Contrary to popular belief, social media is not a platform for self-love. Or maybe it started out that way and still is for the average Joe out there.
However, it can’t be for business. Regardless of its beginnings and continued use by the general public, social media is a serious business tool that companies can’t afford to misuse.
Social Media in the General Public
Facebook—the first big social media platform—started out as a way for Ivy League students to communicate with each other. It quickly turned into a platform for posting all kinds of outrageous pictures and stupid stories involving drugs and alcohol and college-kid shenanigans.
When Facebook spread to the general public, it softened around the edges so everyone’s grandmother could eventually get on there, but it frankly didn’t change much. For the most part, it remained and (remains to this day) a medium for inane narcissistic chatter.
(In its defense, Facebook provided a wonderful way to reconnect with old friends. People you hadn’t seen in years would come out of the woodwork. Most people seem to spend the first six months on Facebook reconnecting with long lost friends.)
When other social media platforms gained prominence, Facebook was the blueprint for how they were supposed to operate. This point is key to understanding why so many companies have no idea what they’re doing on social media—they don’t have good examples to follow.
Social Media Actually Is a Platform for Narcissism
Whether the chicken or the egg came first is still up for the debate, but studies show that there’s no question social media has enabled narcissists.
From the New York Times:
Many studies find that narcissists have more friends on Facebook and post more, especially provocative material. They also post more often on Twitter. Apparently, narcissists thrive on social media.
As one paper concluded, narcissists use Twitter “as a kind of technologically augmented megaphone: A means of amplifying one’s own perceived superiority to others.” They use Facebook as “a technologically enhanced mirror, reflecting a preoccupation with one’s own image, others’ reactions to this image, and a desire to update the image as frequently as possible.”
Perhaps one of the comments on the NYT article sums things up well. (Note: read heavy, heavy satire in the comment.)
I disagree with the implied correlation between Facebook and Narcissism. Just because I like to post perfect photos of myself enjoying great times with all my good looking successful friends enjoying everything the world has to offer me, does not make me a Narcissist. The fact is you enjoy looking at my page because my life is just better than yours…admit it!!
Self-Esteem Versus Narcissism
According to an article in Psychology Today, self-esteem is real while narcissism is effectively false.
Self-esteem differs from narcissism in that it represents an attitude built on accomplishments we’ve mastered, values we’ve adhered to, and care we’ve shown toward others. Narcissism, conversely, is often based on a fear of failure or weakness, a focus on one’s self, an unhealthy drive to be seen as the best, and a deep-seated insecurity and underlying feeling of inadequacy.
—Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., (Psychology Today)
What does this mean for business?
Compare a tweet that provides a URL to an article a company has written to a tweet that offers a cliché phrase touting the company’s supposed greatness or perceived success (perceived by the company itself, of course).
The tweet with the link to the article doesn’t try to be anything at all—it merely points to an article. But let’s say the article is really good—expert, researched, well written and something of real value. Then the tweet is pointing to a real accomplishment.
By comparison, what does the other tweet do? Does it prove anything at all or does it merely try to convince us of something? If it doesn’t provide real value or point to something that does, it’s false and effectively meaningless.
Worse than that, actually, because meaningless, narcissistic social media posts can do more harm than good in business. If a company turns a customer off, the company potentially loses that customer. And all that customer’s friends.
Narcissism Doesn’t Work for Business
Most companies don’t know how to use social media. Understandably, because the example they’ve been given by the general public is an awful one.
If they keep thinking of social media in the same way the general public does, they’ll continue to misuse it. And they’ll continue to lose customers.