Most of us appreciate social media. After all, it makes it so much more convenient to see what others are up to, check in on people you may not have seen in person since high school, and to follow the activities of the musicians and actors that we are interested in. Sure it has some downsides- who hasn't been through the agony of trying to figure out when to post a new partner when first dating or the fact that nowadays, whenever we are waiting in line, waiting for food, waiting for a movie to start, waiting for...well, anything...we turn to our phones (and more than likely, a social media app) to get us through those few minutes. But some negatives associated with social media are more dangerous. People sometimes misuse social media to stalk others, bully them, or to post things that they would never dream of saying to someone, face to face.
We think of bullying as something that happens in schools as children deal with their own insecurities, but bullying can happen at any stage of life and to anyone. Recently, actress Constance Wu reported that she attempted suicide three years ago after people on social media attacked her for comments she had made about a show she was on. Wu had been on the show, Fresh Off the Boat, for a few years but when she learned it was renewed, she tweeted about how upset she was. The subsequent backlash on social media left her feeling suicidal. She later shared that she had been looking forward to taking on other projects and felt that the show would prevent her from being a part of those projects.
Social media is a limited look into someone else's life. Even if someone obsessively shares every detail about themselves, their day, their family, there is often a lot that's left unshared. Wu had her own reasons for why she felt upset about the TV show renewal, but fans and others knew nothing about it. Wu expressed some nervousness about getting back on social media because of this incident, and she isn't alone. Many people have been attacked online to the point where they have abandoned the use of social media.
As entrepreneurs, creative professionals, and artistic people in general, how do we benefit from the use of social media without being harmed by it? Some people might have a social media team who carefully maintains their online presence and shields them from the negative side of online interactions, but for those of us who are in charge of our own brand, here are some tips for making the best of social media (both in our professional and personal lives):
Choose the amount of time you want to spend on social media.
Having an online presence is a great tool, but be aware of how much time you spend and how it is affecting you. If you are online and spend a lot of time reading through comments attacking you, your business, or a performance or project you worked on, it can be stressful. Take some time away from social media to recharge. Spend time doing things you enjoy and with people who care about you. Find people who lift you up!
Realize that some people are online expressly to antagonize others.
You could be your best self and do all the right things, but there will always be someone who has some negativity that they want to offload onto others. Recognize these people for what they are and cut them off instead of going back and forth with them online, which only fuels them.
If you really did make a misstep, acknowledge it.
Nobody is perfect and there will be times when we miscommunicate or make other mistakes. Instead of pretending it never happened, which can alienate customers, fans, or other people that we really, really want on our side, we should take time to acknowledge the error and try to make amends if possible. Inc. recommends acknowledging "their issues and concerns and apologize for the failure on your part to have not met their expectations." Another step they suggest is to "offer a solution."
Make sure you're representing your best self online.
We all go through trying times and we all have moments where we aren't our best selves online (I can attest to this.) When we are representing our business or our professional selves, we have to be doubly sure we are at our best. Maybe look over posts, photos, and videos a few times before posting and if a post looks iffy, maybe ask a trusted colleague for their opinion.
If it's not working out- outsource it!
If managing your social media is too much or you're being flooded with too much negativity, you can do what many others have done and hire someone to schedule your posts and interface with your customers/community.
So much of our lives is spent online. We were told as children that "sticks and stones can break our bones, but words can never hurt us," and this simply isn't true. Living online means that social media backlash and attacks really can cause distress and can affect our personal and professional lives. Managing our online lives and maintaining some separation for our own health is important.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues and thoughts of self-harm, whether it is caused by social media or not, please reach out to mental health professionals.