Let’s Talk About the Dark Side of Social Media
December 16, 2022
By: Seth Resler
Jacobs Media Strategies
It’s easy be sound cynical about social media these days. Last month, when The Atlantic declared that “The Age of Social Media is Ending,” I felt relieved. Columnist Ian Bogost wrote:
"On social media, everyone believes that anyone to whom they have access owes them an audience…. That [is] a terrible idea. …People just aren’t meant to talk to one another this much. They shouldn’t have that much to say, they shouldn’t expect to receive such a large audience for that expression, and they shouldn’t suppose a right to comment or rejoinder for every thought or notion either. From being asked to review every product you buy to believing that every tweet or Instagram image warrants likes or comments or follows, social media produced a positively unhinged, sociopathic rendition of human sociality."
Of course, not everybody shares this sentiment. If they did, social media would not be the major force that it is. Clearly, somebody feels like it’s providing a benefit to their lives. So I decided to seek out an optimist in the social media space to hear another point of view. Fortunately, I have a friend who fits that bill.
Jacobs Media alumnus Lori Lewis is no stranger to readers of our blogs. She has an extensive working knowledge of radio, having been both an on-air talent and an award-winning Program Director. With the rise of social media, she truly found her niche. In 2008, she left day-to-day programming and began helping brands understand how to leverage social media for growth. She’s been a leader in the space ever since, working with companies like Midwest Communications, Cumulus Media, Westwood One and more. She now runs Lori Lewis Media, a social media management and coaching firm.
I sent Lori some questions about the current state of social media and what it means for radio stations:
1. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is losing market value. Twitter appears to be imploding since Elon Musk took over. And the warnings about the possibility of the Chinese government using TikTok data keep growing louder. It feels as if a backlash against social media is brewing. What’s your take on the current state of social media?
Well, there are three very different stories here.
First, while there are moving parts to Meta’s market share loss, one of the biggest parts is Zuckerberg spooking investors by speaking publicly about his massive investment in the metaverse. It’s weird to them, right? But investors are only looking at the one type of AI that creates those full-bodied full version avatars.
There’s another type of artificial intelligence (AI) that Zuckerberg is — and needs to be — investing in and that’s learning how to use AI to make ads more targeted and measurable. He has to invest in this type of AI since losing all that data to Apple’s operating system change.
Apple and Google are investing in the same thing. The difference between Meta and the rest is Zuckerberg is doing this publicly.
And by the way, Facebook’s (and all of his apps he calls the family) daily and monthly active users increased in Q3 2022. So, it’s true there are a lot of headlines on Meta’s revenue hit, but it remains a strong social media platform.
Second, Twitter imploding since Musk is not correct. While it’s a wait-and-see situation, Twitter’s monetizable daily active users increased by 16.6% compared to Q2 last year. Revenue declined by 1%. There’s no “mass exodus,” just people tweeting that they’re leaving even though they haven’t.
Twitter recently hit an all-time high in usage since Musk but that could be due to the circus feel right now. News and sports radio stations continue to thrive on the platform.
Third, Tik Tok, while addicting, is kind of the outlier. We had a former President sign an executive order that blocked people from downloading the app in August 2020. He did this because intelligence believed the Chinese Communist Party was collecting Americans’ personal and proprietary information. The order was never enforced due to legal challenges; then Biden revoked the order.
So, while the drama gets talked about and the Chinese government denies spying on individuals’ Tik Tok data, my concern is how the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to grow and deepen an influential platform around the world.
The bottom line: Social media is what you make of it. Those with creative vision recognize the space as favorable to brand building and stay on top of what’s going on with each platform, where content consumption is going and make their own educated decisions.
2. I read a column in The Atlantic the other day that described the original purpose of social as a way “to connect with friends and family.” But the rise of Instagram gave way to “a new era of ‘performance’ media, in which we create online [content] primarily to reach people we don’t know instead of the people we do.” It does feel as though Instagram and TikTok, in particular, have turned everybody into publishers, and as a result, social media has become more about “media” than “social.”
In other words, the emphasis is now on using the platforms to create and distribute content, not to build genuine relationships. What are your thoughts on this shift? What does it mean for radio stations?
The social graph Zuckerberg built and lured billions onto his platforms was all about that – building relationships. People were convinced they wanted to know what that friend from third grade was up to after all these years. But over time, we collectively thought maybe not.
This led to realizing status updates aren’t how we build “genuine relationships.”
So, more and more, people were engaging with their actual friends via Messenger or Stories.
That social graph he “built” was no longer working. People were becoming less interested in what random “friends” were doing.
And Zuckerberg has been watching this internal data play out, but I guess he didn’t know what to do with it.
Then here comes China creating something completely opposite of the social graph. It’s called Tik Tok’s “FYP,” (for you page). FYP is mostly made up of people we don’t know or follow, and it became wildly refreshing, creating more time spent using over other social platforms.
This has left Facebook and Instagram scrambling and learning how to build Tik Tok’s “real-time behavior-based algorithms.”
What does this mean for radio (and all brands)? Opportunity. A percentage of a brand’s active followers will still see its content – but social media will become less about connections and follower count and all about interest-based content and communities. Content now has a greater chance and higher distribution because of this.
3. These days, it feels like social media is being used to divide people rather than connect them. (In fairness, the same could also be said of traditional media.) Social media does seem to be particularly effective at stirring up anger, jealousy, indignation and other negative emotions. Realistically, is it also as effective at generating positive emotions? Do positive interactions get the same widespread attention as negative ones? Would you advise stations to focus only on the positive side of social media?
You are what you consume.
If you’re sitting on Twitter reading the left and right fight, or watching stupid stuff on Tik Tok, that’s what social media is for you. It’s on you.
The brands I serve only create encouraging, funny, uplifting brand-aligned content and it works because people need that.
4. I came up in the “shock jock” era of the ’90s and the early 2000s. I know how easy it is to sit behind a microphone in a padded room and forget how many people can actually hear you because you don’t get an instant reaction when you talk. Compared to the interaction you receive in an in-person conversation with people, the feedback you receive as an on-air personality is muted. As a result, the temptation was always to say something more and more provocative on the radio in an effort to get a response.
I think there’s a parallel to people on their smartphones today. It’s easy to get lost in all the noise on the internet, so people say more and more outrageous things to break through. What lesson should broadcasters take from this?
Choose your words wisely.
Nothing good comes from screaming into the void. Never in history has a noisy post or tweet changed someone’s mind. So be thoughtful. If you’re passionate about something, volunteer. But, what’s the sustainable end game for being outrageous on the Internet? Inspiring more people to be outrageous?
5. We have seen more and more evidence that social media can negatively affect people’s mental health. What advice would you give to on-air personalities who are concerned about how it is affecting them? What advice would you give to their managers?
The first step we take with every brand I serve is to put efficient and effective systems in place. Social media cannot be treated like the wild west.
This means working off of a cadence, a content creation and posting schedule, content pillars, and studying the content to understand how to meet audience expectations.
You’ll feel less miserable and more inspired.
And as a manager, if you’re not helping talent do this – reach out to someone who can help.
There are a ton of companies like mine that help busy managers inspire talent to protect their mental health.
6. We know that radio stations often don’t have the resources to do everything, so they need to focus their efforts on where they are going to make the most impact. For stations that are reevaluating where they want to invest their time, what factors should they be thinking about?
When you’re not where the audience is (social media in this case), you’re giving the audience permission to form loyalties elsewhere. And if you’re on social media but think it’s a time suck, I guarantee your content is a time suck for the audience.
There are easy and efficient ways to make social media a powerful force for your brand without taking your eyes off the mothership (the FM/AM stick.
I can tell you this – the one pattern I’ve seen after studying social media for the past 15 years is this: The less interested we appear to be in the audience, the less interested they will become in us.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lori!
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