Are we disconnected in a connected World? The impact of social media

Social media has changed the way people interact with each other forever. And, for good or bad, it’s part of our everyday lives.  The rate of technological progress is faster than that of the research around it – we are learning about the impact of social media as we run to keep up with it and as a result, there are many unknowns about its real impact.

Social media has been linked to higher levels of loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression, narcissism and decreased social skills. Yet 3 billion people – some 40% of the World’s population – use online social media and we spend an average of 2 hours every day; sharing, liking, commenting and updating on various platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (BBC.co.uk). If the narrative makes us feel that bad, why are so many people using it, so frequently?

Professional Impact

As a small business, social media platforms enable us to have a broad reach that otherwise we could never achieve. It enables us to communicate, support and understand our target audience unlike any other form of marketing tool. When used in the right way, it can be a hugely powerful platform. But it doesn’t take away from the necessity of face to face contact.

The best way to truly connect to your audience is to sit down and talk to them. In everyday business, this isn’t always possible, and social media can provide the means of consistent communication but should not be used in isolation.

Well-being & Anxiety

With it being so ingrained into our lives, are we sacrificing our well-being, as well as our time, on something that doesn’t actually provide the support we crave? In many instances, people use social media to vent – about bad customer service, how well we think BoJo is managing lockdown, or how long we were in a traffic jam because the local McDonalds re-opened and the queues went on for miles.

Venting and sharing opinions can be good – it can be a coping mechanism that enables us to calm down, reassess or garner other people’s opinion. But is also means feeds are frequently full of negativity and stress.

A study by the journal Computers and Human Behaviour found that people who use 7 or more social media platforms were more than three times as likely as people using 0-2 platforms to have high levels of general anxiety symptoms. This may not, however, be tied directly to the platform, rather relating to feelings of missing out or that you are wasting your time.

Social media is frequently mentioned as being bad for your mental health – enhancing insecurities, promoting wrong body images, bullying and shaming. But for all the bad (and it isn’t the only platform; magazines and TV shows have their share of responsibilities) it can also be used as a force for good.

There are some who use social media as a way of opening discussions about depression or mental health issues. By sharing experiences, supporting one another and recognising symptoms of anxiety and depression can only help people to reach out for help and overcome the feelings of isolation and suffering. Social media provides a place to reach out for help anonymously and often without judgement or fear.

Self-Esteem & Affirmation

In a recent survey by HuffPost, it was found that 60% of respondents using social media reported it has impacted their self-esteem in a negative way.

Lifestyle comparisons seem to be human nature. And comparing yourself with those who share images of their happiest times can make you feel low and unfulfilled. Seeing other people’s stories, posts and updates can leave you feeling like you are missing out or that your life just doesn’t live up to others.

But when you put an image of yourself on your social media, or reach out for support, you can get a much broader affirmation than if you phoned a family member. You find social connections and acceptance that you would never find offline. This in itself can leave you feeling happier, more supported and more confident.

Social media for the military spouse

Moving around regularly and needing to ingratiate into new communities, social media comes into its own for military spouses. It allows you to have contact with your lifelong friends, patch friends from 8 moves ago, and future patch friends – even identifying people you have 1 degree of separation from – how many of your friends know someone where you are moving to next?! And when your partner is deployed, it helps alleviate the longing and feelings of isolation.

As an example of its benefits, having waited weeks for a house offer, within hours of reaching out on a Facebook platform for military spouses, we found the house we are now moving to. The feeling of support, community and willingness extends far with military spouses and for that, we should be grateful for social media.

Disconnected in a connected World

So can it be that our highly connected world has now become disconnected? Have we forgotten how to interact and communicate at the most basic face-to-face level?

Or is this just at the extreme end of the spectrum and actually, when used in the right way, social media is a force for good. It enables us to have a broad reach that otherwise we could never achieve, to communicate and understand unlike anywhere else.

In the right context, social media can provide a powerful platform of support, understanding and well-being. We must ensure that we celebrate the positives, be aware of the negatives, and that we don’t underestimate the power of face-to-face interaction because for all that technology offers, and as it progresses, we are still human beings that need personal interaction to maintain our feelings of connectivity.