Media month: Healthier social platforms mean healthier brands

by Natalia Riley

8th May 2019

If we believed every negative headline on the impact of social media on our wellbeing, you’d think we were headed for a collective nervous breakdown thanks to our scrolling thumbs.

Maybe we are. In a study on the impact of Twitter on stress, the platform was found to be a significant contributor to increased stress levels in women. Meanwhile, researchers analysing the impact of using Facebook on mood found that using the social network for just 20 minutes induced lower mood than just browsing the internet.

The final nail in the coffin was the Royal Society for Public Health ranking Instagram as the worst social media platform for young people’s mental health last year.

In the face of mounting scientific evidence and headlines, social media companies are cleaning up their act to make their platforms safer and healthier places to be.

Last month, Twitter announced the results of its initiative to make the platform “healthier”. Thirty-eight percent of abusive content is now proactively reviewed by internal teams instead of relying on reports from users. The network also suspended 100,000 new accounts created by previously suspended users between January to March this year—a 45 per cent increase on last year.

These results are the product of a strategy announced in 2018, which stated that keeping users safe was to become the platform’s “top priority”. Twitter pledged to take a more proactive approach on abusive content—unburdening users from having to report it themselves.

Twitter also announced that the network will be “experimenting” with functions that give tweeters the option to hide replies to their tweets.

In a similar vein, Instagram recently released a statement announcing that “exploring ways to reduce pressure on Instagram is something we’re always thinking about”. This came after rumours circulated that the app was testing a feature which would hide the number of likes a post received.

The rumour suggested that under the change, only the handle user would be able to see the number of likes the content generated. Followers would instead see the name of one Instagram user who liked the post, followed by “and others”. It is thought that Instagram may be testing the change due to the perception that few likes equates to low popularity, and the negative psychological effect of this on users.

The question is, what will the impact of the social giants’ metaphorical juice cleanse be on the brands operating in these lucrative spaces?

The impact of Twitter’s healthier approach is twofold. Not only will it become a safer place for users, but it will also become a safer reputational space for brands.

As a result of the platform’s enhanced monitoring measures, any “attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice” – Twitter’s definition of abusive behaviour – will be policed more effectively.

This, alongside the ‘hide replies’ function, may make users more comfortable to engage with brands on Twitter but will also give brands more say in what type of comments are associated with their content. Moreover, brands or brand-associated celebrities who have previously left Twitter due to intense Twitter ‘trolling’, such as Millie Bobbie Brown or Armie Hammer, might be spared from abusive posts and remain on the platform.

Meanwhile, Instagram begun testing the hiding of like counts in Canada—having initially denied planning such activity. This change, if rolled out elsewhere, will impact the way brands work with the platform and with influencers.

While impressions – used to measure the visibility of a post – give a broad indication of how many people are aware of a piece of content, metrics such as likes provide an indication that an audience has interacted with it. If this metric became harder to quantify, brands would need to adapt their measurement strategies, or form closer relationships with influencers in order to obtain engagement rates following a campaign. They would need to find new ways to validate that their social media strategy is winning with the right audiences.

Less clear is how removing like ‘visibility’ will affect consumer behaviour. The emotional boosts users receive when their posts get liked – and the lows they feel when it does not perform as well as other people’s – could be negated if no one knows how other’s content is performing. Could this lead to an overall reduction in engagement? Or do audiences even care? Will they continue to like the content they want to see, regardless of how many other people have?

Ultimately, social platforms acknowledging the impact they have on user health is a positive step forward in assimilating technology into a more balanced and healthier society. If brands manage to keep pace with the ever-changing landscape, healthier platforms may also mean healthier brands.