Is internal social media a danger to mental health?

Earlier this year I started following Matt Haig on Twitter. This was partly because I was taking part in the charity ride to Hull which was linked to men’s mental health and suicide prevention. A few weeks ago, Matt shared an article he had written about social media and the links it has to depression and overall mental health. For many this isn’t news. We know that the likes and comments on social media release dopamine in our systems – the same chemical we release when we drink, take drugs or gamble. The dangers are easy to see when you look at the science and when you see more and more people putting their highlight reel online for all to see and compare to.

I started a brief Twitter conversation on how this translates to social media inside the workplace and realised quickly that 140 characters wasn’t going to be enough to get my thinking across (even the new 280 won’t cut it).

What is the potential damage of social media inside organisations? No one thought social media could be linked to the likes of drink and drugs when it started but the parallels are frighteningly real.

I’m not comparing like for like here. Internal social media isn’t necessarily about sharing your photos from your holiday and projecting a perfect life. But, as a manager of a retail store, how do I feel when someone smashes their target and posts it online for all employees to like and share? Am I left feeling deflated and depressed that I haven’t done so well without knowing all the facts about how they achieved it?

Are we mature enough, cultural, for the manager without the great sales to comment with a question asking how did you do it? Any tips? Or are we still fostering competitive environments inside the workplace that go against every grain of collaboration you can imagine? I fear the latter.

Being ok with failure, being ok with saying I don’t know is not easy. We don’t live in a world where making a u-turn is ok. We are under huge pressure to know everything and to just get on with it. But not all of us can, and we shouldn’t have to.

The buzz around wellbeing has been on the corporate agenda for a number of years but what is this really? As we introduce these new channels to the workplace are we considering the mental health aspects? Are we considering the introverts, the late adopters, the people who want to come and do a great job and go home?

Can our wellbeing plans catch up with the pace of society and the reality that a charity bake sale and football match won’t cut it? Can the workplace start to explore its role in our now dopamine filled lives and help us get back to some of the basics of human behaviour? Can we have time in meetings to chat about our weekends, rules to put the phones away and regular breaks on the agenda to check in on things outside the room?

We are not too busy to take this seriously. We are not mindless enough to rush from meeting to meeting, task to task without considering the impact of it all. And social media inside organisations needs to come with a little warning – think about the impact on people and think about the culture you are trying to create. It’s not just a channel, for many it is the only way they know how to communicate.

The future is now


Today, comms agency theblueballroom hosted their first Future Story event at RADA in London. Over 40 professionals linked to the comms world came together to hear about what the future holds for us and our businesses. The keynote of the day was Olivia Solon from Wired magazine who talked about four challenges/issues:

  • Personalisation and customisation

Hyper personalisation is not only applicable to the digital space. More and more companies are looking at ways to personalise your experience and your product. Examples from Heinz about creating your own soup label and fashion label Trikoton making clothing linked to voice patterns. The one thing to make sure is that the personalisation is not creepy and doesn’t go too far.

  • Transparency

Companies should have nothing to find. With the increasing desire to bring CSR to the table we need to make sure that our house is in order before we talk about it publicly. CSR allows you to align purpose and profit and be honest about what you’re fixing and managing. Some great examples about how brands engage in the online space being honest and transparent (O2 and Patagonia were some examples)

  • Privacy

Surveillance and privacy go hand in hand. Some interesting insight into some of those big games companies and how they wanted to use their tech that allows you to be in the game, for bringing you into the adverts. Creepy.

  • Automation

Talk of bots, software that can take data heavy information and turn it into copy, and how we can no longer tell the difference between reality and automation. Make sure you’re adding value beyond what a computer can do but also take note of how some of this stuff can really help our jobs.

There were three sessions in the afternoon and I went along to Euan Semple’s session on relationships in a connected world. Euan chose to run his whole 90 minute session through each person introducing themselves and talking about how they use social tools in business and in their personal lives. What we were part of, was an organic discussion about social that was aided by a facilitator who could add more insight than anyone I know….

  • We are in danger of turning social media into an initiative – we are professionalising it which we shouldn’t be doing
  • There were a lot of people in the room who ‘lurk’ on Twitter – Lurking is a long and honorable tradition!
  • Organisations are lunging at social media. It is like watching your dad dancing; you’re proud of him for trying but wish he would stop
  • Social media is one person at a time and it is for their reasons, not yours
  • As comms professionals we are still very focused on our leaders blogging – does it really matter? Why are we clinging onto the guy at the top that knows everything. He doesn’t exist and hasn’t for a long time
  • We lack patience for these tools to deliver
  • Transparency of the organisation has to link to transparency of the individual
  • BYOD: If your organisation wants to get on my phone as an internal comms tool it needs to behave itself
  • Measuring social media? How do you measure good conversations with interesting people?
  • The internet is like talking to yourself but better. It is like walking side by side with someone rather than across a boardroom table
  • Be visible, accountable and trustworthy
  • We have stopped being curious. The web is about learning and we need to remember that there is so much out there for us to find out
  • Social media works through a basic desire to be part of something. Through the need to be liked
  • Adoption is not about age or gender. It is about outlook.
  • The internet is just a thing. If you don’t like what you do with it that is more of a reflection on you as a person than the internet

While I didn’t take away any practical stuff for the day job, the event gave me time to think and reflect on some of those challenges we face every day. It gave me the chance to meet some people I have only ever met on Twitter and for once, I feel like I attended an event that really looked into the future!

#thefuturestory