A Digital Marketer’s Response to ‘The Social Dilemma’

A Digital Marketer’s Response to ‘The Social Dilemma’

A Digital Marketer's Response to 'The Social Dilemma'

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times. When it comes to surveillance it’s not Big Brother we have to watch out for, it’s Facebook and Google. Last week a friend of mine text to tell me how right I was. I immediately knew he’d watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix.

As a digital marketer, I understand more about how the backend of social media works than the average person. Notice I said “I understand more” not “I understand everything.” No one, not even those gurus who work in Silicon Valley, understands everything about how social media works.

What Is The Social Dilemma?

This fall Netflix published a docudrama about the psychological effects of social media on our lives. The producers interviewed computer professionals who once worked at Facebook, Google, and Pinterest. These computer scientists and software developers experienced their own addiction to the machines they created. That’s the documentary side of the story. On the drama side, the film follows a family, particularly preteen, teen, and young adult siblings, who succumb to the draw of their phone and social media.

What We Already Knew

Social media, video games, and other electronic media provide easy escapes from the difficulties of life. Add to that escape the pleasure we receive from interacting with our friends online, receiving multiple responses to our posted images, and immediate entertainment, and we’re likely to spend hours a day staring at our devices.

We recognized the way electronics have reshaped our lives long before COVID-19 accelerated the use of video conferencing and digital networking. Enter any waiting room in 2019 and you’d see heads bent over electronic devices instead of people reading outdated magazines or chatting with their neighbor.

Parents have expressed concern over their children’s singular focus on electronics and neglect of formerly enjoyed past times such as sports, music, and art. As a parent myself, I recognize what a different childhood my children lead compared to the one I led in the 1980s.

We also knew these social platforms were showing us the content we want to see, and we rewarded them for their efforts by spending more time on the apps. If you’ve ever searched for hairstyles on Pinterest you can be guaranteed you’ll see more, similar hairstyles in your feed the next time you check-in. Want to see more posts from a friend? Like, comment, or share their most recent post.  

Reminders We Needed

The docudrama pulled back the curtain on the dangers of social media’s algorithm. Yes, we like to see more of the images we want when we open our Pinterest app. Yes, it’s nice to feel like our friends think the same way we do about politics and religion. But is that part of life true? What’s the real danger of living in a silo where we believe everyone thinks and believes like we do?

A like isn’t just a like. It sends a sneak peek of our personality to the platform we’re using. Just like ordering a salad instead of a burger offers insight into our personality to the new friend we’re meeting for lunch, so does liking someone’s political post or the picture of their new puppy. We’re offering impersonal computers access to the deepest knowledge of who we are. Instead of guarding that information like a dear friend, computers manipulate that to keep us on their sites longer.

An unintended consequence is more impassioned responses from content consumers. If we read articles about how corrupt company A is, we’ll see more articles about how corrupt company A is. Our emotions swell with indignation. Soon we’re support boycotts of company A or worse, destroying company A’s reputation or property. When in reality, we don’t know much about company A other than what we’ve read on social media.

We already knew not everything we read on the internet is true, this docudrama reminded us of how dangerous misinformation can be.

What Can We As a Digital Marketing Firm Do?

As a digital marketer, I can’t shape a social media platform’s algorithm. If I could I’d ensure my clients’ posts were seen by everyone. I also won’t abandon social media altogether, because it’s not all bad. Social media has reunited families, raised money for much needed medical procedures, and provided a community for the homebound. It allows me to stay in touch with high school and college friends and to get to know new friends better.

What I can do is ensure my clients use social media ethically. Here’s how:

  1. We won’t use manipulation through images or headlines to trick our customers into clicking through to our websites or purchasing a product.
  2. We’ll work hard to create a real community that connects instead of divides.
  3. We’ll make sure our websites clearly state what information we collect from our visitors and how it will be used.
  4. We’ll not spam our customers with unnecessary emails or notifications on their devices.
  5. We’ll promote strong customer service and connection with clients instead of online-only transactions.
  6. We’ll educate consumers and business owners about the ethical use of social media and how they can protect themselves and their families.
  7. We’ll encourage real connections with real people. 

What Can We as Consumers Do?

Since two months after COVID-19 lockdowns started, I have lobbied my friends, family, and neighbors to keep making real, in-person connections. Sometimes those connections include face masks and standing six-feet apart outside. Sometimes it’s a “hello” in the grocery store. We must find ways to connect with real people in real ways while keeping everyone safe. It can be done. It takes a little more work now than it used to.

Here are a few tips for reducing social media’s control over you:

  1. Restrict the use of social media for your children. The minimum age for most social platforms is 13. Kids that age still aren’t ready for the constant public judgment that comes from social media. Keep saying no until your child is mature enough to handle it.
  2. Reduce your own use of social media. 
  3. Ask yourself why you’re uploading an image or video? Is it to make you feel better? To make people think better of you? To get positive reinforcement? Or is it to encourage or educate others? 
  4. Change your phone screen to monochrome to make it less desirable.
  5. Delete social apps you don’t use very often.
  6. Make a reminder list of all the things you should do instead of social media.
  7. Find a hobby.
  8. Read more.
  9. Adjust privacy settings on social media sites to limit the amount of information advertisers have about you.
  10. Turn off notifications for as many apps as possible especially email and social media.
  11. Set timers when you log on to social media to limit your time there.

It’s not up to the government to control how much control social media has over our lives. It’s up to us to take back that control.