Social media has inched its way into every facet of our lives. What began as a glorified dating website is now a primary tool for socialization, relationships, education, politics, and advertising. It truly is a beautiful development in society that any two people anywhere in the world can connect and stay close. Social media enables families separated to share in joyous occasion, outcasts to find themselves and a community, and even allows social movements to spread rapidly with education and empowerment.
However, every time we build a connection, we engage, we like, and we share, we give a little piece of ourselves, our thoughts, feelings, and life events, for social media platforms to sell to the highest bidder. What was once said in the privacy of intimate conversations, is now a data point for businesses.
Is it worth it to sell these parts of ourselves to maintain the community we have built?
I ask myself this question daily: is it worth it?
See, I have made my career as a digital marketer. When I entered the business world in 2011 to pay my way through college, marketing piqued my interest and digital marketing had a seemingly low barrier of entry. Like many millennials, I jumped aboard every new social media platform and rode the wave until they went the way of Myspace and Vine. Transitioning to working with social media, and now other digital media, only seemed like the natural fit.
On any given day, I coach a dozen businesses on their digital footprint, brand image and the best use of their advertising budget on social media to increase their bottom line. On those same days, I spend my evenings using private browsing, avoiding cookies, and sanitizing my social media posts of personal information because I value my own privacy so deeply.
When I sit down to examine the good and the bad of social media to decide if it is really worth it, the chasm between my professional and personal practices is dripping in irony, and that irony is certainly not lost on me.
In 2020, over 37 billion dollars has been spent on social media and social media advertising, and I am about a decade into my digital marketing career contributing to that spend. How can I assess if the good of social media is worth the bad, without – and I do not mean to be theatrical — entering extensional crisis? How do I push for solutions when I am the center of the problem?
With the rise of documentaries like “The Social Dilemma” and the concerns around US election interference, the topic of trust within social media platforms is quite the hot button issue. A 2014 survey showed that 80% of social media users were concerned about the use of their personal information for advertising on social media. But in the six years since that survey, no substantial changes have been made to regulate advertisers.
Who carries the fault in this dilemma?
If I was asked during business hours, I might tell you the blame falls on those who blindly accept the Terms and Conditions. “It’s plainly stated that you resign your information,” I would preach, full well knowing that when I first accepted Facebook’s terms and conditions at age of 13, I was a few years and full law degree short of understanding the implications.
Outside of working hours, I would consider placing the blame on the corporations seeking unicorn status, or even the government for failing to implement restrictions sooner or in a greater capacity. The wind beneath the wings of these arguments is swiftly stolen by watching any random five-minute section of the government hearing with Mark Zuckerberg. It becomes immediately clear that with the average age of our national leadership falling around 70 years old, they are no more equipped to set boundaries on platforms than the teenagers making millions of dollars on TikTok.
So, with a sip of wine, we return to the extensional crisis. How do I reckon my personal issues with social media and spend 40+ hours a week coaching corporation on how to best manipulate the platform to further their bottom line?
And furthermore, what can I do about this dilemma?
Here are a few practices that are simple and for most folks, common sense. They are widely accepted as a way prevent the bad guys of digital marketing and advertising from capitalizing on exploitation.
• The Golden Rule. Advertise to others as you would like to be advertised to. More specifically, consider how your advertisements or strategies might profit off marginalized communities or defenseless citizens, and if that is an acceptable profit strategy to you.
• Address Bias. Algorithms and search engines are full of inherent bias. Addressing these biases and recognizing that they cannot be simply outbid builds better strategies and reduces the ad spend furthering the bias.
• Stay Educated on Relevant Acts and Laws. GDPR, California Privacy Act, Fair Housing Act are a few of the acts and laws that significantly regulates the best practices for digital marketing and advertising. They exist to protect the consumer. Learn the regulations and plan for an appropriate reaction from your company.
At the end of the day, I can’t tell you if I’ll ever find a solution to this crisis of scolding the bad guy, while also being the bad guy. In the meantime, I’ll focus producing content and strategies I am proud of all the while keeping my personal information under lock and key.