Social Media – Good or Evil?

It was a brisk November evening on Bermondsey Street. The pavements had started to fill with feet busily rushing back to the warmth of their homes, bracing themselves for the commute ahead. Marching in the opposite direction, however, was a group of sales and marketing professionals en route to a very special event. An event designed around experience and how that can influence how someone thinks and feels…

The Jiminny Open Mic Night was an utter hoot, and it was great to see so many new ideas shared across such a broad spectrum of individuals. I was lucky enough to be asked to speak. My usual messaging about games or culture didn’t feel like the right sort of fit. Instead, I walked the room through something I’ve observed during my time scouring Social Media – something called “manufactured authenticity”.

I won’t go into too much detail, but at its core it’s the idea of being able to share who you are at scale, giving anyone who interacts with your content the feeling that you truly are the version of yourself you present. If you’ve ever seen a Bon Appétit video (honestly, go check them out, they are some of the most entertaining cooking shows I’ve ever seen) you would have experienced things like acting playfully, them sporadically chatting with people at the cooker next to them, and an overall sense that the shows are organic.

Yet we know they can’t be organic. The kitchen is a set, and the interactions, while not scripted, are set-up to create the most interesting content possible. In turn, this is creating ad revenue from the YouTube channel (about 5 million views per video) and driving traffic towards their subscription model – it’s a really neat set-up. What can I say, I’m a fan!

So why am I telling you about this?

After my talk, a gentleman came up to me and challenged me about manufactured authenticity. He made a strong case that in fact, this is exactly what’s wrong with Social Media. My role and the company I work for has a viewpoint, especially from a product perspective, that Social Media can be a force for good. Work Social is a huge component of Totem. But if I’m honest I saw his point, and it got me thinking about how consumer Social Media operates, and it made me question if we’ve got the right balance for our platform and for our customers.

“When it’s free, you’re the product”

This was a lesson I learned from Glenn Elliott a few years ago, and it really stuck with me. He wrote a pretty neat blog about breaking up with Social Media a few years ago here. When we log onto a “free” Social Media platform, it’s no secret that they are generating revenue from you and your data. Social selling is part of our day to day lives. Our feeds are no longer the people we’ve connected with or know, they are populated with ads and vendors trying to sell to us.

That’s not to say any of these things are inherently bad, sometimes it’s handy spotting a promoted ad for discount headphones when you forgot yours on your commute. However it’s got to be recognised that this has had a profound impact on the user experience. Huff Post found that 66% of people don’t trust Facebook at all anymore. This change has driven people to be highly sceptical of the real power of Social Media – genuine connection at a distance.

I’ve also seen a huge rise in people moving onto paid platforms like Patreon. It not only removes the bias of advertising but enables both creators and their audience to become a stronger community.

Inclusivity

Something I’ve noticed about the giants in Social Media is the need for the user to request connections with other users. I understand mechanically why there’s a need for this to exist. It gives a semblance of control about who sees what of your personal information and customises your experience, as well as trying to show you “relevant” content in the feed. However, the consequence of this is silos and echo chambers, only seeing content that the user would agree with, or negative sentiment towards other users who haven’t connected. The idea of adding “friends” on Social Media forces you to put people in a particular category.

To get the right experience you need to follow the right people, and without this, you’ll miss out on key information or ideas. This is why I’ve gravitated towards platforms like Reddit and YouTube. The user playing field feels more level, and the information you share is not gated or withheld within a particular group. To me, this type of open and transparent sharing is what makes the internet great.

From a professional standpoint, it’s exactly why we built Work Social into Totem in this way – to break down barriers and create genuine communities. It does this from the bottom up without the need to count your followers.

Trolls

Ok – there’s a pretty big elephant in the Social Media room. If you give everyone the same ability to share their ideas, won’t people just share any old nonsense? Or worse yet, spread negativity, fake news, and just flat out troll people?

The rise in this behaviour is in part down to the ease of creating multiple accounts. Social platforms allow you to hide behind a username and require nothing more than an email address to give you access. Essentially you can share anything you like with zero accountability. Both Facebook and Twitter have stated that they are working on the problem, but as yet there is no clear solution presented.

For us, trolling or inappropriate posting is something we are always on top of. To this day we’ve never had a serious instance from any of our clients engaging with Work Social. This isn’t only due to superfast admin tools and Customer Success teams, but also that Work Social isn’t the same as Social Media. Totem encourages authenticity and positivity, even when constructive feedback is required. Users don’t feel the need to hide behind an alias as they are safe to share their thoughts and feelings.

Through simple on-boarding mechanics, teams and departments are linked in purpose built groups. What we see is a shared sense of ownership and accountability. This type of sharing activity breeds good, open, and honest conversation.


Social Media has changed the world over the last 20 years, and it’s been a wild ride watching it grow, change, and find its place. I could talk about its impact and the direction it’s heading for days, maybe I’ll save that for another blog…

At best Social Media represents humanity’s vision for the future, with people feeling deeply connected to each other and not bound by the limitations of geography. At worst is fake news, a lack of authenticity and mistrust in produced systems, people and brands.

From my perspective, there’s never been a more important time to challenge our views on Social Media.
Our networks have changed forever, and many businesses still have a fair amount of catching up to do to make sure they communicate in the way we consume content outside of work.

There is an amazing opportunity right now to inject true autonomy and purpose into the workplace, and to redefine how Work Social can drive better places to work.

Ted Hewett
Ted Hewett

Ted works in Sales Development for Team Totem at Play. Passionate about helping companies better connect with their culture and their teams.

In his spare time Ted plays for his band, runs the Play D&D campaign and volunteers for Special Effect, a charity that supports people with disabilities to play video games.

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