Social media is a many-headed beast. It can be helpful, inspiring, rewarding and validating; it can be unhelpful, stressful and damaging. But it’s something that’s penetrating our lives, whether we like it or not.
In 2019, it’s estimated that there are 2.77 billion people using social media around the world. The average internet user spends 2 hours and 22 minutes per day using social media and messaging platforms. And social media is big business: social media advertising spend is predicted to reach $18.4 billion in the US alone this year.
As part of that big business, we at Quuu see social media as an amazing phenomenon that’s helping people achieve their dreams and drive massive, worldwide changes. It sounds corny, but it’s true – think about the now global brands that were started out of someone’s bedroom, or the power of a hashtag like #MeToo.
However, we’re all aware of the downsides of spending too much time online. Social media can lead to a distorted sense of reality, poor body image, loneliness and isolation (ironically), decreased attention spans, and Donald Trump becoming president. Cue your friend Susan dramatically announcing her retirement from Instagram (Susan has 137 followers) and trading in her iPhone for a Nokia.
It’s all well and good for Susan, who’s now using all that extra time to brew her own kombucha, but what if you don’t have a choice? What if social media is your livelihood?
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. The way I see the advent of social media is similar to our ancestors discovering fire: it can be both a life force and incredibly destructive, and we’re still learning how to use it and control it.
In my personal life, I’m trying to become more mindful of this and monitor the time I spend on social media, and the effect it has on me. Yet whatever I decide is good or bad for me in my free time, I have less agency over my social media usage in my professional life, since I work in social media marketing (and it doesn’t get more meta than being a social media marketer at a social media marketing software company!).
From conversations I’ve had with guests on Quuu’s podcast, I started to realise that other marketers and content creators were having the same dilemma. I wanted to explore this question properly: is it possible to have a healthy relationship with social media when it’s your job?
To find out, I surveyed a group of 12 leading marketers to get their experiences and perspectives. I’ve compiled their answers into a report that I hope will shed some light on the question. The first half assesses the role social media plays in our lives now, and the second half looks at how we can adjust our relationship with it in future.
Let’s dive in!
The state of social media marketers part 1: where we are now
1. Most people end up working in social media by accident.
When I ask people about their career paths on Conversations with Quuu, the recurring narrative is that they simply ‘fell into’ the world of social media marketing. Hands up if Goldie Chan’s story sounds familiar:
“I got my first job and it was in marketing, and because I was the youngest person on the team, they were like ‘You should handle this thing, it’s called social media’…no one else on the marketing team wanted to touch it with a 10-foot pole…so how I got into social media was a happy accident.”
This is certainly true of my own career, and 60% of the survey respondents said they didn’t purposefully pursue a career in social media. A common theme was beginning a career in marketing, PR or journalism, then having to adapt as these industries were transformed by the arrival of social media. Most then found that they liked it and were good at it.
Those who did deliberately carve out a role in social media were quick to point out what drew them to this profession. Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré, a leading B2B SaaS Consultant who runs lots of successful online communities, said they “love building relationships and communities both offline and online. It’s rewarding getting to know other people, learning about their experiences and collaborating with them.” The ‘social’ and creative aspects of social media seem to be a big pull.
I think it’s important to take stock of the fact that careers in social media are often unplanned. It’s not like you can accidentally become a lawyer or a doctor; you know what you’re signing up for. While I’m not comparing social media marketing to working a 20-hour shift in a hospital, we’re in relatively uncharted territory that could present its own set of challenges.
2. A day in the life of a social media marketer includes lots of different tasks.
When I asked the marketers specifically which tasks they have to carry out on social media as part of their job, the list was extensive: creating content, scheduling posts, checking notifications and mentions, engaging with clients/influencers/followers, tracking competitors, responding to comments, research, analytics, trend monitoring, running ads, live coverage of events, Twitter chats, finding content, and customer support.
Working as a social media marketer is not like more traditional jobs, where you’re responsible for one thing. Rather, it’s made up of lots of moving parts you’re constantly trying to juggle. Which perhaps explains why…
3. Most people agree that working in social media affects their ability to focus.
83% of the survey respondents said that social media affected their ability to focus. The sheer amount of information you process and having to be active on multiple platforms can feel overwhelming, and the marketers’ answers largely confirm studies that have linked social media usage to dwindling attention spans.
Whatever profession you’re in, you can probably relate to finding social media distracting. However, if your job requires you to have Facebook open, it’s even easier to fall down the ‘rabbit hole’ (a term that repeatedly cropped up in the survey).
“A quick scroll through Twitter can often end with 3 hours wasted down a rabbit hole of content not relevant to the current task in hand,” said Jordie Black, Content Marketer.
As a marketer, the distracting nature of social media impacts you doubly. Ashley, a copywriter and creative, points out that you’re also having to contend with your customer’s focus: “we have to be as concise and succinct as possible with what we write, as we’re always fighting a battle to hold concentration.”
Already at this stage in the survey, the marketers admitted to having to make a concerted effort to manage their time on social media in order to concentrate on other tasks.
“There are so many tasks that I need to do but get put on the back burner because I have to constantly keep social media sites open. I have dealt with this by trying to put myself on a schedule and of course outsourcing some of the minor, more time consuming tasks to interns,” said Francis Mariela, Senior Marketing & Communications Manager.
4. Working in social media impacts mental health – both positively and negatively.
An inability to focus would suggest social media can lead to a fractious mental state, so it wasn’t surprising that ⅓ of participants said working in social media had negatively impacted their mental and emotional health.
One marketer said working in social media had increased their anxiety, another cited poor quality of sleep as a side effect, and another had deactivated Facebook completely, describing it as ‘toxic’. Sierra McAliney, a freelance Digital Marketing Strategist, said that using social media as a professional had sapped all the joy out of using it on a personal level, since she always had her marketer’s hat on: “No matter what, it ends up being research. If I like a post I want to do something similar, if something’s awful, I make a mental note to avoid the same mistake.”
Another ⅓ had mixed feelings about the impact of working in social media on their mental and emotional health.
Content Marketing Consultant Brittany Berger, for example, said “It definitely can both help or hurt, depending on the content that ends up in front of you, what networks you’re on, how you’re engaging, etc. When my social media activities are focused on things like competitive research, I end up getting caught up in a lot of comparisonitis and feeling lesser than the other people and businesses in my industry. That’s a negative habit I try to stay away from. But when I’m spending more of my social media time creating content or engaging with my own audience and network instead of looking at competitors, social media really makes me feel less alone and is how I’ve met most of my new friends as an adult.”
Ashley echoed this sentiment: “I live in a city where it’s sometimes easy to feel isolated and anonymous, but with social media with just one tap of the thumb I’m connected to a world of faces I recognise.” However, she also noted the addictive nature of these dopamine hits, which can be “dangerous, especially for kids who know nothing different”.
For Pinterest Manager Michaela, it’s this distinction between being an impressionable young person and a savvy industry insider that enables her to avoid the negatives and have a healthier relationship with social media: “Working with social media made me aware of the different marketing strategies used to reach the desired audience. It helped me be more discerning and wise.”
The remaining third of participants were split between feeling positive and indifferent about the relationship between their career and their mental health (getting paid to be on social media was mentioned as a positive!).
Personally, I think it’s impossible for anyone’s focus not to suffer when we’re bombarded with distractions from every angle online. However, I would say that social media has a positive influence on my mental and emotional health in my professional life.
A big part of this is that I work remotely, so being able to connect with my colleagues and industry peers on social media stops me ever feeling lonely or isolated. The professional community I have around me online is hugely supportive, friendly and inspiring, and boosts my mood on a daily basis. I will say that I’ve always been quite good at compartmentalising life and work – in my personal life, I sometimes feel differently about social media!
5. Surprise, surprise: working in social media doesn’t keep you in shape.
When I interviewed UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year and podcast host Dan Murray-Serter for Quuu’s podcast, I was really struck by what he told me about the dangers of having a sedentary lifestyle – something that comes with the territory of being a social media marketer and working at a desk all day. Dan said that research had shown going to the gym to do intense exercise 3-4 times a week was still not as good for your lifespan or longevity as getting up and moving at shorter, more regular intervals throughout the day.
We’re hearing that a lifetime of being chained to our desk is worse for us than chain-smoking, and our survey seemed to back this up: 75% of our marketers said working in social media had a negative effect on their physical health. Here are a few symptoms they’d suffered from:
- Stress-induced physical issues
- Back and neck pain
- Weight gain
In a similar vein to my conversation with Dan, who now uses a standing desk, Nichole pointed out that spending so much time sitting down is unnatural for humans: “I’m trying to spend much more time offline, doing meditation, walking, yoga, weight lifting. It should be the other way around. Those activities should come first then being online, but both my career time and some of my free time are spent online.”
Fitness is an important part of my daily routine and I’ll often go to a gym class on my lunch break, but when I stop and think about how much I used to move around before my career started (walking to lessons and lectures at school and university, working as a shop assistant or waitress), it’s quite scary!
The state of social media marketers part 2: where we need to get to
Part 1 has made it clear that lots of social media marketers have a complicated relationship with social media. So what are they doing to address it, and is it working? I wanted to find out about any habits or tools that could be useful to someone in or pursuing this profession.
No phones allowed
Forget Dry January; the digital detox is the trendiest form of self-discipline.
83% of our survey respondents make a conscious effort to avoid social media at times, locking their phones in drawers, uninstalling apps, turning off notifications, and even going cold turkey for two whole months.
50% said it was difficult to avoid social media. FOMO, lack of social interaction, and the sheer addictive nature of social media apps make it a struggle, especially for remote workers or one-person teams.
“On the days where I have done this successfully (just checking client work, the bare minimum) I feel great. However, even on some of those days, reality strikes and of course something big happens that needs my attention, so I do feel like it’s hard to do, since it is my livelihood. The other thing is that I am always looking for different opportunities for my clients, so my brain is always working and social definitely takes that up a notch. This is especially true, I think, for business owners who are a one-woman operation, or departments that are understaffed,” said Francis.
The size of your company or your level of seniority will most definitely affect whether you can choose to disengage with social media. Even when I’m carrying our ‘deep’ work, like writing this blog post, I still have Quuu’s Twitter open and will check it every so often in case something needs my attention. In the same way that my thumb automatically opens Instagram when I turn off my phone alarm in the morning, I reflexively log into social media platforms when I start work, so it would require a good deal of effort to change these habits.
The question is, do I need to change these habits? I enjoy most of the work I do, so once I start a task, a tweet wouldn’t necessarily distract me from it. Brittany had some interesting insights to share here:
“I’ve unplugged from consuming other people’s social media content for 2 months at a time before. I still scheduled business posts and replied to people who engaged with them, but it was all through a third-party app, so I didn’t log into any social networks for about 75 days. In some ways, it was easy to do. I found I was less addicted to social media than I thought, but that it also wasn’t the root of the problem. My mind would still wander while I worked, social media just wasn’t one of the distracting outlets I’d go to when it did. In other ways, it was detrimental. Working remotely, I felt a lot less connected to people during the day. Ultimately, I realized my problem wasn’t about how much time I was spending on social, but rather how I was spending that time, and became a lot more intentional with who I follow and stuff like that.”
What makes you productive and what distracts you is, of course, personal, but I do think that Brittany raises an important point: humans are not machines, so losing focus is inevitable, regardless of whether it’s social media that leads you astray. I’m not sure that we need to be so extreme in our approach to ‘digital detoxes’ and I think we underestimate our ability to resist the tactics employed by Facebook et al to get us ‘addicted’ to their apps.
As some of the answers to our survey touched on, for me, working in social media has given it less power over me. We know that denying ourselves something can make it all the more tempting, so if I’m allowed to have Facebook open all day at work, it actually doesn’t seem that enticing.
Having said this, shifts in mindset can take longer to develop, so let’s explore some actionable strategies that will help you develop a healthier relationship with social media – today!
Tools and habits marketers use to improve their relationship with social media
If you do want to spend less time on social media, there are plenty of apps and plugins that can help. As Brittany said, you don’t have to log into social media to do business on it. Try…
The Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator Chrome plugin – “it removes all the posts from your news feed and replaces it with a historical or motivational quote. Great for avoiding scrolling endlessly when you’re meant to be working on Facebook!” says Emma, Digital Marketing Executive at clockworkTalent.
Deleting apps on your phone and bookmarking them in your phone’s web browser instead. “That way, they’re still technically accessible when I do have time for them or want to check something on-the-go, but it’s hard enough to check them that I have a lot of time to check myself and think ‘is this what I’m supposed to be doing?’” says Brittany.
It can also help to change your workflow:
Brittany dedicates specific time slots each week to catch up with mentions and other engagement, keeping track of the using her project management tool.
Again, I don’t think denial is the only route to managing social media’s influence on us. It might be more effective to simply shift your focus to other activities you enjoy doing (something I’ve written about here). Here are some alternatives recommended by our marketers:
- Print books
And if you’re suffering from ‘comparisonitis’, I also loved Jordie’s advice: “People only show you their highlights. Take everything with a pinch of salt and don’t think that everyone’s life is perfect all of the time.”
The survey confirmed my suspicions that other marketers are worried about the effect of social media on their mental and physical wellbeing. Since our jobs give us more exposure to social media, I think it’s wise that we examine the risks this might pose.
Most of the concerns that arose in the survey results – lack of focus, anxiety, insomnia, low self-esteem, etc. – are by no means exclusive to people who work in social media. Being an industry insider just means you’re able to recognise and treat the symptoms more quickly than your average social media user.
For me, one of the biggest threats social media poses is to our time. Because are you even a marketer if you have enough of it?!
Quuu was designed to reduce the amount of time marketers and business owners spend searching the web for content and posting it on social media. Our very product embodies the idea that social media has a lot of potential for business, but there are certain tasks that eat into time and energy that you might prefer to spend on other things – for example, creating content or actually using social media to socialise! Ultimately, it’s all about what works for you personally and using your time on social media intentionally.
How do you think working in social media has affected you? Are there any other habits or tools you use to develop a healthier relationship with social media? I’d love to keep the conversation going.