In the past few weeks I have been reading the book Socialbesity. In this book, writers Mayke Calis and Herm Kisjes elaborate on the trouble that they call socialbesity. In short socialbesity can be explained as the overuse over social media and smartphones and the negative effect this has on people. This phenomenon is mainly seen among teenagers and young adults. “Not getting a response within 10 minutes is really long!”, says Sanne (15) about whatsapp. A student once said she’d rather lose her pink than her smartphone. “If I don’t look, I’m afraid I might miss out on something”, says Femke (21). In the book Calis and Kisjes explain that social media can be very fun and effective, but when used extensively can have serious consequences. Because teenagers and young adults are so active on social media, they from an important target group for many online marketers. If socialbesity becomes a serious problem what could be the consequences for your online marketing strategies?
Why this blog post?
I am writing this blog post for two reasons. The first reason being to present you with an insight in one of the most important target groups of online marketing: teens and young adults on social media. Because they are so active on social media and know their way around it, they are a popular and attractive target for online marketers. For youngsters social contacts are extremely important. This is why peer pressure is more common among this age group than it is in any other. Social media are a great way from them to keep up with their friends, and present themselves positively among their peers. However, as I will elaborate later on, the overuse of social media platforms and the expectations of people to be accessible all the time, can cause stress and fatigue. Especially among youngsters, for they are particularly sensitive to this.
Social media of course are also a very popular tool for online marketers to gain information about their customers and their preferences. It may even be the primary reason for social media use. This brings me to the second reason for writing this blog post. If socialbesity is becoming a social problem, what will this mean for your online marketing strategies?
First, a few short lines about the authors of the book
Mayke Calis (1970) is a journalist and historian. She’s actively written articles for the GPD, a Dutch news agency, about education, upbringing and health care. She’s currently writing for NRC next and the Persdienst, among others. In the past she’s worked as a history teacher in higher education. Calis has her own website. Find it here.
Herm Kisjes (1966) is an addiction specialist and is active as a therapist in his own corporation called Affect2U in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. He’s an expert in the area of internet- and gaming addictions. Previous books he’s co-written are “It’s all in the games” and “Gaming and Autism”. He’s also a teacher and a trainer and active as freelancer on Fontys Hogeschool. His website can be found here.
What is socialbesity?
Let me elaborate on the content of the book socialbesity. Smartphones and social media have made it possible for everyone to be available all the time and everywhere. Teens and youngsters suffering from socialbesity find it difficult to stay away from their phones. They get angry or irritated when they can’t have access to it or when people comment on their heavy smartphone use. In their minds their thoughts are with their online friends. Without their phones they’re afraid to miss out on social updates and statuses. Elsa (21) says about this “A beep on your phone and you have to know who it is. It’s so tempting to look. Every friend on Facebook can see when you’re online”. It’s not their fault completely. The pressure to be social is immense these days. Sometimes it can become too much for them, but quitting is not an option, everybody’s doing it and therefore so are they.
In the following paragraphs numerous concerns around socialbesity are discussed. Beforehand I would like to stress that there are still many advantages to social media and that not all youngsters are dealing with this condition. However, it is a serious development and to my opinion, marketers should be aware of these concerns to shine a light on the other side of social media and the effect it has on teenagers and young adults.
Part of the brain (the nucleus accumbens) of youngsters is enlarged which causes a greater need for rewards, excitement and high kicks. They might be more focused on the fun they’re having today, than the consequences they’d have to face tomorrow. It can be extra difficult for youngsters to resist the temptations of social media. Myself being 21 can relate to this. As I’m writing this blog post I think I’ve checked my phone at least 5 times in the past hour.
Socialbesity can have several negative consequences. One of the most serious consequences being addiction. This danger for addiction is partly due to the fact that youngster are actually biologically more sensitive to it as I explained in the previous paragraph. The addiction will stand in the way of the many responsibilities teenagers have in this time of their life. An important example is that addiction to social media will have a negative effect on their school performances. More time is spent on social networking sites and platforms than on their homework. A mother says about her son Dave (17) “he does his homework while watching TV and answering incoming whatsapps”. Although some are capable of this multitasking, many teenagers with concentration problems will have difficulty focusing on their primary responsibilities.
Another consequence of socialbesity is deterioration of social skills. Although this might seem contradictory because they are being so socially active online constantly, offline teenagers become socially excluded. This is one of the main concerns of socialbesity among parents. “The digital contact is making them communicate in only ‘short soundbites’ and are less and less face to face where actual emotions can be experienced”, says Thea (45, mom). Another parent expresses her concern about her son constantly using his phone even at the dinner table. “Bas is always on his phone, even during dinner times or when I’m trying to have a conversation with him. I find it difficult to set ground rules on when it’s ok for him to use his phone and when I want him to put it away.”
When teenagers do talk to their friends or parents face to face, they are talking to other friends on their smartphones. The opinions among teens about this varies. One teen says “When I’m talking to someone I will still check my phone. With some people I communication from early in the morning to late in the evening. When I receive important messages I wish to answer them immediately. This often happens while I’m talking to someone else. It doesn’t bother me when others are using whatsapp in my presence. I can listen and use whatsapp at the same time.” Eva says about this however “When I’m talking to my friend and she’s talking to other friends on her smartphone, I find it very annoying. Sometimes we get into fights about this.”
Insecurity among teens
A common occurrence among teens using social media networks is insecurity. The explanation for this is simple. Many teens and youngsters will post only positive things about themselves on Facebook, and Twitter and the like. This can make some teens feel like they are uninteresting or not cool enough. The bad things however, are usually not posted by friends on social media. The image they present of themselves is therefore not always accurate and can cause insecurity for others. “Everybody only posts positive things about themselves. This makes it seem like everybody’s always having a good time, which isn’t always the case. The information you need to be there for a friend in need cannot be gained through social media.”
What about your online strategies?
It’s safe to say that because teenagers and young adults are such heavy social media users, they from an important part of your online target group as an online marketer. Much of social media content in general also consists of commercial activities. But what will this mean for your online strategies?
People in their twenties are starting to put away their phones and making less use of social media platforms because it’s so exhausting. This statistic is currently still very small. There are still many social media users among teenagers and young adults. And today, the advantages still outweigh the disadvantages. In the future however, this might change and have serious consequences for your online marketing approaches. Privacy concerns among users are already making an impact on what you can or cannot do for your online marketing.
I’m not saying you should stop using social media as a marketing tool, absolutely not. I’m saying that the online environment is changing and you should not be ignoring it. Stay alert on the trends and developments in the social media world. Maybe start thinking already about what you are going to do for your target audience once they start decreasing their social media activities.
Calis, M en Kisjes, H (2013), Socialbesitas, Middelbeers, uitgeverij InnoDoks