People use social media a lot. But why? What do we like about it?
If you asked 100 different people, you would probably get 100 different answers. For me, there are many reasons but perhaps the biggest is that it gives me a voice. I’m a quiet, shy introvert by nature. I’m more comfortable and more articulate in writing than I am face-to-face. So social media is a perfect way for me to express myself.
Social media usage is on the rise
Sometimes – especially if you spend much time on Twitter – you might ask yourself whether actually anyone enjoys social media, given how much people seem to use it to vent their anger at others.
But the truth is that the amount of time we spend on social media is still increasing. So there must be something about it that we like. On average we spent over 2½ hours every day on social networks in 2019. That compares with 1½ hours in 2012, an increase of 8% per year. (And we can expect the figures for the pandemic-affected 2020 to be even higher.)
Of course, there are many reasons for this. More of us are on social media than ever before, following more people who produce ever more content. More of us have smartphones, so we are constantly checking social media wherever we go. And there is also more video content than ever – YouTube videos, TikTok and so on – that keeps us on-platform for longer.
Social media is no longer just a place we talk to each other. Through images and videos, it is now a place where we share each other’s experiences, not just our words and ideas. With this much content to like and engage with, of course we’re spending more time on social.
Reasons to like social media
I asked a few members of both The Social Conversation team and Facebook group what they liked about social media and received a variety of responses.
Some of us were early adopters of what was then called ‘new media’. Kate, for instance. “I joined social media – I’m talking Bebo, MSN Chat and MySpace – to, quite literally, be social. Later on, it’s where I met my wife Sharon.”
MySpace? Ah, those were the days. Tom was everyone’s friend, wasn’t he?
Many people use different social networks to fulfil different needs. Emma likes Twitter for the chat, and gets inspiration from Instagram and TikTok.
Cerys is similar. She finds ideas for crafts, new recipes to cook and home decor over on Pinterest and Instagram. But she also relies on Facebook “to catch up with friends and see what they are up to”.
Our influencer marketing expert Amie agrees. “I love Pinterest for the creativity: the ‘what could be’. (Half my boards are recipes to try, interiors inspiration – I have one which is ‘things to buy/things I want’).”
There’s a common thread among several users who like Twitter for its topical nature. Here’s Amie again: “I enjoy [Twitter] for the banter, the quick fire thinking and ‘finger on the pulse’ moments.”
The ease of social media has helped overcome greater geographical mobility over the past couple of generations. I don’t think I’m unusual in having family and friends all over the world. Social media is the easiest way to stay connected to them and get occasional little windows into their lives. Back to Kate: “A lot of my family live overseas or in different parts of the UK, so it means I can share our holiday snaps or have a conversation without needing to chat on the phone.”
And, of course, social media can be a great time-waster when we want (or need) or procrastinate – or just to tap into other people’s opinions. As Clare says, “I find it fascinating to follow Facebook threads where people have such diverse opinions on everything. It’s social history being recorded.”
This last point certainly resonates with me. Social media enables ordinary people to record and share their individual perspectives on life for posterity in a way that hasn’t been possible before. At the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown, I started keeping a day-to-day record of life under lockdown over on my personal blog. Many other bloggers did the same. If nothing else, it will be an interesting record for us to look back on in future years.
Not all a bed of roses
In the interests of balance, of course social media isn’t all sunlit uplands.
We all know about its negative aspects. Trolling. Hate speech. Fake news. The relentless pursuit of likes and followers as a form of self-validation.
It’s interesting to note that several members of the TSC editorial team have a jaded view of social media. Maybe it’s a case of familiarity breeding contempt, but our resident digital marketing guru Henry summed up what he likes about social media quite succinctly: “[I like] less and less every week.”
Christian has worked professionally with social media on both agency and client-side, but on a personal level he notes, “It’s a love/hate relationship for me. To a certain extent I feel a bit enslaved by it. That might sound a little dramatic, but many times I’ve thought about getting rid of it altogether. I’m certainly done with Facebook.”
Maybe it’s something to do with the seeming omnipotence of Facebook and the fact it’s been around for so long, but Amie agrees. “I enjoy nothing about the platform any more and am only still on it because the local sports team I play for use a Facebook group to organise training, fixtures et cetera. It’s a necessary evil.”
Despite its flaws and drawbacks, most of us see the value and benefit in using social media. (Although, obviously, an audience of a social media editorial team and a social media-focussed Facebook group is perhaps not the most representative sample ever!)
It’s a source of ideas and inspiration, of conversation and comfort; a means of productivity and procrastination. And, day after day, week after week, year after year, we keep coming back for more of the same. We don’t just need social media; we (mostly) like it too.
What do you like about social media?
Written by Tim Liew, with contributions from Henry, Kate, Amie, Christian and others.