“First of all, I know it’s all people like you. And that’s what’s so scary. Individually you don’t know what you’re doing collectively.”
When I talk about the Social Media and the internet, I always like to start by sharing that I have 17 years experience in the Media industry. All of it in Advertising and predominantly in trafficking, which is around pushing volumes of traffic (human eyeballs) to a site, in order to generate that company vast amounts of revenue. So I’d like to think that I have some knowledge rather than conspiracy theories when it comes to my views as to why so many of us are heading for Social Media breakdowns. My mental health has been hugely affected by Social Media over the past two years in particular. It’s taken me a while to really figure out the crux of my unhappiness and why Social Media is having such a profound effect on peoples health today. But Social Media, as well as the internet, isn’t going anywhere and when used in the right way can really help us meet like minded people who we wouldn’t necessarily have met due to circumstances. Not to mention helping small businesses, companies and charities get their brands and voices out there, which really could have only been done previously with large amounts of finance behind them. So it’s not all bad, but it’s not all good either and I guess the question is, how do we strike the balance that’s going to work for us individually when we’re constantly swimming upstream against Social Media Platforms?
So what do I mean by swimming upstream? ALGORITHMS, it has become a bit of a dirty word this year, they have been around for a very long time but it’s only recently that they have been getting a bad rep. There are two main uses for these across certain platforms. Firstly for products and services to target their organic audience, and this done based on demographic and your personal history use (cookie data). Which I think is a fantastic way for businesses to get their products and services out there to the right audience. Secondly, Social Media activity, which I think has been a catalyst in making these platforms a more hostile environment, especially this year. I’m sure you’ve been hearing a lot about algorithms, there’s been noise around peoples posts and stories just dropping off and not being seen by their usual eyeballs. Instagram posts were previously shown in their chronological order, earlier this year they changed that algorithm. Unfortunately for small business owners and day to day users this had a negative effect on their accounts. Posts are now shown to us based on a popularity of likes and shares (not content), and the amount that is being published on our accounts. And there’s also been a huge rise in paid for posts/likes and purchased followers. So, in a nutshell, to be relevant or have big following of numbers you either need to pay for your popularity (unless you’re extremely lucky or talented to become an organic success). Or you need to be on your account 24/7 posting on your time lime and putting everything on to your stories and constantly engaging with people you would like to follow you back. This in itself is an endless task and it’s really draining us. For a social environment, it seems increasingly isolating and has become a breeding ground for continuous competition. It’s having a really negative impact on our self-esteem and self-worth, especially for those who aren’t fully aware of the system and take it at face value. Whether we choose to see that or not, these platforms have been designed and are a constant work in progress to keep us hooked to drive more traffic, this is their companies revenue goal for growth. And gaining financial profit in this way doesn’t care that it’s ruining your mental health. I’m not completely disregarding these platforms, because there is a positive place for them but it really is about understanding how they work and in turn, finding how to make them work for you without jeopardizing your health.
I definitely have felt the stress and strains of trying to keep up with my Instagram account in particular. I genuinely love having my account tied in with my blog, but the way that these platforms work slightly go against the grain of how I need to spend my time as a Mother and as a business owner. And that really started to show at the end of last year where I was constantly on the burnout, sick every month and just feeling really depressed because I couldn’t juggle everything. I felt like such a failure, why could everyone do else this and I couldn’t? It was unbelievably damaging to my self-esteem, I’m also not a jealous or competitive person but I was definitely becoming that and it felt awful. I felt like I was failing at home, I was spending too much time online trying to be relevant, but I was missing out on life. But if I wasn’t online then I couldn’t grow in the space that I needed to. It was a real catch 22 situation because you need to put that time in (unless you’re buying your success, which to me wasn’t an option) but I’d feel guilty that I was missing moments with my family. My Son doesn’t go to nursery, I look after him full time, I blog and I am a business owner. There’s literally no time out for me, so what do women like me do, other than feel absolutely outdone by a system that’s designed to have us all competing? You end up feeling like a loser, and for some of us depressed. It’s a very sad situation to find yourself in especially because it should be fun, it should be social right? I think it just became too much for me to cope with, and once I came to my senses I decided I needed to take a very long break away from these squares to gain some much-needed perspective.
What I figured out was we rely so heavily on other people and our connections on Social Media for our validity, for whatever reasons they might be. It’s not a bad thing, especially when we are building communities. These squares are crucial for businesses, support groups and awareness campaigns. They are amazing spaces IF they are used in the right way, and that was the crucial question for me. Was I using my account in the way that it was beneficial for me and my time, and for what I was trying to achieve? Clearly that was a massive no, otherwise, I wouldn’t have found myself in this predicament. We are in a day and age where we have too much information flying at us to be able to process, there’s always someone with an online training course that promises us to be an overnight success, but I don’t believe that people know a magic formula that is for you (without at least meeting you). Your time on social media has to be tailored to your specific needs, you can’t be glued to your account 24/7 and miss out on life. It does affect the people around you as my husband candidly pointed out to me. We need to have an awareness of our accounts and ask ourselves questions. What are your reasons for having that particular online account? What is the objective, purpose or message that you want to convey to others? And then there are boundaries, what are you setting for yourself? Is there a limited amount of time you are willing to spend on your account daily? How much of your life are you willing to share? Is it personal or business? I think they are all reasonable questions and should help you start to work out some boundaries for yourself, they are really important to have as they help to guide you. For me, I don’t look at my phone or take it downstairs anymore until my Son and I have had breakfast together and are dressed for the day. We have a hard 8.00 p.m. cut off rule in the evenings. That’s when we down tools, it’s the only two hours my husband and I have together alone to talk or watch TV. If we are away as a family, be it a day trip or a few days I take my camera and I’ll upload pics when we are back. For me, it’s so important to be very present when I am with my family, anything else needs to wait. The groups I belong to I dedicate a little bit of time in the evenings to catch up and converse. I try and portion out my social media use throughout the day so that I am not glued to my phone watching stories. I also have two accounts now, one for my personal use which is limited now as you can see. And my other is for business which I am hiring a social media manager for. It’s still my business, my ideas, my words and my interaction to comments but I’ll have someone managing the day to day for me so that I can use my time wisely elsewhere. And I think that’s another way to look at it if it is business don’t’ feel guilty opting for a media manager, the majority of businesses out there hire people to run the media side of their companies, so it’s no different.
I think having knowledge that Social Media is affecting our mental health is imperative and learning how to cope with its effects is so important. Especially as our children are growing up in this space and seeing it as the norm. We need to make sure that we are well equipped to deal with its issues just like any other area in our lives. Practising time out of the digital goldfish bowl is just as healthy as having a holiday from work, GP’s are now prescribing this. Make sure you’re taking time out as often as you personally need, it’s OK to switch off. The internet won’t collapse and you’re account won’t drop off into the abyss if you’re not constantly posting or watching stories. Ask yourself the questions, set yourself some boundaries, know that not everything you see is an accurate account of the truth. Be kind to yourself we are ALL still learning our way through this minefield. There isn’t one magical answer to what works, just be clued up to how the platforms work and try to understand what people are implementing for success and see if that fits your mould. I can’t recommend taking time out enough, the difference will be unrecognisable. Please go ahead and try it!