Navigating the social media maze in an over-connected world

Jan 29, 2024
Source: Getty Images.

A friend announced this week that she was taking a break – from social media.

She told her Facebook friends that for the next wee while anyone that needed to get in touch with her could do so via messenger or email – and she kindly included her email address in the post. The announcement said she would be Posting less, Doing More. Comparing less, Reflecting more. And discussing less, accomplishing more.

I love the sentiment but question how easy it is to turn off social media channels these days. Australians are obsessed with social media. You can find me on four channels – Facebook, Instagram, X and YouTube. On Instagram, I get almost daily updates on what my grandchildren are up to. So, for me living in a different state to my children and grandchildren, that’s extremely valuable. Facebook keeps me up to date with what my friends are doing and I use YouTube to watch music videos. X, which in a previous life was called Twitter, is still a bit of a mystery. Lately my feed has been full of people bashing each other up. No idea why, I couldn’t fight my way out of a wet paper bag and have zero interest in fighting. I could easily offload X without a second thought.

Statistics show that 81 percent of us were active social media users in January last year. YouTube and Facebook are the most popular channels and 98 percent of us use our mobile phones to access social media. The average Australian has 6.7 social media accounts. Indians average the most in the world with 8.1 accounts, while the Japanese have the lowest number of accounts – just 3.5 each.

In October last year Australians between the ages of 16 and 64 spent an average of 1 hour and 53 minutes per day on social media. If we assume that we sleep for eight hours each day, that means almost 10 percent of our lives while we are awake is spent on social media. That’s an awful lot. By contrast, the average time people are spending reading a physical newspaper these days is reportedly down to about 8 minutes.

Now I know that no one ever says I’m going to spend the next two hours watching Tik Tok videos. But once you start watching puppy dog videos, or golf shots gone bad videos, or luxury hotel videos, hours can easily just disappear. You know it happens. A study, of more than 6500 people, published on the Harvard Business Review found that there were three factors that kept people tuned in to social media channels.

The study found that:

  • It’s a numbers game. The more videos you watch, the more you want to watch. In other words, once you start watching videos it is very hard to stop.
  • Stay on the theme. It is harder to stop watching if you stay with one topic. That means if you follow one cat video, with another, and another … you will keep watching cat videos.
  • We don’t break the flow. If you continuously watch one video after another, without any breaks, it is very hard to find a reason to switch off and go back to work.

At this point ask yourself: How many times you have checked your social media channels today? Social media can be a black hole that just grabs us and drags us unexpectedly down an alley. For many people, social media is now also the News provider of choice. You can easily track what’s happening in the US Elections, the War in Ukraine and the bombing of the Gaza Strip by tapping into the right social media channels.

All you have to do is find an influencer that you trust who regularly posts on a subject that you are interested in – and follow them. Then, every time they post, it pops up in your news feed. The shift away from traditional news sources has been driven by two things. The first is an ever-growing lack of trust in traditional news providers.

The second is a desire by people to receive news in a more accessible, more informal and more entertaining formats. Statistics show that seniors, like me (60-plus), are using social media channels at increasing levels and are now becoming the focus of online marketers. Social media, in particular Facebook, is one of the prime tools that marketers use to find buyers for their products.

But rather than being easy to target, seniors are skeptics when it comes to social media. A recent study showed that people over 65 believed only 40 percent of what they read on social media channels.

And what are we most likely to read? According to the same study we spend 46 percent of our time on health-related content (makes sense); 43 percent on food related content (makes even more sense because we now have time to cook; and the majority of the rest of our reading in on politics and entertainment.

I would argue that seniors, and Australians for that matter, are not addicted to social media. Well, we are not addicted to social media platforms. It’s the content that keeps bringing us back. As consumers, we will tune into whatever channel can best tell us the story. It’s always been that way … and always will be that way. We love a good yarn.

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