We answer that headline question with a hard no. And we get into trouble with many of our executive clients.
Most of our clients view social media as a time suck at best. At worst, I’ve heard from execs who equate Twitter and Facebook to playing with Barbie and GI Joe. This is not our opinion; it’s your boss’s opinion more often than we’d like.
We respectfully disagree with executive sarcasm on social media, but not to defend social media; more to caution that it may be neither a magic bullet nor a complete waste of time. Social media is not irrelevant—ask Mr. Trump. Nor is it harmless, it does consume people if they use it wrongly.
Research strongly suggests at least three highly negative outcomes from using social media.
First, its effect on a person’s internal satisfaction scale is not good. People watching all their friends doing fabulous things on Facebook and getting promoted on LinkedIn tend to feel worse about their own lives even when their lives are going quite well. When “worse” shifts to “why am I having no fun, no life, no significance” and on over to “my life is void of meaning,” the table is set for depression. Worse still (and how counterintuitive is this), a recent study suggests one’s happiness decreases the more they “like” their friends’ posts.*
Second, continuous consumption of silly, or, worse, fake news stories, bends a person’s ability away from knowing what’s significant even to the point of degrading their ability to discern truth from error. Not knowing right from wrong is a short trip from not recognizing lies. Too much time on trivia stunts a person’s intellectual growth.
Third, social media engineers know how to hook our minds so we keep clicking. There is significant evidence that the people behind the magic curtains—those designing the algorithms that populate your news feed and mine—make excellent use of neuroscience to rewire our brains to crave what they’re selling.
This is not new.
It was done first with news—bad news sells better than good news. (Perhaps the sex and opium industries were first, now that I think about it.) Neuro tricks were used with chemical adjustments that made tobacco more addictive. It is done today with processed food to make it nearly impossible to eat just one potato chip. Fat + Salt = More! TV news shifted not that long ago from reporting to entertainment to chaos and editorialization, and we cannot seem to turn it off. Now, social media is following the same recipe (as are those phone apps you cannot seem to avoid).
Social media makes it easier to be unethical—witness the rise of online trolling. It also has ethical qualities. Not all is bleak.
Social media keeps people connected to far away friends. It makes it crazy easy for grandparents to follow their magnificent grandchildren—remember what a pain sending photos by snail mail was? It makes it easy for a business (mine, for instance) to connect with customers who want the product offering. It makes it harder, (for now) for powerful media conglomerates or oppressive governments to control news.
At this point, the bad stuff is really bad, and the good stuff is promising. It might be better if you and I regained some control and use social media to make it easier to do the right thing.
Here are a few ethical ways to use social media. (You get to judge what you send and see, not me, and certainly not the owners of the algorithm.)
- Use the media to promote positive, real news and opinions. The more you post and share negative or false information, the more negative stuff you’ll see in your feed.
- Avoid self-promotion. When everyone sees all the fabulous stuff you’re doing, they start disliking you for it. the science shows that likes do not mean one has real friends and may invite more than a few enemies. Even in Moses’ day, braggarts had no real friends.
- Use Facebook for personal stuff. Use LinkedIn for work stuff. Do not confuse the two. I’d love to tell you how to use Twitter—still trying to figure that one out. Snapchat? I’ve given up on Snapchat as a positive expression.
- Unfollow anyone who posts negative jabs, junk news, trivial nonsense, or self-promotion. Not unfriend, unfollow.
*Source: The Wall Street Journal