The perfect social media platform – what elements would you include?

The perfect social media platform – what elements would you include?

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?

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1 Comment

  1. When you only have an hour and a half to run a workshop it can go either way – As a facilitator it can be the longest, loneliest 90 minutes you never want to experience – or – you ask your co-facilitator how we doing for time and synchronise an OMG! Where did that go so fast? Actually it was a WTF? But you need to at least try to be professional.

    Really though. You can only ever scratch the surface of a topic like Social Media and Wellbeing as myself and Victoria Betton (@victoriabetton)discovered at the Round Foundry as part of Leeds Digital Festival on the 11th October 2012. The event, Facebook vs Reality tied in with Love Art Leeds, a month long foray into all that is Mental Health related, and coincided with photographer Anna Roberts exhibition

    The audience were a diverse mix of those who live, eat and breathe social media to six formers and those who are trying to get to grips with it for work and everywhere in between. Surprisingly, and refreshingly, there were no professionals from the mental health services. Refreshing because I find it heartening that people are interested in wellbeing – their own and others – in the digital age without it being their job. It helps me kid myself that stigma is easing and boundaries being eroded.

    A large cohort were freelancers where the distinction between virtual and real world entities are not so distinct. As one person said ‘We are our brand’ and that is reflected in the Twittersphere, on Facebook and shot through by Instagram. Perhaps too, for the freelancer, Social Media can stop or salve that feeling of isolation, that dissociation from the world of colleagues and teams.

    We looked at different platforms and why we liked or loathed them, the advantages and pitfalls – the ‘Life Leakers’ and the ‘Sharers and Spillers’. But what was really great was that people felt safe enough in that short space of time to disclose about episodes of depression and cycles of disorders and how that is perceived by the author and the viewer of ‘updates’.

    Yes, the more connected we become the less connected we might actually be, but if we have authentic digital relationships we can feel part of a supportive community. We do not have to compare ourselves with the extroverts with a thousand ‘friends’ and think how empty and dull our own life is. A few present, me included, had met people in real life – particularly through Twitter – and that had and does enrich our lives. At one stage everyone grouped together according to favoured platform – there was a definite air of smugness emanating from the corner where the Instagrammers had embedded themselves.

    Ultimately, we drew no conclusions. We did not design the perfect platform for wellbeing. What we did do though was make real connections in the real world. We talked, shared, some swapped addresses or business cards –and we all took a sharp intake of breath when someone inadvertently said the word ‘Nutcase’. Oh, and we laughed – now that’s got to be good for your wellbeing.

    What is clear though is that we could have continued all afternoon, people are genuinely interested in exploring the relationships between Social Media and Wellbeing. It is the beginning of a dialogue I hope to continue.

    For Victoria’s view of the day check out her blog at digital mental health.


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