Monday, February 3, 2014

Social Media: The One Question We Should Be Asking Before Posting

How many times have you been frustrated by something someone posted on Facebook or Twitter, or any of the other social media networks?

I would be willing to bet that there is one question that a person asks themselves, either consciously or unconsciously, before posting to social media, and it's killing someone else's experience of what could be a really great tool.

How will this post make me look?

It's a valid question, and it makes sense why we would ask it. I think most people want to have a significant level of control over the way people perceive them. We want people to think we have it all together. Or we want people to think we don't have it all together at all.

That's the problem. Social media can be used for incredible good. If you have an idea that's worth spreading, social media makes that possible in ways that we've never had before. We can stay connected with people we care about and be stay knowledgeable about what is going on in the world. But social media can quickly devolve into a place where many people post with one of two troubling motivations:

  • To make themselves look better than they are
  • To make themselves look worse than they are

With social media, no one has to know your imperfections, or we at least can control whether or not they're seen. We can use social media like a reality TV show where we edit all the negative parts out. Makes perfect sense. Few people want their baggage on display for the world to see. 

But the temptation for many can be to take it a step above editing all the negative parts out. They start to bring in the visual effects and marketing departments of their imaginations to give their image a little face lift.

Of course, not everybody does this, so what I'm about to point out doesn't apply to everyone. But we've all seen it, right? There are some people who try to chronicle every moment of their lives on social media and try to appear to have the picture-perfect life on Twitter or Facebook, yet we have reason to believe they're holding back the less-than-glamorous moments in between the perfectly choreographed and creatively filtered Instagram photos. Of course, posting Instagram photos can be a great thing. Pretending nothing ever goes bad for you is not.

Then there are the people who use Facebook and Twitter to share some really great things they did for somebody else. This doesn't always come across this way. I think it's all in the way you present it. But many people use social media as a platform to say, "Look at me and the awesome things I've done. Press 'Like' or retweet if you agree." 

Probably the most attention-getting type of post in my mind is when someone posts a vague status or photo that leaves people in a complete mystery of what's going on. For example, "Never imagined something like this would ever happen to me." Something like what? Oh, I get it. I have to ask to find out. Clever marketing ploy if you're trying to get people's attention, but why do we feel the need to get people's attention.

Finally, on social media, people often state their opinions without worry about how it affects someone else. If someone disagrees with something someone posted, this urge to press the comment button starts screaming loud and clear in our minds. If we disagree with someone about something, the thing to do would be to go to that person privately, but with social media, we often take our rants public. "Dear _______, You might think it's okay to cut me off while I'm driving down the road, but I personally think you're an idiot, and now everyone else does too. Thanks :)."

The grammar police would fall under the opinion category. If someone has to worry about whether or not they put their commas in the right place and decide not to share something because they're worried you're going to tear them apart for their grammar, there's a problem with you, not them.

Why do we do it? I think it's about not wanting someone to get the one-up on us. It's an unfortunate trait of human nature that we often find our value by comparing ourselves to others, which often means we need to elevate ourselves above others.

It frustrates people. We know people aren't perfect, and C.S. Lewis pointed out long ago that pride is the one thing we all struggle with and that we can't stand to see in someone else. When people see others who appear to be perfect on social media bragging about their apparent perfection, it makes people feel bad. Everyone struggles with insecurity, and the feeling of needing to keep up can be exhausting and self-defeating.

The Other Side of the Coin
Ironically, people don't always use social media to directly elevate themselves. It's more of an indirect elevation. They use it to make themselves appear worse than they are. It's the idea of, "You think you've got it bad? Let me tell you my story." Once again, we don't want to be one-upped by somebody else, so we edit the negative parts back in to our overall narrative and, once again, bring in the visual effects and marketing teams to spice it up a little bit. 

"Your kids woke you up at 6:00 this morning? Let me show you this carefully cropped photo I took of my kids getting up at 5:00."

"You've been sick the last week? Sorry to hear that. I've been sick the last three weeks."

Once again, I think we're often driven by a desire not to be one-upped by someone else. We don't want people to think they have it worse than us.

The Question We Should Be Asking
Social media is a great tool that can be used for great things, so why let it devolve into another area where we let self-centeredness rule the day? How many people have been going along having a great day until they read something someone posted on Facebook or another social media network that frustrated them? There's a question we should be asking before we post anything to social media.

How will this make people feel?

Let's not worry so much about being the PR department of our lives. Wouldn't social media be so much better if we found people sharing things that made us think and brought encouragement, rather than tearing us down? Who doesn't like to feel like something someone said breathed life into their day?

Instead of "How will this make me look?," which is all about controlling what people think about us, why not ask, "How will this make the people who will read it feel?" How could I speak life into someone today?

Not everybody uses social media to control other people's perception of them. There are some people who use social media in a way that inspires, encourages, and gets people thinking.

Wouldn't it be great if everyone was like that?

Photo Credit: FindYourSearch via PhotoPin CC

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