In today’s world, social media seems to dominate every area of our lives. The Layered Onion asked Maggie Bowyer how they balance social media and mental health. Maggie has penned a Guest Blog below with some tips and tricks!
“I don’t understand!” I cursed into my phone.
Once again, the social media aspect of marketing has gotten the better of me. After a week of well-performing Reels on Instagram, I had another video completely flop. While this seems innocuous, research has found that social media can have true adverse outcomes on mental health, as if marketing a book wasn’t stressful enough on its own. Let’s take a closer look at how likes and view counts can have severe effects on our mental state and how we can take this into account when marketing our work.
Social Media Screen Time and Mental Health
Social media is relatively new in the grand scheme of things and is growing by the day. It seems that every year now, there is a new social media platform rising to the forefront of our screens. Most recently, TikTok has begun to overtake apps like Instagram and Youtube in popularity. With constantly shifting apps and algorithms, constant news updates, and sensationalization, not to mention filters and Facetune, are we protecting our mental health by constantly “doom-scrolling?”
One large study found that increased social media use leads to worse mental health outcomes; in fact, teens who spend more than 3 hours per day on social media may be at heightened risk for mental health problems, especially internalizing. Another study found a link between social media screen time and depression and suicide rates.
I see this as a young adult in the real world. The longer I spend on social media, the more I find myself comparing my work with my contemporaries. The comparison, and occasional jealousy, are not limited to my book sales or skills; I find myself comparing my looks, my relationships, my like counts, my brand deals, my apartment, and so much more. I find myself wanting to create more content, that is better than my previous work, and at a furious pace, which only leads to burnout.
I also have found that social media marketing has changed my poetry, which snapped me back to reality. I have always written very lengthy, narrative poetry, having gotten my real start in spoken word poetry. As I spent time marketing on social media apps, I found that quick clips performed much better. I started writing a lot of micro-poetry. While there is nothing wrong with micro-poetry or its rise in popularity, it did not feel authentic or complete; I began to feel like I was selling out my work in favor of social media clout.
The big question is how do we prioritize our mental health and our unique voice when social media has become such a large part of marketing our work and making a living?
I have several ways of keeping my head in check when creating content.
1. Set Time Limits
The first tip I have is to set time limits on apps. I find myself opening Instagram absentmindedly all the time; it is completely normal as these apps are designed to be addictive and to grab your attention from your home screen. By setting time limits, I can curb the amount of accidental time on the app.
2. Intentional Use
This leads to my second tip, which is intentional use. I use social media for three explicit things and knowing my purpose on the app helps me navigate the ever-shifting landscape of view counts and engagement ratios. I use social media to market my books, draw inspiration, and keep in touch with my friends. Determining that my goal on social media was to sell myself, and my books, and fulfill my brand contracts helped with how overwhelming social media was. How would I know what to post? Instead of panicking at the endless content ideas, I was able to focus on what I was selling that day.
In line with both intentional use and finding inspiration, I began to weed out whom I was following. Not a marketing coach finding trending audio I enjoy? Unfollow. I disagree with your opinions far more than I agree? Unfollow. A poet I haven’t found inspiring for a while, or aren’t pushing me to be better at my craft? Sorry, but that’s also an unfollow.
I am unfollowing people unjudiciously, and it feels nice. I am also blocking people more often than I ever thought possible and for far smaller infractions than before, and it is more freeing than I could have imagined. I am trying to keep my little corner of the internet as safe as possible for me and my followers.
3. Don’t Let Metrics and View Counts Rule You
I am trying to focus less on like counts or being frustrated by low view counts. This one is a lot harder than the other tips, and one I am still navigating. As a business major who loves marketing, I want all the data. I want to know what is and isn’t working for my audience. I want to know who my audience is. But I was beginning to get obsessed with numbers, checking my insights daily, sometimes even multiple times in one day.
Now, I try to only check it weekly, though sometimes I check certain metrics every few days. I would often get frustrated by low view counts but high engagement rates, wondering why the post wasn’t performing better, and more often than not, I would begin to berate my looks, my apartment, and more. Now, I am trying to reframe my thoughts about those posts. Those posts connect me to my current audience and foster a deeper relationship with people who already follow me, maybe starting a new conversation or retaining more followers. Not every post we create is going to go viral, and that is okay, maybe even better than constant viral content. Try reframing your previously low days and find the positives in your community, content, and self. No one is perfect at this, especially not me, so be gentle with yourself as you begin to reframe thoughts.
4. Be Your You, Without Filters
This next tip might seem silly and simple, but I am surprised by how much it has helped my mental health. I have completely stopped using filters. I want to like my face, or at least be neutral enough about it to feel like I can post it. I don’t want to show the world a fake version of myself. I want to show younger kids on the app what real skin looks like, or at least skin with makeup on it. I want to show that we all have some asymmetry in our faces, and that is okay! I have found that I don’t typically miss filters and only use them in my friends’ group chat on occasion.
The last tip has quite possibly been the best thing I have done for myself and my mental health. I have created a smaller, private Instagram to keep up with my friends and message with them, which helps with the feeling of constantly performing for an audience or slipping into my “digital self.” I can share an unfiltered opinion, not beat myself up over typos, I can share pictures of my family without fear, and above all else, I don’t have any Insights. Even without the post numbers, I find I don’t even care about the like or view counts on that page. I can be myself, and people can take it or leave it. No brand deals are pending on my perfectly polished presentation. I don’t need to retain my followers to ensure my next book launch goes better than the last. I don’t feel pressured to let creepy people follow me because they could be another client. I don’t feel like I have to create content there; I can just be.
I can still market my book when doing all of these things. In fact, I have found that I market myself even better with boundaries in place. I feel I can connect more enthusiastically and genuinely with my audience when I have taken the weekend off. I am more confident online and feel like I have true direction. There are endless ways we can take care of our mental health in the digital age. These are just a few tips that have helped me in combination. We are seeing the first generation raised on social media begin to come of age. We are also seeing a mental health crisis of epic proportions, some of which can be attributed to social media (though far from exclusively). Teaching each other how to care for our mental health is going to be vitally important. I hope this begins a conversation rather than feels like the end of a lecture and that you go into your digital spaces with intention today.