The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.
In recent years, social media has become a central part of how we interact with others. While social media holds many benefits, allowing us to connect with people all over the world, does it really lead to meaningful relationships? Is it possible to move past the shiny personas we present on social media and develop authentic connections?
Platforms intended to help facilitate connection may be making people feel more alone.
Research studies have established a link between frequent social media use and increased feelings of loneliness and social isolation. This is likely due to the fact that many individuals scroll through their news feeds on social media, and feel as though they’re engaging with others- when in fact, they are not reaping the benefits of meaningful social interaction.
For more articles and information about friendship, visit BetterHelp.
How We Use Social Media Matters
Recent research has identified that the most important factor in how social media affects us is how we use it. It can be easy to fall into a pattern of passive use, or scrolling through others’ posts and photos on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. This kind of use was found to be connected with negative affect and feelings of loneliness and decreased self-esteem. This is likely because passive use does not promote meaningful social exchange, while at the same time promoting social comparison. We peruse others’ perfectly curated photos and life updates, and are quick to compare our own ups and downs against the ‘highlight reels’ we see online. This can make us feel increasingly isolated, as we assume that others are ‘living their best lives’ and must not be experiencing the same challenges or negative emotions we seem to be.
On the other hand, if used in an intentional way, social media has the potential to be a powerful avenue for connection and community. We can take steps to move away from passive use and engage with social media in a way that increases feelings of social connection and well-being. Let’s take a look at some ways we can move towards more active use on social media, that can facilitate meaningful relating and social connectedness.
4 Tips for Using Social Media to Cultivate Meaningful Friendship
1. Use social media as a starting point for initiating conversation. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through your news feed, use your social media check as an opportunity to spark conversation. For example, you might notice a friend who you haven’t talked to in a while posting a book you loved on their story. Maybe you could reach out to them and ask their thoughts on the book, and use it as an opportunity to re-connect! Looking for mutual interests and shared experiences on social media can provide an access point for meaningful, reciprocal interaction.
2. Join online communities based on your personal interests or experiences. Consider searching for a group on Facebook where you can connect with others who share similar interests or challenges. There are a wide variety of groups for all kinds of mental disorders, personality types and struggles. This way, you can log on and know that you’ll be able to share your experiences openly with others who can understand and offer support. In the often superficial space of social media, finding these spaces for authentic conversation and community can be so impactful.
3. Develop an authentic social media presence. In order to invite genuine connection, think about the content you are sharing with the world. Instead of focusing on portraying a certain persona, posting exciting life milestones and adventures, think about how you could go deeper. Maybe there’s a cause you are passionate about that you could educate others about. Or perhaps there is something you have been going through that you would like to open up about, that could invite further depth with those who view your post. Making yourself vulnerable on social media can help to foster the kind of meaningful exchanges and connections you’re looking for.
4. Look for opportunities to translate social media connections to real life. If you do begin making meaningful connections through social media, don’t be afraid to try to take them offline. Ask someone you’ve connected with to meet for coffee or for a walk. Maybe you’ve found a group of people in your area that would be open to meet in person or start a support group or book club. Be open to the ways social media could lead to in-person friendships, in ways you might not have expected.