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Our Attention Has Been Stolen

Good Thinking | May 31, 2018 | 2 min read

There is a seemingly endless flood of opinions on whether social media is evil or beneficial. An echo chamber or a megaphone. Bringing us closer together or ripping the fabric of society apart.

The same platforms I use to share photos with my family are recruitment tools for terrorists, driving political change and cultivating insecurity. The level at which these social channels have enveloped every aspect of our lives is astonishing and the reason why, according to former Facebook VP Chamath Palihapitiya, is rather simple: social media has hijacked our brains.

A few years ago, Chamath revealing that we have a chemical dependence on Facebook might have made me grab my phone and delete the apps I’ve become addicted to. Now, due to my experience as a digital marketer, I have a different reaction. Quitting feels like one of the most irresponsible decisions I could make. Why? Because I know that my addiction isn’t just caused by an algorithm, it’s fueled by us—the makers.

In the digital age, we are all makers. We craft our lives into a consumable good to be bought, traded and sold for attention on the social media marketplace. Without makers, social channels would have a lot less value, would consume far less of our time and would assuredly be easier to delete, algorithm or not.

And who are the most prolific and problematic makers? Marketers.

Prolific because it makes sense to be as close as possible to consumers. Social media offers a chance for people and brands to connect in ways that are more rapid and personal than any other time in history.

Problematic because most brands don’t do it in a way that adds positive value to people’s lives—they put something out, count up the likes and impressions and consider it a victory. Marketers are grasping for an indication that they’ve hooked people in. In countless meeting rooms, marketers are still focusing on “more” – how can we push out more content? Reach more people? More engagement? More followers? More attention?

Within a system that’s inherently addictive, we need to stop asking how we can reach more people, and start asking how we can be more meaningful to the people that we do reach. The sad truth is that most content on social media is so bad that people don’t even get annoyed anymore, they just ignore it.

This is our challenge. And the responsibility of digital marketers in 2018.

Facebook can adjust its platform, Instagram can tweak its algorithm, Reddit can take action against toxic communities and Twitter can ban trolls and bots. But, for social media to be a truly beneficial tool for humanity, we marketers need to stop what we’re doing and reassess. We need to ask ourselves, “Is everything we put on social designed to have a positive impact? Will it make someone feel something?”

If the answer is no…