If you’d like to watch the video version of this blog post, check it out here! https://youtu.be/eV2ygEagamI
Have you ever seen, or even made, a post that reads like this?
“I’m done with social media! I got on here to keep up with friends and family, but now all I see is junk, and I hate it! Every time I open it, there’s just so much negativity, and I just end up feeling depressed afterwards! I’m getting off for good, this just isn’t worth it!”
Turns out, this sentiment is pretty common.
Here’s some numbers for you: Over ¾ of all US Adults are on social media, and on average, 60% of them use it more than once a day. However, people who use social media more frequently are found to be almost 3x more likely to be depressed than those who use it less.
Even if you’re not someone who uses social media a lot, it’s not hard to notice how easily feelings of frustration, jealousy, or depression can set in, just by scrolling through your timeline. But why is that? Social media is supposed to be a place where people can connect with each other, but it often seems like it just makes us feel more alone.
I’ve built MSD Consulting around advocating for small businesses and entrepreneurs to use the power of social media to build their customer base and get people excited about the awesome products and services that they’re providing, so statements like this might sound a little strange coming from me.
But think of it this way: when someone is learning how to work on a construction site, they learn how to use a selection of powerful tools that can help them accomplish their tasks. However, these tools also have the potential to be very dangerous, especially to the person handling them. When not used carefully, with proper safety precautions, a circular saw or a jackhammer could cause permanent damage to your body. Now, I’m not saying that spending too much time on Facebook will make you lose a finger, but think of it this way: social media is the most powerful communication tool to ever exist, and it’s so accessible, children can use it. It shouldn’t be any surprise that something with that much power can also have negative effects.
While all of these things are true, I also don’t think it’s healthy to completely dismiss social media because of these downsides. There are risks, but if you make an effort to limit those risks, you’ll find that social media is not only a great tool for communication and promotion, but you can even have a renewed sense of fun using them.
Luckily, there are very practical ways that you can keep your mindset healthy while using social media. Some are built-in to the platforms themselves, others you might need to go out and look for, and some are in your own mind. Today, I’m going to give you a guide on a few key safety measures that you can take to limit your chance of a social media-related injury to your mental health.
Limit Your Time
First, limit your time. As the old saying goes, too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing. Spending too much time on social media is very easy to do. Why? Because the platforms are designed for it!
The ugly truth that no social media company will ever willingly admit to is that the more time you spend on their platform, the more money they make. So, naturally, they’re going to design the platform around getting you to spend more time on it, by adding new features that pique your interest, and refining their algorithms so that you spend a few more seconds scrolling. It’s not malicious, it’s just business.
Unfortunately for you and me, this design tends to have some major downsides. For a lot of us, it has become very easy, almost second nature, to open up social media whenever we have an idle moment of boredom, a break between doing productive things, or just want to distract ourselves for a few moments.
All of that time adds up: in 2019, the average adult spent 144 minutes, or almost two and a half hours, on social media, per day. Of course, there are times when it’s more justifiable to spend more time online, especially if it’s part of your job, or if you actually have nothing else to do. But, I think that a lot of us tend to spend a lot more time on there than we’d like to admit, when in reality we should be working, or we could just be doing something better with our time.
So, limiting the amount of time that you spend on social media is a good idea. But how do you actually go about limiting yourself? Especially if it has become a habit, it’s very difficult to muster up enough self-motivation and control to break the habit. Fortunately, there are some tools out there that can help.
If you tend to be more distracted on your desktop or laptop computer, Cold Turkey is one of the most popular suites of programs for helping you to focus on your computer. The main Blocker program allows you to list any websites that you don’t want to go to during a particular period of time, and will block them whenever you try to go there. They also have a couple of more powerful, specific tools: one that allows you to block certain applications on your computer, like games, and even one made specifically for you aspiring writers out there, that blocks everything except your word processor.
If your distractions tend to happen more on your phone, Freedom is a great app that can block apps, websites, or notifications that you don’t want to see. It’s available on iPhone, Android, or even your desktop, if you prefer it to Cold Turkey.
Identify and Limit Content that Isn’t Helpful
Next, try to identify and limit what kind of content isn’t helpful. It’s different for each person, but there are things that we all come across on social media that we wish we could avoid. Sometimes, it’s fun videos, like recipes or cute animals, that you just can’t help but sit and watch, which just leads to an endless time sink that steals your productivity. Other times, it’s that one person that is just always posting something controversial, which you can’t help but at least look at, if not comment on, which usually leads to your mind dwelling on it for way too long. And other times, it’s that friend whose sense of humor is really weird, and spends way too much time online, and is just constantly posting memes that aren’t really that funny.
No matter what it is for you, a super important step to making sure that your experience on social media is more helpful, is to identify the things that aren’t helpful.
If you’re not sure what exactly those things are, here’s a simple way to identify them: Every time you close out of your social media page, pause for just a moment, and try to remember if there were any particular posts that stuck out to you while you had it open. If you can think of some, why do they stick out? Is it because they were informative, or made you happy? Or was it because it made you jealous, upset, or sad? If you’re a note-taker, having a notepad on your device where you write them down might be helpful.
Once you’ve done this for a while, you’ll start to see a pattern form, and you’ll be able to identify particular types of posts, or individuals’ posts, that you could use less of.
But now we’re left with the question: how do we actually try to see less of those posts? Fortunately, every social media platform nowadays has content filtering settings, some more powerful than others, that are made for this exact purpose. I’ll break down the big three (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter), so that you can know exactly how to use their features.
Facebook’s tools have dramatically improved over the past few years; they have a lot of ways that you can tailor whose posts you want to see more or less of. Most of these options can be found by clicking on the three dots in the top right of any post, and that’ll be the case on pretty much every platform. You’ll see three main options: Hide, Snooze, and Unfollow.
Hide is an option that you can use on not only posts from friends or pages, but also ads that show up; it basically tells the Facebook algorithm that posts similar to this one aren’t really what you want to see.
Snooze is helpful if you don’t want to see posts from a particular page or person for a specific period of time; say, for example, a friend of yours tends to post about a show that you don’t want spoiled for you. By default, you can put their posts on snooze for 30 days, and after that time, their posts will show up normally again.
Or, if you decide that you really don’t want to see anything that someone posts, but you don’t want to remove them from your friends list, you can Unfollow them. If you ever want to see who you’ve snoozed or unfollowed, you can navigate to your News Feed Preferences, in the top right settings menu, and adjust your settings. If you use any of these options, the pages or people that you use them on will never be notified, so you can customize your feed without offending anyone.
Twitter’s features are even more robust than Facebook’s, when it comes to how you can customize what shows up in your feed. Some of their features are pretty similar: you can tell Twitter that you’re not interested in a particular tweet, which will adjust their algorithm accordingly, and you can Mute an account, which is similar to Facebook’s Unfollow feature.
Now, Twitter also has Unfollow and Block features as well. Unfollowing someone just means that you won’t get their tweets in your feed as regularly, but there’s still a chance that they’ll show up as recommended, or if other accounts you follow interact with them.
Blocking will completely remove any content from that account from your feed, and prevent them from interacting with anything you post as well. Just keep in mind, the accounts won’t be notified if you do this, but if they try to go to your profile, they’ll see that you aren’t following them or if you’ve blocked them, so if you think someone might be sensitive to that, Mute might be a better option.
One more feature that Twitter has that I LOVE, and wish that more social media networks would adopt: the ability to mute specific words from your timeline. If you go into your settings, privacy and safety, and mute and block, you have the ability to prevent any tweets with specific words in them from showing up for a certain period of time. So, if you’re trying to avoid spoilers for a show, you can just mute the name of the show or characters for a certain period of time. Great feature!
Finally, Instagram doesn’t have nearly as many tools for controlling your feed, unfortunately, but they do have a few worth mentioning.
Just like Facebook and Twitter, Instagram has a Mute feature if you don’t want to see posts from a specific account in your feed, your stories, or both.
You also have the ability to restrict an account. This is more helpful if someone is actively bothering you with messages or comments; their comments on your posts are only visible to you and them, and they won’t be notified if you read their direct messages.
You can also tell Instagram’s algorithm what kind of posts you don’t like to see by telling it to hide particular posts; you can use this on any ads that you see on your main feed or Stories, or any post on the Explore page.
Identify and Promote Content that IS Helpful
Finally, identify and promote the content that IS helpful. We’ve talked a lot about the downsides of social media, but it absolutely still has upsides that can make it worth sticking around on! Being able to communicate with friends and family from near and far, build connections with new people who you share a common interest with, or just having fun discovering new content that’s useful or amusing to you; social media is great for all of that. If you’re a business owner or entrepreneur: the most powerful communication tool known to man is available to you, why wouldn’t you use it?
In addition to the steps that we’ve already talked about, one of the best ways to help make your usage of social media more enjoyable or effective, is by identifying and promoting the content that IS helpful for you.
The reason that this works is because of how just about every social media platform has designed the way that they show you content. Pretty much all of them have an algorithm, or automated system, that sorts all of the possible content that could be shown to you: posts from your friends/family, posts from brands you follow, posts that people you follow have interacted with, etc.
Then, whenever you open up your main page, that algorithm takes all of that content, and sorts it by what it thinks you will most likely want to see or interact with. This way, you’re much more likely to see a post announcing your friends’ engagement at the top of your feed, rather than a random meme that another friend liked. Each social media platform does this a little bit differently, particularly in how they weigh the factors that could promote or demote a post in your feed, but they’re all similar. If you want to learn more about how algorithms work, check out this post!
If we’re continuing to think of social media as the tool that it is, think of your ability to interact with posts as your way of customizing your tools. Every time you hit like, comment on, or share a post, you’re telling the platform’s algorithm that these are the types of posts that you want to see more of.
So, if you see a post that you don’t like, and don’t want to see more of, commenting on it, or doing something like using Facebook’s “angry face” reactions, is actually doing the opposite of what you want to accomplish. So, whenever you come across content that you DO like, interacting with it is one of the best ways to make sure that you’ll be seeing more of it later.
While algorithms do their best to try to find content that you’ll be interested in and promote it, based on what you interact with, you can help it out a little bit by doing your own research, and looking for recommendations for things you might like to see more of.
Say, for example, you’re interested in graphic design, but you don’t follow any pages or people that post about graphic design. An easy way to fix that is by going to google and searching for something like, “best graphic design Facebook pages.”
Here at the top is a list of pages that someone has compiled, that you can browse through to see if you’re interested in any of them. There’s even an article here that showcases some groups that you could join, if you really want to get into a community that enjoys graphic design. Go to some of those pages and groups, like a few posts, and you’ll start to find that your feed has more content relating to graphic design, which is great if that’s something that you enjoy and want to learn more about.
A bonus tip if you use Facebook: in the “News Feed Preferences” menu we talked about in the previous section, there’s also an option to add “Favorites”, which allows you to select the pages or people who you enjoy seeing posts from the most. Their posts will show up even higher than most other things in your news feed. They don’t get notified if you add or remove them from favorites, so don’t worry, your crush won’t know.
Now, Go and Be Healthier!
Hopefully this has given you some insights that allow you to use social media in a more healthy way. If you don’t take anything else away from this post, I think the most important thing that you can do is make sure that you have a proper perspective on what social media really is: a tool.
While it can be used for entertainment, it’s an extremely powerful tool, with the potential to do a lot of incredible things, and the potential to do harm. Simply understanding this, and approaching social media in this way, will go a long way in improving your experience online.
I really wanted to make this piece, since I’ve been actively working with social media for years, so I’ve gotten asked about this topic a lot. Since it’s my job to help small business owners and entrepreneurs with their online marketing and social media, I’m online so that they don’t have to be as much!
If that sounds like something you’d like to have, make sure to send me a message to see how I could help. And, if you just want to see more content about online marketing and entrepreneurship, make sure to follow MSD Consulting on your platform of choice, because I post content like this all the time. If you enjoy it, make sure to interact with it; not only does it help you to see it more often, but it makes it more likely that other people who also might enjoy it could get a chance to see it as well.