Is The ‘Harm’ of Social Media Ready For a ‘Responsible’ Campaign?
July 25, 2023
Over the past two years, there has been a growing number of stories addressing the negative impact social media usage is having on the mental well-being of its users, particularly teenagers. The coverage, which cites various studies and reports, highlights the damaging effects non-stop exposure to idealized content has had in exacerbating feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, loneliness, and low self-esteem.
In May, Fortune, CNN, Time, and CNBC were among the long list of outlets reporting on the U.S. Surgeon General’s warnings about social media usage and how its effects on mental health are still not fully known. Calling on tech companies to “take immediate action to mitigate unintended negative effects,” his comments continue to garner attention.
In a recent episode of its “All Things Considered” podcast, NPR added its voice to the conversation and discussed the results of a national survey of teens and young adults wherein nearly two-thirds of respondents gave some version of this advice to future users: steer clear of social media.
The topic earned attention again in late June when The New York Times article How to Wean Your Kids Off of Social Media amplified mainstream awareness around the issue and the actions parents have taken to address its impact.
As the volume of concern and velocity of conversation around what some have labeled a “public health crisis” continues to grow, it’s hard not to see how this could impact platform usage long term, and ultimately, brand marketers’ ability to reach the fans, followers, and subscribers they’ve worked so hard to attract.
As brand marketers track this cresting wave of concern, it’s undoubtedly leading them to several interesting questions: is, for example, our content and engagement strategy contributing to the problem? Are we doing everything we can within our own channels to eliminate or minimize any ‘harm’? Do we have a responsibility to do something to address the bigger issue?
We’re all aware of the steps social media platforms have implemented to address the issue: they’ve implemented stricter guidelines, employed content moderation teams, added reporting features, introduced new technologies, and collaborated with partners. Can we expect them to ‘do more’ given that their business models rely on engagement and behaviors beyond their control?
It feels the growing concern warrants a bolder response from brands.
What if brands rallied together to create a ‘use social media responsibly’ campaign in the same way beer and spirits brands encourage consumers to drink responsibly? Could they create a campaign that encourages brands and users alike, to create responsibly, to connect responsibly, and to consume responsibly?
Over the last three decades, virtually every brand in the beverage industry has launched some form of responsible drinking initiative and community-based program to prevent underage consumption, impaired driving, and other harmful uses. Many have put the full weight of their marketing efforts behind this message in the form of advertisements, public service announcements, social media campaigns, point-of-purchase materials, packaging, celebrity spokespeople, educational resources, non-profit partnerships, and more.
While the issues related to irresponsible alcohol consumption and the harm caused by social media usage are wildly different, there is an existing ‘proof of concept’, a blueprint, that shows how brands – collectively and individually – can step up to promote behavioral changes that all marketers can follow and emulate.
Whether a ‘use social media responsibly’ campaign is ultimately the right move or not, the current state of concern does call for brand marketers to boldly examine the role they can and should play in making the platforms gateways to experiences that are fun, entertaining, educational, and capable of driving positive online behaviors. By doing this, brands will inspire one another to get on board and create a movement that’s time has clearly come.