Being a digital media specialist, I often get asked sarcastically if my job pays me to sit on Facebook all day. Well, much to their dismay, it sort of is. While 90 percent of what I do is more mentally daunting than monitoring how our company is faring in the social media world, that other 10 percent spent on social media is equally important to the success of my work. Part of what it takes to generate good content is being on top of trends and making sure that the online temperament will play well with your posts. However, like most things, just when you think you’ve become a master, a group of know-it-all teenagers who could probably type before they learned to talk, hits you right where it hurts.
I recently helped tour a group of high school students around one of our hospitals in hope of inspiring them to pursue careers in the health field. It was refreshing to watch them become enthralled as they learned about things I’m used to seeing every day. When they took selfies with one of the patient-simulation mannequins in our training lab, I couldn’t help but laugh. Ever the PR-person, I jokingly made an announcement that they should post their photos to our Facebook page. I couldn’t even finish my sentence before 20 half-shocked, half-hysterical faces shouted back, “Miiiiiiisssss! We don’t use Facebook!!!” Those Pew Research Center reports I keep up with—already outdated.
I’d been focused so long on the health-consumer audience, that I’d somehow missed the exodus of teens from Facebook to Twitter and Instagram. Amongst other social media sites, these two rely heaviest on hashtags, which can help drive content by indexing messages and making it easier for users to engage in conversation. I regularly search through hashtags on Instagram, in particular, to give me a real look at a product I’m interested in purchasing online.
I’d never even thought about the things teens shouldn’t be looking at until I accidentally stumbled upon a picture of a girl’s leg with about 100 neatly-lined, fresh cuts. (I think the photo came up when I was looking up what hair cut I should get next.) Unfortunately, I quickly found myself in a really dark world of people who post photos associated with self-harm, anorexia, bulimia and others. All the photos had comments underneath from others begging to help them, mostly unanswered. Whether they are real or not, these posts successfully garner attention. They are also very graphic and informative. I learned more about these disorders in one hour than I did in years of learning about them in school.
For as much as you can monitor the activity of young people online, you will never be able to keep track of it all, because it will outpace you. Fortunately, Instagram has guidelines that are working to educate users about any keywords possibly linked to harmful activity and allow for reporting of users. I was happy to get a pop-up warning that told me that what I was about to see was dangerous and links to where I could get help if I felt like I needed it. If you search something related to alcohol, you are asked to verify your age.
Hashtags are not particularly being policed, like most traditional advertising is. So when influencers like Rapper Rick Ross use hashtags to promote the products they endorse, in this case a rosé being affiliated with his lifestyle, they become wildly popular on social media. There is no one stopping #blackbottleboys from happening, like the pop-ups you get on any other alcohol ad or website. In the past, conversations about suicide, depression, and self-harm were hidden and very difficult to have. But with social media, we now see the conversation collected in one place, on a few easily searchable hashtags. It used to be hard to find these teenagers and connect them with qualified care and help because of the stigma surrounding mental health, but you can find them on Instagram. Perhaps I now need to figure out how to leverage what I’ve learned and figure out to communicate to teens in their space and on their terms.
To learn more about Instagram’s Privacy and Safety Initiatives: https://help.instagram.com/