Three years ago, as a sophomore at Boston College, I deleted all forms of social media. I’m talking about Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, you name it. This may seem like a rash decision for a millennial to make, given that most people in college breathe tweets and regrams, but I was fed up with social media and all the pretense that came with it. I found myself meticulously scrolling through my own tagged photos, thinking about what the picture would look like to my “friends” on Facebook. Did my arms look skinny? Did my nose look too big? Was I photographed with a lot of friends? Were we doing cool things? Did I look like I was having the college experience I should be having?
As my self-monitoring became obsessive, I realized that my negative feedback loop of social media wasn’t doing me any good. I came to the conclusion that my preoccupation with how I came off to others in the virtual world was fundamentally unhealthy. And it wasn’t until November 15th, 2015 that I made my return to internet hell.
Besides the evident social reasons for my return (like people having to go out of their way to text me instead of simply inviting me to an event on Facebook), I wanted to give social media the benefit of the doubt. It wasn’t the platforms themselves that caused me to become dangerously self-conscious, but rather it was the power I gave to those platforms. I also missed being in touch with my friends from high school. And almost as importantly, I missed stalking Instagram models and celebrities. In fact, Rihanna was the sole reason I came back to Instagram since I wanted to upload a photo of the “rhenna” pillow I scored from her Anti tour at TD Garden.
Although I have come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t give social media the same power as I once did, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a powerful thing. If anything, my experience with deactivating and reactivating speak to both the thrills and horrors of social media. Fundamentally, social media is an extremely powerful tool and has the ability to affect millions of people and businesses worldwide.
I think it’s easy for people to think they understand social media. It seems pretty straight forward, posting a picture of your dog in their halloween costume or retweeting Joanne the Scammer, right? But I think it’s when social media meets the business and political world is when things get complicated. Social media’s uses have been expanded significantly since its inception, seeing as protests are now organized through Twitter and governments are banning various social media platforms left, right, and center. Businesses also have a new avenue to connect to their consumers and strengthen their brand, but they have to master the delicate balance between exposure and authenticity while doing so.
The major problem I foresee in the increasingly oversaturated techno-landscape is just that tension: the need for brands and businesses to be present in the social media horizons of their potential audience weighed against that audience’s patience and suspicion with the inherent sale that underlies any tweet/instagram/vine/etc. The more successful campaigns can either mask or underplay the “click here to buy” nature of these digital interactions, even if in these cases what is being bought amounts to impressions or click-through statistics. As a millennial looking forward to entering the workforce with an eye towards the digital landscape, I feel that we have a distinct advantage in crossing that tightrope just by virtue of having grown up navigating it. If anything, social media needs a new set of business ethics, a code of usage that addresses the problems of spamming and data-pollution that only goes to drive customers away from the brand.
By using this idea of a potentially ethical social media strategy, I hope to use this class to explore those points where creativity, analytical thinking, and problem solving intersect to produce engaging and effective campaigns. In order to achieve this goal, I intend to look to cases about companies who have successfully grasped social media, but also maybe more importantly to study those who have not and suffered because of it. Whether their mistakes were a result of poor online etiquette or a misunderstanding of the hard skills behind the platforms themselves, these failed attempts at synthesizing business and social media present the history of its technological evolution. And like any history, those who don’t learn from its mistakes are doomed to repeat them in the future.
Ultimately, the course will undoubtably necessitate a renewed and probably more intense relationship with social media than I have experienced up to this point. It will be quite the turn around for this once self-imposed Facebook exile, but I look forward to using the class’ resources to come to master the nuances and niceties of social media. And I’ll take the occasional selfie along the way.