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Being kinder to one another and taking our social media use seriously is the only way we will see fewer suicides and mental health issues arising from our modern digital society and online communities. Social media is the most powerful tool in the world right now, followers are worth more than money, and data is king. We use it daily, even right now, yet we are still miles away from understanding its power, over ourselves and how it affects others.
Reflecting on the past decade, social media has been the worst thing and simultaneously the best thing to happen to me personally. Social Media has given me opportunities that I never thought I would have – be that writing for some great local independent companies (and global companies too) or be it a regular guest slot on radio.
Even my current job as a social media manager I owe to my social media use. I owe it all to setting up a twitter account in 2009 and sending some average tweets that have somehow connected with over 24,000,000 in the last 12 months alone! When I take a step back to think about those numbers, it is petrifying! 15 years ago if you got a feature in your local paper that went out to a few thousand people you would be over the moon.
Social Media has also brought with it true friendship for me. People who have been there for me when I have needed it most. It has also helped to open my mind and find out new information and be informed. While I do believe “social bubbles” exist online, for me it has opened up a world of new ideas and free thought that my curious mind simply wasn’t exposed to growing up.
But with this said, it is also toxic. It a cesspit of abuse, negativity and disgusting content. Starting in 2013 I would start becoming subject of online abuse and it has varied from people trying (and succeeding) to find my address to one of the most recent, which was a lad threatening to shoot me and set my house on fire because his girlfriend liked my pictures on Instagram (seriously!) These are a couple of examples, but trust me – there has been much worse that has left me devastated.
I can handle threats made behind a keyboard, but others may not be able to. Social media itself has caused me more damage than any threat could ever do. I use my phone for over 8 hours a day, with over 150 individual pickups and most days averaging over 500 notifications on a phone that I have most of my notifications turned off on! This isn’t healthy for a human brain or human relationships.
With over 500+ notifications a day I let too much slip and I lack organization. Friends message me and I smile at their message and think “I’ll reply when I have time to give them a proper reply” and then I get snowed under more notifications and end up looking bad. This has cost me friendships over the years, because people assume “I think I’m too important to reply to them” which isn’t the case, I am just snowed under and it’s crippling me.
It has led to something that is a modern phenomenon, which is the paradox of perceived popularity and loneliness existing hand in hand. Putting up a picture and having hundreds of likes and having a single tweet being engaged with by over 100k people but nobody to actually talk to in real life. Everyone assuming that the person with the online engagement must have it in real life too.
Loneliness is a massive issue in society and it doesn’t just affect old people. It is an ever-increasing feeling in the young because of our synthetic, fake online virtual human interaction we receive daily. The ever increasing desire inside of the young to keep our head in a phone screen longing for engagement while the real world passes us by beyond our screen. 40% of 16 to 24-year-old’s often or very often feel lonely, compared with 27% of over 75’s
Research suggests that limiting social media use to 30 minutes a day “may lead to significant improvement in well-being.” Working with 143 undergraduates, researchers found that students who limited their use of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to 30 minutes a day for three weeks had significant reductions in loneliness and depression as compared to a control group that made no changes to their social media diet.
For the past 3 weeks, I have put this into practice, I have deleted my own personal twitter account and I have limited my time on social media beyond my working day. I have tried to read books, go walking, go to the gym, be productive and I am already seeing the benefits, my screentime is down, productivity is up and my happiness has improved.
As a social media professional, I have to be online. But what I have compiled is a list of social media aims that I want to impress on myself to try and make our online community a better, and safer place.
You find yourself always being angry at someone because of what they post? Delete them. Force unfollow them. Remove them. Don’t let what you consume online consume you. While you’re there – consider deleting your ex or that person you fancy who is ghosting you.
When you’re with your friends in real life and you find yourself going on your phone and ignoring them, its time to understand that you have an addiction and it is overspilling into your real life.
Our press and media have created a culture of condemnation for having different views and beliefs. I am a hypocrite writing this, I have been guilty of being so unkind online and I regret it – but we have no idea what people are going through, and you don’t know if they will read your comment and be affected, celebrity or otherwise – be kinder.
Social media gives you feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, pressure but above all – you find a way to make yourself feel happy in a synthetic way. Maybe this is through likes, followers or engagement. When you find that happiness it gives you a rush of dopamine changing the chemicals in your mind, creating an addiction. You want more, but what you seek is synthetic. The internet isn’t reality.
Follow accounts that help your life, too often we follow the negativity and feel like we have to put up with it – we don’t. Get rid of it and follow accounts that enrich your life and encourage you to be better and happier and stop retweeting those who spread hate. Shock and offence are currently the easiest way to gain followers and increase engagement, don’t play their game.
From early on with social media I identified that there are two types of social media users – Creators and Consumers. Some people create the content, other just sit back and consume. Some even do both to a varying degree. If you want to use social media to enrich your life, find a way to contribute positively rather than just becoming another person who is being sold to.
Stop contributing to the abuse. Regardless of if you think the person deserves it or not. Innocent people are being targeted online every day and I dread to think how it will affect the next generation. Be positive and let us start setting an example.
Remember to pick your head up from your phone, get out, walk, enjoy your life, meet real people and spend time with your family. The filters will one day fade when you see the reality of life. Too many of us harvest online relationships these days that never leave the screen. Take it away from the screen and live in the real world.
Social media is destroying our ability to be content, we are always comparing our clothes, hair, teeth, life, jobs, relationships to others – and they are only ever posting their highlights. To be happy is to be content.
If social media isn’t serving your life. Get rid of it. You don’t need to have it, so take time to regularly assess your need for having a specific platform and check if it is serving your life or holding you back.
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