So what would the perfect social media platform look, feel and sound like if we had wellbeing at the centre of our collective designer-minds? This is one the many questions we considered at a workshop facilitated by myself and Aiden Moseby aka @textartist as part of the Leeds Digital Festival on 11 October 2012. We were joined by Anna Roberts aka @miri_ness and we started with her Facebook vs Reality photography exhibition at the Round Foundry Media Centre as our inspiration. Our workshop comprised a fabulous mix of digital and mental health world peeps, plus plenty of others inbetween, and even a few six formers for good measure. Participants were open and candid and this was invaluable to a great discussion.
So the first thing I learnt was that the topic appears to be of interest to more people than just those working in the mental health sector. Our packed house and diverse mix of participants gave a good indication of this.
The second thing I learnt was that our emotional responses to social media are less about specific platforms and more about purpose, meanings and behaviours.
Her are a few factors we considered:
- Personability – some suggest that being personable but not always personal can be a protective factor. Others described it as sharing versus spilling
- Persona – a congruent offline/online persona is more likely to afford a sense of wellbeing than trying to be someone we aren’t
- Blogging for wellbeing – writing as a process of self-reflection, understanding and engaging can have therapeutic effects – process as much as product
- Making a contribution – sharing ideas and resources to help other people can be rewarding
- Branding – does social media mean we’re all busy peddling our personal brand ‘here is my perfect life’ and to what extent can this be alienating? We adapt aspects of ourselves to different people and scenarios in the course of our routine lives. How different is this online from offline – if at all?
- Social connection – social media can be an invaluable point of connection for people who are isolated, excluded, or even just working independently. @textartist described it as ‘the water cooler for the self-employed’
- Reality – to what extent does connecting through social media remove you from the here-and-now of an experience and disconnect you from those who are physically around you? What are the consequences?
But what about specific platforms? People did have a few thoughts:
- The past – having your past in front of your face is not always comfortable – Facebook timeline means your past updates are immediately and obviously available
- Comparisons – comparing ourselves with others is not always a positive thing and Facebook in particular gives us lots of opportunity to indulge ourselves in this behaviour
- Instagram – participants who use Instagram and other photo sharing apps were the most positive about the impact of sharing and saw less negative effects.
And the last thought from a council colleague about the increasing relevance of digital to the public sector:
‘two years ago this would have been a jolly – today it’s work’
We came up with lots of questions but of course no ideal solution and certainly no ideal platform. Do these themes resonate with you? And what features would your perfect social media platform include?