Three steps social networks can take to foster community

Social networks have become part of the fabric of everyday life for many people. Whether it’s checking out what your friends or colleagues are doing, spending time with entertaining clips, or hanging out in comment sections, on average, people spend 2 hours 24 minutes a day on social media. Users often see friends or colleagues in an ideal environment “living their best life” with a filter. But real life is not perfect. It’s messy, and it’s definitely not filtered.

The impact of social media on the mental health of users is increasingly being studied. Recently, 11 state attorneys general launched an investigation into Meta, the parent company of Facebook, for promoting Instagram despite knowing the harm it could cause to the mental health of teen users. A recent study from JAMA found that users of Snapchat, Facebook or TikTok were more likely to report increased symptoms of depression.

There are ways to bring “social” back into social networking and make it what it was intended to be – a place for like-minded individuals to connect and spend time with each other online. Niche social networks have become successful because they make their users feel welcome and provide them with a safe space to interact. Here are some tips that have proven successful in fostering a healthy online community:

1. Listen and adapt to your community

Your community is everything. It is the heart of what you do and every decision you make. As a business leader, you must find time to listen to your community every day. As enthusiastic users of your platform, they can provide insights about your business that may surprise you. There is strength in that. Unsure of the next major step in your business? Tell your community to let you know what they want. And if you do a good enough job of listening to them along the way, they will support you in any changes you make.

2. Think in 3D

When you stare at your screen, you see two-dimensional people — an avatar and text. It can be easy for major social networks to base their business decisions on what you see in 2D, such as how to increase traffic to deliver more ads. But in this scenario, the person behind the avatar is lost. This person is three dimensional. They are real human beings with thoughts, feelings, emotions, and challenges that they deal with on a daily basis. Omission of it causes mistrust and distrust causes people to leave. Think in 3D.

3. Prioritize mental health

We’ve already touched on the potential impacts social platforms can have, but let’s take it a step further. If you take the 3D approach, you realize that you have a huge responsibility as a business leader to create a safe space for your community to interact. Any decision you make that affects your community will affect their real daily lives. Think about the toxic social media experience you’ve had and how you made a lasting impression. If you allow this to happen frequently, you are affecting a real person, in 3D. It is important for you to create a positive, engaging, and welcoming environment to try to avoid triggering depression, anxiety or addiction among users.

A society is only as good as its leader, and social networks place a tremendous amount of trust in its leader. A thriving community is like an entire ecosystem where each person contributes to the health of the whole. It’s possible to bring the fun back to social media as long as the company listens and adapts to its community, people are seen in 3D, and users’ mental health is prioritized.

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