Challenging the most common assumptions of social media

Ian MacRae and Michelle Carvill‘s new book, Myths of Social Media, dismisses the fallacies of using social media for business by tackling 28 common misconceptions. Here Ian outline three we will all be familiar with.

Social media is no longer new, nor is it a niche technology. Social media platforms have been around in various forms for at least two decades. About 90% of people in the UK have an internet connection and two-thirds regularly use social media. Although use of social media is widespread, there are many myths that just don’t go away.

1 Digital natives can use social media effectively at work:

One of the most pervasive myths on social media is that there is a certain generational “type”. Boomers, Zoomers and Millennials are often described as a homogenous groups. Boomers and Zoomers apparently all have their own language, values, ideas and even sets of memes. That’s certainly not true and we’ve debunked it thoroughly in Myths of Social Media.

There’s a continuation of this stereotype, which suggests that all younger people are immersed in, and proficient users of social media. While the majority of younger people have grown up as ‘digital natives’, that is not ubiquitously true. And more importantly for the workplace, familiarity with social media for personal use does not necessarily translate into social savvy in business.

Although there may be some crossover in knowledge and experience, don’t assume experience using social media for personal communication will translate into expertise in another domain, like professionalism when using social media for business.

Familiarity with tech is great, but businesses may find that those with knowledge of social media but have less experience in a working environment may need to learn how to combine the world of work with the digital world of social media. Just like developing any skill, it takes time, practice and experience to master.

2 Social media replaces real-life networking:

There’s an ongoing debate about whether social media communication can replace face-to-face interaction. As in any debate, technology has its’ evangelists and critics. Interestingly, there’s an ongoing online debate about the entire topic you can view for yourself.

Some people love face-to-face networking. They happily attend events, strike up conversations with new people, cheerily make connections over any social event. We call these people extroverts. For others, unstructured social time is a necessary evil that is tolerated and feared. The introverts often find there is something pressingly important on their phone or in another room during the “networking” period of an event.

When it comes to moving from online to offline networking, it’s always a little less socially awkward to meet with someone you’ve been talking to online. There certainly is good evidence to show that social media can be a great icebreaker.

It’s easier for many people to have conversations online in a less spontaneous manner and at a different pace. Then it does make connections quicker to pick up and develop when followed up by face-to-face time. Social media certainly can facilitate and improve real-world relationships.

As is a consistent theme in Myths of Social Media, we would suggest that social media is complementary or supplementary to traditional office practices. It’s not a replacement but it can provide benefits. There are few instances where the virtual world can replace personal communication channels, but it certainly can add depth, breadth and scope when used effectively.

3 Social Media is for posting photos of your breakfast:

One of the most common complaints we hear about social media is the content of other people’s posts. Some people get really irritated when they see other people posting content they think is trivial or uninteresting. It’s actually quite easy to unfollow or mute content you don’t want to see on social media.

We’ve flipped the discussion on this myth a bit by taking a highly successful example from the restaurant industry. If you run a breakfast restaurant with appealing food, social media is absolutely ideal for posting photos of your breakfast. Part of the marketing strategy is actually in getting your customers to share photos of the delicious-looking food.

We want to challenge the idea that there is an objectively “right” or “wrong” type of content for social media. It is impossible to be universally appealing, the important thing is to understand your business, and plan out how to communicate that online.  Social media is a collection of different communication platforms, so the question for a business is precisely what messages they are looking to send, and to whom.

Ian MacRae is a work psychologist and author of five books. He is Head of Workplace Psychology at Clear Review.

Photo by Eaters Collective on Unsplash

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