015

It's that time of year again: halls are being decked, stockings are being hung, and holiday music is blasting from every speaker in every retail store from here to the North Pole. It's the holiday season! Such a joyful time, right? Not always. For many, the holiday season is a difficult time that amplifies past losses and heartaches, turning even the cheeriest elves into big old grumps. Usually I'm the one criticizing all the Scrooges, but this year, despite great efforts to ignite some Christmas merriment, I find myself sympathizing with the Ebenezers more than ever.

I don't particularly like being grouchy during the holidays. It's just not me. So to remedy the situation, I spent Thanksgiving surveying a variety of friends who aren't feeling the cozy Christmas vibes this year either, asking how they deal with their Grinch-like tendencies. To my surprise, many of them gave a version of essentially the same answer: avoid the mall, spike the eggnog bowl, and most importantly, stay away from social media. You read that right. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tumblr, gone. . . all gone.

While I'd like to pretend I was floored when it was suggested that, to help lift my spirits, I should completely avoid social media this holiday season, I wasn't even a little bit shocked. Instituting a social media ban was something I'd already considered doing long before the Christmas ornaments were put on display in Target. In fact, two years ago I wrote a column about how social media can have a negative affect on how we view ourselves and our lives. At this point, most of us know that many images and status updates posted on these sites are filtered to give off the illusion that the poster is living a perfect life, when in reality, things aren't so great. While on an average day this is annoying, during the holidays, it is infuriating.

It seems to me that since that column two years ago, things have gotten worse. A few weeks back I read a story about Essena O'Neill, an Australian social media star who, at her peak celebrity, had half a million Instagram followers and 250,000 Youtube subscribers. At the end of October, O'Neill decided to make a drastic change and cancel all of her social media accounts, explaining that she had realized she wasn't living an authentic life, and her amassed fame and fortune was actually making her miserable. As noted by Time, before her social media blackout, the teen posted on Instagram that, "Social media, especially how I used it, isn't real. It's contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It's a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers. It's perfectly orchestrated self absorbed judgment. I was consumed by it."

While most of us don't use social media to build our personal brand like O'Neill, instead using these sites to connect with friends, we still often fall into the trap of orchestrating moments and documenting them just to post to sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The initial purpose of showcasing slices of life through these sites so we can engage with our peers is becoming more about which staged selfie will get the most likes. Social media is just becoming less honest, and as a result, is turning users who adopted these sites early on away.

It's a reality that many Digital Natives are beginning to recognize. A recent study done by Ipsos surveying 1,000 Millenials found that "Twenty-seven percent of respondents to the survey use Facebook less than once a week, if at all, including 11% who don't even have an account. And Facebook is by far the most popular social network among millennials: A majority (54%) of the survey's respondents said they don't have an account with Snapchat, and roughly four in ten say they don't have accounts with Pinterest (41%), Twitter (39%) or Instagram (39%)."

As someone who works in the media industry, I know that these numbers might be scary, especially given how important social media is for a company's success. It is an integral part of how we build an audience, and if we start to lose that audience, who knows how many other bricks will crumble. Moving forward, it is important that media companies become self-reflective and really evaluate how we are interacting with our audiences. Focus on creating an honest brand image, one that goes beyond Instagram filters. As Digital Natives continue to abstain from social media sites for a variety of reasons, if companies continue to rely on explosive promotions, you'll just become one more reason another native deletes their social media account for good.

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