Are we oversharing on social media? #SOSM2015

Ever since the rise of social media, there has been a flare in stories of people being fired over their tweets, over their Instagram pictures, and over their Facebook posts.

A glance at the social networking privacy experiment weknowhwatyouredoing.com demonstrates the huge number of people who happily and publicly express their love for drugs, their hungover state or their hatred for their boss. Below is one of many examples (this one being particularly popular) which I feel clearly demonstrates both the power of social media – and the dangers of not being careful about what you post – to great effect.

Facebookoops

The rest is, as they say, history, ending (as you can see) with the swift firing of the employee in question.

Being online seems somehow to spur us to share aspects of our lives we would otherwise keep to ourselves but, until recently, few have looked into the reasons why.

Last year however, Jennifer Golbeck, Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, outlined six reasons for our over-sharing and occasionally risky online behaviour as part of a feature for Psychology Today.

Firstly, “[People] begin to disassociate their online persona with their offline persona,” wrote Golbeck. This ‘Anonymity’ of course decreases the individual’s perceived risk of posting something they’d normally not say. This could be used for good reasons, such as for the pursuit of advice regarding a personal issue or concern on Reddit using a throwaway account (one which cannot be clearly linked to an offline individual), or for bad, as in the case of the rising number of social ‘Trolling’ cases, whereby an individual uses an online persona to harass and belittle someone else – often a celebrity, politician or public campaigner. Feminist cultural critic, Anita Sarkeesian, for example, was subject to death threats after releasing a new ‘Tropes VS Women in Video Games’ episode titled ‘Women as background decoration, part 2‘ last August.

This anonymity feeds into both Golbeck’s second reason of ‘Invisibility’, which allows people to feel they can say things because “the other person (or people) aren’t looking at the poster”; and third reason of ‘Filling in the other person’, as “missing verbal cues like tone and delivery as well as body language causes people to perceive the conversation as somehow “less real.”

Similarly, her fourth reason for oversharing also centres on the individual’s belief that ‘It’s not real’ as she hypothesises that “If we feel like we aren’t interacting in a real environment where there are real implications from our runawayactions, it can lead us to drop inhibitions.”

This belief can be exacerbated by the ‘Delayed communication’ of social media. Although electronic communication is incredibly fast (cue the term ‘instant messaging’), there is still opportunity to delay conversations, even if it’s just by pausing before responding.

This of course can result in lowered inhibitions as we may feel more free to overshare things that are personal because we can post it and then leave it, dealing with the reactions later. I know this was something I was personally guilty of during my teenage years, particularly when expressing my feelings to someone I liked.

FWhat I think we are aware of but choose to ignore is that everything we post on social media (and online in general) is added to our permanent digital record. Nothing is ever truly erasable from the internet and the last thing we would ever want (or ever consider for that matter) is that what we offhandedly post when we’re young (and perhaps a little bit stupid?) might come back and bite us in the butts when it comes to finding (and keeping) a job. Do we really want our personal brand (as discussed in this previous post) to be cluttered with depressing details of our past break-ups? or rammed with photo after photo of our drunken nights out?

inally, Golbeck proposes that social media’s perceived ‘Lack of authority’ plays a key part in why people might disassociate themselves from their online identity, causing them to blurt out something they would never would in real life, say, in front of an authority figure.

What I think we are aware of (but choose to ignore) is that everything we post on social media (and online in general) is added to our permanent digital record. Nothing is ever truly erasable from the internet and the last thing we would ever want (or ever consider for that matter) is that what we offhandedly post when we’re young (and perhaps a little bit stupid?) might come back and bite us in the butt when it comes to finding (and keeping) a job.

Do we really want our personal brand (as discussed in this previous post) to be cluttered with depressing details of our past break-ups? Do we really want future employers to see that during the years we were attending university (and beyond) our profiles are rammed full with photo after photo of our drunken nights out?

I certainly don’t!

Anyway, there certainly seems to be a lot of advice online about how to stop oversharing. To me though, it boils down to two key thoughts:

  • What does this post say about me?
  •  Do I really want people to be reading this?

I picture not only my mother reading it, but my partner, my boss, even just my friends. I picture meeting someone for the first time and their already knowing me because of something I’ve posted online, and their subsequent perception of me because of it. This could be great if they knew me from this blog, for example, or even from my radio appearances, but from a seemingly innocuous Facebook post or Tweet that I’ve probably forgotten I even posted? I’d rather not.

When you think ahead (particularly when you think of the worst case scenarios), oversharing becomes pretty scary, and what becomes scary is therefore pretty easy to avoid.

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Do we suffer from too much tech?

I should probably confess that I (like many, I imagine) am unsure I could manage a complete disconnect from technology – much to the frustration of my partner.  However when you think about it, technology seems to permeate almost every aspect of modern life from:

Advances in digital growth (across the board) i.e. the internet….

…to industry or sector-specific advances…

…not to mention, all the manifestations found within social media…

Honestly, without going to the extreme extent of packing up what little non-tech reliant valuables I have (which I honestly think I could count on one hand) and moving to live in a cave in Nepal, I’m not entirely sure how it would be possible in this day and age to cut out modern technology entirely.

But is this such a bad thing?

Does modern society really suffer from too much technology?

This question has increasingly been a subject of debate over the last few years and recently, the issue has become the central feature to the latest animated music video of Stromae (one of the biggest stars in the french-speaking world), which has been beautifully directed by the acclaimed French filmmaker, Sylvain Chomet.

The video, which follows Stromae’s doppelgänger as he falls deeper and deeper into the social media abyss from an innocently taken selfie to a hunger for attention that can never be sated.

Surely though, falling into the social media abyss is dependent completely on the individual’s choice of content/media consumption? How many of us have used Facebook and Twitter to find other, like-minded people? To seek out fellow feminists, for example, or fans of the same music as us? To keep in touch with the people we’ve met in real life who otherwise we might never see again?

Maybe the case is that, if you consume poor quality, biased content and have a personality which is susceptible to craving social interaction and attention, then technology (and social media in particular) is a maze of traps waiting to happen.

What does this mean for PR?

Across the world, organisations are seeking greater engagement with their key publics, and PR (like many industries) has evolved to meet the changing needs and consumption habits of its target audiences. No longer is it feasible for organisations to operate within their own silos.

This of course poses a challenge for agencies and executives who now are stimulated to seeking new ways to break through the considerable noise and engage increasingly discerning and often cynical consumers.

No longer is it enough to merely use digital and social platforms to amplify and extend the reach of traditional messages, or repeat the same content across traditional and online platforms – however interesting the client may believe that content to be. To engage consumers online, marketers and PR Execs need to create a message which is both engaging, innovative most importantly human to connect.

Taking a back-seat, reactive approach to communications strategy does not grab the reader/viewer, let alone instil trust and brand loyalty. The future therefore is clear and can be defined by four combined approaches.

  • Integration
  • Personalisation
  • Proactive
  • Anticipatory

The question remains, are we brave enough to stop making the same silly mistakes, measure our digital effectiveness and become the profession we so strongly claim we are?

I think so; and what’s more, I think that the more we analyse and improve ourselves as a profession and instil these approaches into the habits and mindsets of those entering the industry, the stronger and more trusted Public relations will become, and the more trust will be shown to the technology which has provided us with these opportunities.