Social Media: Addiction, Affliction or Assumption

Perhaps an ironic title, given that this post will itself be shared online and on social media platforms. But is social media the greatest boon of our times? Or a necessary evil? Most of us can relate to having uneasy and at times mixed feelings about the dominance of social media in our lives.

We love it (Addiction).
We loath it (Affliction).
We need it and can’t live without it (Assumption).

My Sponsored Life

I spent a couple of hours this week watching Vogue William’s new documentaries currently airing on RTE which offer an intriguing insight into the world of social media. In the second episode called My Sponsored Life, she considers the role of the social influencer, a job which barely existed 5 years ago.

Vogue is no slouch herself in the social media department, with 584,000 followers on Instagram (her husband Spencer Matthews has 743,000). She readily admits to having an uncomfortable relationship with her influencer status and dislikes the term.

It’s not difficult to see why influencers have become all-pervasive. In an era of information overload, people tend to reduce their news sources to a manageable number and like to receive this information through the lens of people they trust, can relate to and seek to emulate.

It might seem like an easy, fun and seductive way to earn a living. According to PR guru Lynne Hunter on the programme, “You can build a business from your phone. That’s genius.”

Or is it?

Vogue acknowledges the self-validation aspect of being an influencer. Posting something. Trial by “likes”. Constant checking. Obsessing over algorithms and how to make them work for you. It’s clear that influencing as a career may be short-lived and it’s perhaps best viewed as a platform for developing other longer term business interests.

As an aside, one of the more bizarre influencers featured on the programme is an impossibly cute 3lb dog called Norbert living in California with his own You Tube channel, a huge Instagram following and a full range of merchandise. Norbert’s owner puts his appeal down to the fact that he simply makes people happy. It is an uncomplicated and endearing proposition in a jaded world.

Cats on You Tube will have to sharpen their claws and find a new competitive advantage.

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White Moose Cafe

Perhaps one of the most interesting interviews on the programme is with Paul Stenson of The Charleville Hotel and White Moose Café, on Dublin’s north side. Over the years, Stenson has waged Twitter warfare on vegans, pensioners, breastfeeding mothers, coeliacs and even an entire nation (Brazil), all in the interests of free publicity.

A couple of years ago while on a business trip to the US, I was surprised when an American trade contact had not just heard of the White Moose but declared himself a huge fan of Stenson’s tweets. As the café is located no more than a stone’s throw from where I live, I sent him the featured photo on my return (he was very tickled …).

Stenson achieved near infamy in early 2018 after he inadvertently exposed a UK blogger who was looking for a free stay in exchange for coverage. In conversation with Vogue, Stenson defends his social media strategy as merely a very effective and free marketing tool. Arguably, he is an influencer himself who sets out to poke fun and make “divilment”, as he puts it, while self-promoting. In other words, stir things up.

Food, beverage and hospitality businesses do lend themselves particularly well to social media. It’s a great leveler. No one is too interested in the size of a business if the information flow is entertaining, authentic and informative. Some home-grown food brands have been built very successfully in this way. It does help if you are telegenic and on-trend (think Happy Pear twins).

Social media can also enable a direct line of communication. Who remembers the Co Clare guesthouse owner who posted a 3 page riposte to a negative review on Trip Advisor, pointing out calmly and eloquently the guests failings and unreasonable behaviour? A firm way of taking back control.

I think we can all say aye to that.

My Sponsored Life is currently on RTE Player.

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