Stress and Social Media: Are Digital Agencies Part of the Problem?

Mental Health

April has marked Stress Awareness Month for the past 30 years, and – with the ramifications of COVID-19 still looming large in our everyday lives – it couldn’t have come at a more important time. According to a study carried out by the Stress Management Society and Huawei AppGallery, 65% of British adults felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions came into place, with disconnection, uncertainty and worrying loss of control the main areas of concern. Social media is key to reconnecting in these isolating times… right? Rosie, our Senior Strategist, is here to explore the topic further.

Is Social Media Moral?

Now there’s a loaded (and long debated) question. The GWI Social Media Marketing Trends for 2021 reports that positivity towards social networking is pretty low and has been declining, especially in Europe and North America. It has been well documented in the media that social media can be detrimental to our health for myriad reasons. Influencers posting unrealistic selfies are warping the expectations and harming the self-esteem of their followers; constant connectivity and the FOMO it creates is ratcheting up feelings of loneliness and anxiety; not to mention the direct psychological impact of cyberbullying and Twitter trolls.  

However, I think it’s important to note that the face and function of social media has changed significantly in the past decade. What started out as a way to keep in touch with family and friends has become a tool for news consumption, finding information and inspiration, sharing opinions, joining communities, following celebrities, browsing for products and simply filling spare time. To say that all of these functions are negative would be too reductive for my taste.

GWI survey in Q4 2020 to UK internet users aged 16-64: ‘What are your main reasons for using social media?’

The double-edged sword

GWI’s latest report into social media maps an increase in time spent on social media in 2020 with increased feelings of anxiety – a trend that is more prevalent in younger demographics. However, it’s interesting to observe that Gen Z feels more comfortable turning to social media (36%) than medical professionals (29%) for support with their mental wellbeing.

That’s outrageous, you might be thinking to yourself. Why would you use the very tool that is making you anxious to reduce anxiety? While I should probably point you in the direction of a psychologist to answer that one, I will hit you with another stat: despite the growing mistrust in social media, 95% of the online population continues to use social websites or apps. Like it or hate it, apparently we’re all still using it… which means that, as a digital agency immersed in the social world, it’s our responsibility to use social media in an ethical way. 

I think this excerpt from the Stress Management Society’s study puts it best:

“Technology is a double-edged sword; it can be a source of stress as we can be over-engaged and ‘too available’. As the evidence indicates, it also presents us with a massive opportunity if applied strategically to positively affect our wellbeing.”

Responsible Social Media Marketing

There are some important tenets that we live by here at Passion that shape our ethical organic social, paid social and content marketing strategies. 

Quality content is king

This is nothing new for content marketers – quality web content has been a prerequisite for ranking since the milestone Panda Update that Google rolled out in 2011. That being said, clickbait is still alive and well on social media by companies that have no intention of achieving search engine rankings.

Intriguing titles and unrelated images are used to tempt you onto a web page, sometimes with very little relevance to the topic you thought you would be reading about. (I once saw an article that claimed that using a picture of Emma Watson or Taylor Swift could massively boost your click through rate from social media – but as I can’t track it down now as a source, you’ll have to take it as hearsay!)

One of the things we pride ourselves on here at Passion is creating genuinely useful, appropriate, interesting and well-written content, whether in the form of blog posts or native social media posts. 

For example, we recently introduced a new content theme on Cambridge Dictionary’s Facebook and Twitter channels. In a previous post we had asked the page’s ‘Top Fans’ what elements of spelling or grammar they wanted to learn more about, and one of their suggestions was synonym content. We decided to create a quick-fire lesson each month that gives a range of synonyms and their context in English, which was turned into a thread on Twitter. The first post in this series got an overwhelmingly positive reaction, as you can see from the comments.

I think this is a great example of how listening to your target audience and catering to their specific needs can reap meaningful engagement on social media.

Targeting creates a better user experience, not a worse one

One of the great fears of social media marketing from a client’s perspective is that potential customers will be annoyed by aggressive or irrelevant ad campaigns and lose trust in the brand. The aim of our Paid Social team is to do the exact opposite: campaign elements such as targeting and frequency are set up to find the right kind of customers and serve them with the right sequential messaging to help them convert. 

Paid social is not a blanket tool used to scattergun your marketing message out to as many people as possible – believe me, that’s not a healthy approach for your bank balance, either. Platform targeting allows us to hone in very specifically on the kind of people who should be receptive to your message and your product. Placing an ad in their feed isn’t going to ruin their day – as a matter of fact, it might just give them that “Ahh, I’ve always wondered that” or “Ooh, that looks interesting” moment. 

Giving a voice to small brands

Personally I believe that social media marketing plays an important role in the democratisation of advertising. Starter brands often don’t have the budgets to compete with huge, established businesses who dominate the SERPs and the airwaves, but targeted paid social activity allows them to talk directly to their potential audience and achieve results with a relatively low spend.

Here at Passion we work with a number of ambitious startup brands, and social media is almost always a key part of their launch strategy. One of my favourite parts of the job is helping exciting brands get their message out into the world, whether they are launching wearable augmented reality tech that allows you to make music with your body or the UK’s first subscription-based home urine test to help you make more informed decisions about your health.

Social Media and Stress: How We’re Helping

We’re aware that calling ourselves an ethical social media agency is not just about following best practice; we also think it’s important to use our powers for good. 

Here are a few examples of how we’re actively contributing towards a better social media environment.

  1. Creating communities: To Better Days 

At the core of the To Better Days brand lies the desire to connect people from all walks of life who experience chronic pain. Our efforts in 2020 furthered this goal, in line with the brand’s desire to be generous, understanding, empathetic and empowering.

Our Facebook approach was to build and engage a community of people who live with chronic pain, and our content marketing approach was to serve that community with useful, meaningful and trustworthy content. We thought it was important to use the platform to tell, not just sell, which meant offering advice and support through organic posting. 

We put a lot of effort into the quality of our blog posts and used Facebook’s targeted boosting functionality to promote them to relevant audiences who had never heard of the brand before. Many of our boosted posts achieved an excellent engagement rate on platform and a strong click-through rate to read the content on the website. 

We are delighted that the To Better Days team set up a private Facebook group, Together For Better Days, which furthers the efforts of the public brand page as a safe space for discussion, solidarity and support – and is a great example of the positive face of social media.  

  1. Spreading an important message: #KeepCoolKCL

When King’s College London approached us to partner on their ‘KeepCool’ campaign, we were keen to be a part of spreading their important message. The campaign was set up by Andrea Danese, Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at King’s College London, to help young people learn about and cope with strong emotions.

“KeepCool focuses on fundamental emotions like anxiety, sadness and anger rather than psychiatric disorders. We all experience these emotions at some point. Therefore, we want to inform as many young people as possible in order to fight stigma around mental health.”

Our Paid Social team is currently running the first in a series of three videos across Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat as a way of reaching and engaging young people on social media. The results so far have been very positive in terms of reach and video completion rate, and we’re proud to be part of a team that is using social as a vehicle for such an important message.

Ethical Social Media Marketing

Whether we like it or not, social media has become enmeshed in the fabric of our lives. Yes, it can be a platform for negativity and divisive thinking, but it has become fundamental to how we build relationships, stay connected, entertain ourselves and even find common ground in the twenty-first century. As marketers who use these platforms to reach out to an audience with a certain message, it’s our responsibility to make sure that the message and the means used to amplify it are ethically sound – and we take that responsibility seriously. 

If you’re looking for an effective and ethical social media marketing agency, we would love to hear from you – tell us about your project.