Social media is designed to keep you on it as long as possible, here’s how to take back control.

Man on desk tapping screen to read social media post.

See what I did there? Title that triggers your nervous system to get your attention, a promise of how to fix it to keep you reading in the hope that you can soothe the trigger that I just created.

An alternate and much more apt title would be: As a content creator you are affecting readers’ nervous systems, you can choose to be a positive influence.

I give workshops to school children around topics such as Persuasive Technology and The Attention Economy, a.k.a how a lot of the platforms we use literally use knowledge about how our brain works to design environments that keep us in them for longer than we might want to.

Today I’d like to look at the adult version of this; focusing also on our responsibility as content creators.

On the content creation side it’s easy to use the end to justify the means. Perhaps you are doing work you believe in, and of course, marketing it in a way that gets it to people is important to you. And there are 1001 experts telling you exactly what you need to do to get people listening, to get people to message you, to get your content liked, shared, commented on. And on some level it works. The platform we are posting on has inherent rules which encourage us to follow them to win within it.

The result is A LOT of noise. Scroll through your feed on any given day and so many posts have little actual value yet you’re scrolling and scrolling. And so is everyone else. Perhaps I haven’t been razor sharp enough about curating my feed (I admit I’m bad at this, I just tend to be curious about people rather than strategic about who can amplify my voice), but whenever I log into any social media channel, I tend to get stuck in passive scrolling mode and find it hard to stick with my actual intention for being there.

Science tells us our brains are wired to gravitate towards emotive content, especially the negative kind. Social media algorithms know this and boost emotive content. I notice that many posts in my feed tend to trigger negative emotions or at least thoughts that I’m not doing enough, not doing it well enough etc etc. That’s of course my brain, but perhaps yours does this too.

But, I hear you say, ‘focusing on problems works – it makes people want to solve those problems and more likely to buy from me. And I’m here to make their lives better.’ Well I’m here to argue that social media is more about the long game than the short one. That ‘winning’ is more closely related to building long term relationships and two-sided conversations that help to untangle some of the challenges we currently find ourselves in. That certain tactics might get your post liked, your e-book downloaded 5000 times and give you 5000 potential leads. But what are you really after? What are you trying to create? What feeling do you want people to have when they interact with you? What kind of environment do you want to participate in building?

Like most industries in existence today, marketing needs a thorough re-creation with life at its centre. Many of the tactics we are taught to use are sabotaging our likelihood of making our way out of the multiple messes we find ourselves in and creating the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. And it’s important to consider our own role in that. What content are we posting and engaging with? Are we building an echo chamber for time-wasting, nervous system triggering posts? Or are we expanding viewpoints, creating possibilities, generously connecting people to what they need and what can make their lives better?

What are your thoughts about this?