How Social is Social Media?

I recently listened to an ABC podcast in which social researcher Hugh Mackay discussed worryingly high levels of anxiety and loneliness in Australia.

how social is social mediaHugh named the rise in social media among the causes of these mental health epidemics, and suggested compassion – or kindness and connection – as the antidote.

Which made me ponder the paradox of our modern world. Why, when we are seemingly more connected than ever, do so many of us feel alone?

Are we replacing real, genuine connection with online interaction and suffering as a result?.

The social media misnomer

Did you know 60% of Australians (around 15 million people, including me) use Facebook regularly to connect with friends, keep up to date with current events and find out what’s on in their neighbourhood?

In addition, recent social media statistics tell us that around 9 million Australians have an Instagram account, 6.4 million are Snapchatting and 4.7 million send tweets via Twitter.

Those are big numbers that indicate a lot of social connections, but we all know an active social media account is not the same as an active social life.

What the research says

Are the naysayers right? Is social media negatively impacting our mental health and wellbeing?

Well, there are plenty of studies that suggest social media use leads to higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression. The comparisons invited by many platforms have been shown to raise feelings of envy and lower self-esteem and, for those who are already socially isolated, looking in at the highly curated lives of others can add to feeling of loneliness.

The thing is, there are also studies which point to Twitter reducing stress levels – there’s nothing better than having a place to vent – Facebook helping people feel part of a community and Instagram making people work harder towards their goals.

What this tells us is that, like everything else in life, there are no absolutes when it comes to social media use.

And, given the prevalence of social media, the way we all now look for and find information, not to mention the number of social gatherings instigated and organised online (FOMO alert), for many of us there’s no way back.

But there is a way forward and, as obvious as it sounds, for me it’s all about balance.

What I love and what I question about social media

I have a list of pros and cons that justify, and keep in check, the time I give to social media.


  • Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with my cousins and it’s been wonderful
  • I’ve been able to get back in touch with old school friends
  • Facebook provides an easy way to message friends
  • I can research a business before using them
  • I find out about a whole range events in my local area
  • It’s good to know when my favourite brands are on sale
  • I can follow and have easy access to my preferred news source


  • It’s hard not to compare yourself and your life to others, especially through the highly filtered Instagram lens
  • You only see the cream – the best photos, the happy days, the amazing overseas holiday
  • Is following a long lost friend or relative really the same as genuinely “reconnecting”
  • Oh the time you can waste!
  • Annoying ads.
  • Is there such a thing as too much information from friends and family? Yes there is…

When do you need a social reboot

My lists are fairly even. I recognise where I need to take care – comparing myself to others is not helpful – and limit my use of social media when I need to.

But, if you find using social media is diminishing your self-esteem or raises your stress and anxiety levels, it’s probably time to step back and step out into the real world.

According to Hugh Mackay “the state of the nation starts in your street”. He suggests getting to know your neighbours, not necessarily to form friendships, but to create a “herd” – a group of people you could call on in an emergency and who could call on you. It can’t hurt.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing

But, for most of us, keeping a toe in the social media pool doesn’t hurt either.

In fact, it’s rather like the research I mentioned earlier. There’s two sides to every story.

Anabel Crabb and Leigh Sales podcast Chat 10 Looks 3 gives us a case in point. Listeners of this podcast have formed a Facebook group of “Chatters”, and in almost every episode there is mention of acts of kindness from the group.

In this episode, the Chatters work together to provide a group member, who is stranded in a hospital a long way from home, is given a wealth of support and kindness by strangers. It was an emergency situation diffused by an online community…and a cabbage…but I’ll leave Anabel and Leigh to explain that one.

Why social media has a place in your life and business

So, while I totally agree with Hugh that our world could do with more compassion, I also think that online kindness and connection can work alongside, and sometimes strengthen, real life support. And, in terms of your business it can certainly strengthen your connection to potential customers.

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