Social media has been getting a bad rap in the press recently. First, there’s The Innovation of Loneliness, a terrific short film (just over four minutes) by Shimi Cohen. It suggests that one of the key differences between real life and social-media life is the ability to edit. We can edit ourselves on social media and put our best foot forward. Not so in real life and, according to Cohen, that’s what makes real-life superior. Simply put: you interact with real people, not edited people.
Cohen — whose film is based on Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together – urges us to slow down and have actual conversations with others. He also explains (though never names) the concept of Dunbar’s Number – that humans naturally organize themselves into groups of 150 or less. He implies that any group larger than 150 is too much for the human mind to handle. So what’s the point of having, say, 500 friends on Facebook?
Cohen’s film reminded me of the many articles I’ve read on mindfulness recently. For instance, Scientific American Mind recently led with mindfulness as its cover story. I’ve also been reading Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The common thread is the admonition to slow down and, as Kabat-Zinn phrases it, “reclaim the present moment.” These writings don’t specifically suggest that social media is bad for you but it’s an easy conclusion to draw.
A research article recently published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) is much more specific. In fact, its title pretty much says it all: “Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being Among Young Adults”. (The original research paper is here. For non-technical summaries, click here for an article from The Economist or here for one from the L.A. Times).
The study tracked 82 young people as they used Facebook. They were also asked to report their “satisfaction with life” at the beginning and end of the study. Bottom line: “…the more they used Facebook [during the study period], the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time.”
The PLoS study doesn’t identify the causes in decline of life satisfaction. But The Economist points to an earlier study to identify a likely culprit. The study, conducted in Germany, found that “…the most common emotion aroused by using Facebook is envy”. The Economist makes essentially the same point that Shimi Cohen does:
Endlessly comparing themselves with peers who have doctored their photographs, amplified their achievements and plagiarised their bons mots can leave Facebook’s users more than a little green-eyed. Real-life encounters, by contrast, are more WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get).
So should we drop social media? As I wrote several months ago, I still think it’s a good way to stay in touch with our “Christmas card friends” – those friends whom we like but don’t see very often. For our bosom buddies, on the other hand, it’s probably better to just slow down and have a nice, mindful heart-to-heart conversation.
I run my little consulting business out of an expansive office in our basement. The business is going reasonably well — I have clients in both Sweden and the United States. Still, I have some slack time every now and again. I need to do some marketing to build the business.
So far, my marketing consists of this website, some social media, and some nice t-shirts. (If you want a t-shirt, send me your size). I maintain a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, and a Linked In page. I considered advertising on the Super Bowl but decided that the demographics were wrong. Then I noticed that my Facebook views had dropped dramatically. Even people who had “liked” my page weren’t seeing my posts. Facebook had apparently changed its algorithms to “suppress” views of pages that don’t advertise with the company. (For more on this, see Nick Bilton’s post in the New York Times).
So I decided to advertise on Facebook. I think I create some pretty good posts, so I simply paid Facebook to advertise them for me. I made a modest investment — $5 on some days and $10 on days when I addressed a really hot topic. The results were weird to say the least.
First the results were completely unpredictable. On the day before I bought my first ad, 29 people saw my post — though I have well over 500 friends on Facebook. With my first ad — a $5 day — 7,055 people saw my post and I got four “likes”. Here’s what happened on subsequent days:
I had asked Facebook to show my ads to people over 25 years of age who said that they enjoy reading. I didn’t change my criteria throughout the ten-day trial but I had no idea what to expect from day to day.
Then I started getting nastygrams (some very nasty) from other Facebook users. To advertise my work, Facebook simply takes one of my posts and inserts it into other users’ news feeds. A number of users, who don’t know me from Adam, took strenuous exception to this, posted obscene messages in my news feed, and reported me for spamming. I corresponded with one such user who asked me never to spam him again. I pointed out that I had bought an ad without the intention of spamming anybody. He considered it spam and had asked Facebook to “adjust their algorithm” to punish me as a spammer.
I wondered if Facebook would actually charge me for an ad and then downgrade my algorithm for spamming. That takes some chutzpah. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out if this actually occurs. Frankly, I just don’t know whom to ask. Despite its name, Facebook is a rather faceless organization.
So, I’ve given up my Facebook ad campaign. I’m tired of the obscene responses. And, like the Super Bowl, I wasn’t reaching the right demographic. I did get more views and more “likes” but, after reading the profiles of those who “liked” me, I just don’t think any of them are going to buy my business-to-business consulting services. So, I’m looking for other ways to advertise my business. In the meantime, I still have some nice t-shirts.