Let’s face it, social media is immature. It’s grown at such a pace that it’s outstripped our ability to develop the social norms to contain it.
It’s a place that can bring out the very worst of us. People can be manipulative, intrusive, coercive, brutal, savage, criminal. It fans the flames of hate. It destroys lives.
But it endures.
Millions of people use it daily and continue to do so
It endures because it’s also a place for the very best of us. Supportive, collective, inspirational, generous, loving, fun. It brings communities together and helps us understand and appreciate our differences.
To help social media mature we need to look at the good as well as the bad. To take a more balanced view about what it is, how we use it and what we want it to become.
At Listen + Learn we see a lot of good in social.
We believe in its potential.
We want to help balance the debate, to help see both sides.
So, we’re launching a campaign – Social for Good. It’s an on-going mission to raise the profile of the good side of social so that all parties can work together, with eyes more open to the challenges and opportunities it brings. It’s not about ignoring the ills or the dangers, but about balancing the scales so that we can see the whole picture.
We start here, today, by outlining what we see as the main positive outcomes from social.
1. Social connects
Social media helps us find and create meaningful relationships with people around the world. That’s pretty amazing. It means that our ability to connect with people is now much less constrained by where we are.
It connects people to people, across land and sea. It connects people to ideas and people to brands.
The pandemic fuelled this. In lock-down social media helped millions fill the gap where our social lives used to be. We joined people singing on their balconies in Italy, listened to violinists in Madrid, taken part in a social Ramadan and joined Captain Tom as he walked his walk.
It connects people going through all parts of life, from the mundane to the toughest or best of times in our lives.
It’s a powerful force for connection.
2. Social inspires
People do amazing things. They can be funny, skilful, kind, generous, insightful, witty, charming, bold, courageous, inspirational.
Social gives them an audience. Social can make good things happen.
Whether its Sir David Attenborough joining Instagram to raise awareness of climate change. Marcus Rashford making the UK Government think again about school meals. Or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responding to Rep. Ted Yoho. Through to the more everyday (but no less remarkable) like Phil Burgess’ mission to collect 20,000 bags of rubbish in 2020 (#just1bag2020).
Social shows us who’s stepped up to make a difference. It shares their message and asks us to join in.
3. Social makes us laugh
Play is important. Laughter is important.
In his TED talk, Dr Stuart Brown sees play as essential for socially strong, successful adults and the brain’s best form of exercise.
“The opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression.”
Science journalist Tara Haelle wrote recently about our ‘surge capacity’. This is about how we can cope with a crisis in the short term, but not in the ongoing way we’re experiencing the current pandemic with no clear end in sight. This is challenging our ability to cope, leaving us depleted and even depressed. Play, fun and distraction play a role in helping us through this, keeping us sane.
Social has always been a place to share the things that make us laugh. These days, it’s become even more important as a way to get some laughter back into your life.
Let’s celebrate it.
4. Social makes careers
A lot of people (and not just influencers) have built successful carers solely on social media.
That’s pretty amazing too.
It’s never been easier to set up a business and connect with your audiences.
Social has helped make entrepreneurship even more of a democratising force. It helps people make a new start and helps people adapt to succeed in a changing world.
Whether this a start-up home interiors company thriving on Instagram, a Sports Journalist and his dogs turned author or successful restaurateurs who kept bringing great food experiences to people when their restaurants were forced to close.
Social gives you the tools, the audience and the inspiration.
5. Social builds emotional support networks
There are times in all our lives when it’s hard to talk to those around us. It’s too embarrassing, it’s too painful, it’s hard to find the words, it’s when no one around you really understands.
We all have times in our lives like this. It can be fighting cancer of disease, loneliness or miscarriage. Life has many challenges which can make us feel alone.
People share comments like this, and find connections they can’t in real life:
“I have the opposite problem, nobody seems to give a cr*p and I feel like I don’t exist.”
Social helps people find people like them. People going through the same experiences, feeling the same way, fighting the same fight.
It’s these quieter places online where help is found. Where friendships start. Where camaraderie begins.
These are places to support, recognise and celebrate.
6. Social enables healthy debate
There’s no doubt that a lot of what we see in social is a bubble based on our interests and connections. But not all. If we chose to look in other places, if we’re brave enough to step outside of our bubble.
Social gives us a vital chance to see another point of view. We might not agree with it, but if we can accept it as valid, then we can try and understand it. By being open to listening to others and hearing different views, we can all learn – and maybe, just maybe get along better online and off.
Social is a place where ideas, opinions and beliefs come crashing together. A shared interest in one aspect of your life can open you up to posts from areas you may oppose or have no knowledge of.
All this is positive. It’s a way to start the conversation. It exposes differences – which allows them to be discussed, recognised, not fester unheard and emerge in ways we might later regret.
It can help us listen and learn to disagree better.
7. Social encourages mutual good
Social helps bring people together for good. It can bring a problem to light, rallies a response and shows people what they can do to help.
It’s the neighbourhood groups set up to look after each other. It’s communities coming together, using social tools to mobilise themselves to reach the vulnerable and the isolated. It’s working together to unlock supply chains so that essential goods can reach people when shops and restaurants are closed.
This ‘groupsourcing‘ shows the positive role of social to create networks around user needs, by the users themselves.
These are a few of our favourite things that social has to offer. The positive roles it can play for us as a society, as individuals and brands.
Social gives us agency, a chance to change things, champion things, or build connections that make life better. We all need that right now.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll share examples of where we’ve seen the good side of social.
We’d love to hear what you think.