Temptation

Why you want stuff

How do products tempt us? What makes them so alluring? It is easy to assume we crave delicious food or impulsively check email because we find pleasure in the activity. But pleasure is just half the story.

Temptation is more than just the promise of reward. Recent advances in neuroscience allow us to peer into the brain, providing a greater understanding of what makes us want.

In 2011, Sriram Chellappan, an assistant professor of computer science at Missouri University of Science and Technology, gained unheard-of access to sensitive information about the way undergraduates were using the Internet. His study tracked students on campus as they browsed the web. Chellappan was looking for patterns, which not only revealed what students were doing online, but provided clues about who they were.

“We believe that your pattern of Internet use says something about you,” Chellappan wrote in the New York Times. “Specifically, our research suggests it can offer clues to your mental well-being.” Chellappan concluded that there was, in fact, predictive power in the data. He found students with early signs of clinical depression used the Internet differently and he could identify students most likely to face mental health issues simply by looking at how they clicked.

“We identified several features of Internet usage that correlated with depression,” wrote Chellappan. “For example, participants with depressive symptoms tended to engage in very high e-mail usage.”

Chellappan developed the technology in hopes of creating an early-warning system to identify struggling students. But his study raised another question: Why do people with depression check email more?

ALLEVIATING PAIN

The answer may provide clues about why all of us use the products and services we do in our everyday lives. Psychologists believe people with depression feel negative emotions, like anxiety, more frequently than other people do. There is evidence that the depressed students in Chellappan’s study were using the Internet more because they experience negative mental states more often. To try and feel better, they turned to the web to boost their mood.

Finding ways to make ourselves feel better is not something only depressives do. We all seek relief from feeling bad and the brain is primed to help us learn where we can find escape. Just as we might take a Tylenol to relieve a headache, we turn to products to relieve emotional pain. In fact, these two biological processes are so closely linked that taking a Tylenol has been shown to ease both physical and emotional pain. The drug is effective in treating headache and heartache.

Having a pain to cure is a necessary prerequisite to using products. Recent neuroscience reveals the brain even adds pain to things that were previously pleasurable to push us to get what our bodies want. When temptation is activated in the brain, it induces a biological process that not only turns on the pleasure response, but also the body’s physiological stress response.

Consider a 2005 study, which looked at the physiological response of women exposed to images of chocolate. Researchers observed that the women experienced a subconscious reaction of alarm similar to that caused by seeing a threatening animal in the wild. The women, who had identified themselves as “chocolate cravers,” described feeling not only pleasure at the thought of consuming the chocolate, but also agitation, angst, and a feeling of a loss of control in the face of their desire. For these women’s brains, temptation was stressful.

Since the 1950s, researchers have explored how the brain’s reward system compels behavior. Our understanding of the complex circuitry shows that pleasure and pain work together. Once the brain learns something good is about to happen, it induces a craving we feel as stress. The fastest relief from this discomfort is to get what we want.

EXAGGERATION AND FEAR

Companies, of course, are masters of temptation. If marketing is defined as “the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers,” then implicit in this practice is accentuating the positive aspects of what being sold. This idea is borne out in nature as well. Animals have been tricking each other by accentuating desirable traits for millennia. The process is called “super-normal stimuli” and it is a key to enticing action by creating the stress of desire.

Another way products induce intense desire is through a certain kind of fear, particularly our innate need to have as much as the next person. The phenomenon is exhibited by a simple experiment conducted by Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University.

In the study, de Waal rewarded two capuchin monkeys with a cucumber when they completed a simple task, in this case, handing a rock to the researcher. When both monkeys were given the same reward, they completed the task as prescribed.

But when the researcher gave one monkey a grape while offering the other the standard cucumber, the results were very different. The stiffed monkey, who was perfectly content just seconds before with his cucumber, began shrieking, baring his teeth, thrashing in his cage, and pounding on the table to show his anger. Known in the vernacular as FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” marketers utilize this inborn trigger to incite pain akin to what the capuchin monkey felt in de Waals cage.

Marketers tasked with increasing consumption of their company’s products have a difficult job; they are often charged with manufacturing desire. To do that, they need to find the customer’s problem, their pain, in order to alleviate it. Without the biological basis spurring our desire, there would be no sales. So marketers must at least accentuate, if not induce, a level of discomfort to make us crave their wares.

Like the undergraduates in Chellappan’s study exhibiting signs of depression, we all seek to escape feeling bad. The products and services that provide immediate relief are those we come to depend upon most.

Photo Credit: Orofacial

Next Story — How Two Companies Hooked Customers On Products They Rarely Use
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How Two Companies Hooked Customers On Products They Rarely Use

Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet (the company formerly known as Google), has a quirky way of deciding which companies he likes. It’s called “The Toothbrush Test.” According to the New York Times, when Page looks at a potential company to acquire, he wants to know if the product is, like a toothbrush, “something you will use once or twice a day.”

Page clearly understands habits. As I wrote in my book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” frequently used products form sticky customer habits. But what if your product doesn’t pass Page’s Toothbrush Test? Perhaps you’d like people to use your product or service frequently, but it just doesn’t make sense to do so.

A few months ago, I was hired to present at a gathering of 700 real estate agents. The master of ceremonies made a gracious introduction, saying, “Now we’ll hear from Nir Eyal, an expert on consumer habits. Nir is going to teach us how to make home buying and selling into a habit!”

The breath went out of me like I’d been punched in the solar plexus.

I trudged on stage and gripped the podium. “I’m sorry,” I said. “There must have been some misunderstanding.” I paused to catch my breath. “There is no way I am going to teach you how to make home buying and selling into a habit, because it has no chance of ever becoming a habit.”

I glanced over my shoulder trying to find the woman who’d introduced me, hoping she’d save me, but she was already slinking off the stage. I was stuck. I hadn’t prepared another talk, so I gave the planned presentation, based on my book.

I explained that home buying and selling doesn’t occur nearly often enough to become a habit. Furthermore, the very definition of a habit — a behavior done with little or no conscious thought — is the antithesis of the kind of overthinking that real estate transactions inspire.

As I finished my talk, I expected crickets. Instead, I received a generous round of applause and a small mob of real estate agents gathered around me as I got off stage. As the lights came up and the convention adjourned for a break, the agents peppered me with questions. They all had ideas to share.

“I know home buying and selling can’t be a habit,” one woman spoke up. “That’s fine. But what if I make a habit of doing something else related to home buying and selling?” I was intrigued.

Soon, other agents chimed in and built upon each other’s ideas, coming up with all sorts of ways to keep potential customers engaged. Their ideas helped me realize that even infrequently used products and services can keep customers hooked.

There are at least two ways to build a habit around an infrequently used product: content and community.

However, let me be clear: Not every business needs to be habit-forming. There are lots of ways to bring customers back, and many companies succeed without relying on customers’ habits. They buy advertising, spend money on search engine optimization, or open a storefront to capture customers’ attention as they walk by. But traditional methods of keeping customers engaged force businesses to rent space on someone else’s website, search engine, or street corner. By contrast, owning a customer’s habit is an asset that pays you.

Content

So, how do infrequently used products bolt on a habit-forming experience? The first way is by making a habit of consuming great content.

“Every time someone in my neighborhood has personal finance questions, I want them to come to me,” one real estate agent told me after my talk. Her plan was to create a site and app full of articles, videos, and financial calculators to form a content habit with potential home buyers and sellers. “What if I write new articles or post the ones I find online about topics I know people have on their minds?” she asked.

I nodded in agreement as she described building a site that would teach people to come to her for information that would help them make financial decisions. If she could build potential customers’ habit of consulting her site, she could increase the odds of people transacting with her when the time came to buy or sell their homes.

She had stumbled upon a tactic used by Y Combinator, a company the New York Times called “Silicon Valley’s Start-Up Machine.” Y Combinator is in the business of finding promising young tech companies and helping them become the next AirBnB or Dropbox (both Y Combinator companies).

Though Y Combinator has sealed its reputation at the top of its industry, it was once a newcomer competing for attention with traditional venture capital funds and angel investors. Even today, Y Combinator’s success depends on finding the best founders, which means staying top of mind. But founders don’t apply to Y Combinator frequently enough for it to be a habit.

How does the startup accelerator stay connected to the tech community? The answer is content. Hacker News, a content aggregation site owned by Y Combinator, was visited 18.6 million times in July 2016. Hacker News went online in 2007, less than two years after Y Combinator’s founding, and has been a fixture of Silicon Valley tech and culture ever since. Though it’s not Y Combinator’s core business, it has successfully drawn attention to the accelerator by forming a content-consumption habit.

HackerNews

The constantly changing list of articles has all the elements of a habit-forming product I describe in my book. Users check the site daily between coding sessions or during breaks to find the latest industry news and happenings. As they browse, they accrue a reputation score for their contributions to the site.

Though Hacker News is an “autonomous unit,”according to the company, it’s clear the site is still an arm of Y Combinator. The top left corner of Hacker News features the Y Combinator logo as the home button, and a link at the bottom of the page invites visitors to “Apply to YC.” But the hooks in Hacker News go even deeper. As TechCrunch reported, “Hacker News has a strong affiliation with Y Combinator. … Founders usually all create a Hacker News account when they apply, and that user name is the founder’s identity at Y Combinator.” Recently, Y Combinator doubled down on its content strategy. In November, the accelerator launched The Macro, a content site featuring original writing by members of the Y Combinator team.

Y Combinator has profited from the popularity of Hacker News. Despite the fact that Hacker News is not the primary way Y Combinator makes money, the content consumption habit fills the funnel with potential applicants and has become a valuable asset in its own right.

Community

Another way infrequently used products form a habit is by building a community. Let’s say you’ve got a product people tend to buy just once a year — like Christmas ornaments. One might assume interest in such a product is nil for 11 months of the year.

However, for members of Hallmark’s Keepsake Ornament Club, engagement with (and revenue from) the seasonal product goes strong year ’round. The Keepsake Ornament Club (or KOC as members call it) is a surprising example of the power of community.

Though the group is mostly unknown to outsiders, the KOC boasts more than 400 local chapters across the country. An industry research report claimed the club had 350,000 members in 2001.

A recent look at the club’s official Facebook page showed photos of members queuing in long lines for a chance to meet with the artists behind some of their favorite ornaments. The people in the photos aren’t wearing heavy coats to protect them from the December snow; they’re wearing shorts. The Christmas-themed event took place in the middle of August.

The lines at the Hallmark store in August

Hallmark has cultivated a thriving community around its seasonal products, but the secret of the club’s success is about more than the ornaments. Local chapters of the KOC are organized by neighborhood Hallmark stores as well as the national organization — sort of like a Kiwanis Club for collectors. Similar to a civic group, many of the local affiliates organize frequent gatherings and social events.

Linda, an employee of a Hallmark store in Pleasanton, California, who preferred I didn’t use her last name, told me her store’s club has 25 members and is considered small. (Some clubs have hundreds of devotees.) Still, Linda’s group meets regularly and members trade ornaments, as well as banter, via email. A privilege available exclusively to club members, Linda told me, was the chance to package new ornaments as they arrive at the store. Some might consider the job manual labor, but to club members, it’s a treat.

Collecting is a major draw for KOC members and there’s a special psychology associated with collectables that is not easily replicated by other industries. However, the product facilitates something else club members really want — social interaction.

Likewise, after my talk to the real estate agents, a gentleman told me about an idea he had for using community to build a habit for his business. “What if I start an email list or website for people who live in my neighborhood?” he proposed. “Every couple days I’ll let people know what’s going on in their area — local happenings, high school sports, things like that.”

“Sure!” I told him. He went on, “Then, if they want to go to games together, they’ll coordinate through the online group.” I loved the idea and assured him that if people depended on him as the hub to connect his community, his real estate business would be in great shape.

Monetization is a Result of Engagement

When it comes to designing products people love, far too many companies focus on getting customers to check out instead of getting them to check in. There’s no doubt that a frequently used product like Facebook, Slack, or Snapchat has an easier time of changing consumer habits. However, habits can still help companies that might make a sale to consumers every few months or years.

Companies looking to build consumer habits should remember that monetization is a result of engagement — not necessarily the other way around. For a financial services firm, a real estate agent, or a seasonal business, buying the product or service might not be a habit — but creating related habits around content and community can pay off in reputation, satisfaction, and sales.

Here’s the gist:

  • Owning a customer’s habit is an asset that pays you.
  • But it is difficult (if not impossible) to turn infrequently used products into a customer habit.
  • Rather than trying to make the product into a habit, infrequently used products should build habits around the product.
  • Too many companies focus on getting customers to check out instead of getting them to check in.
  • Building a content or community habit are two ways to keep people engaged.
  • Monetization is a result of engagement — not necessarily the other way around.

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Nir Eyal is the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and blogs about the psychology of products at NirAndFar.com. For more insights on changing behavior, join his free newsletter and receive a free workbook.

Next Story — Conquer Distractions With This Simple Chart
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Conquer Distractions With This Simple Chart

Is the world more distracting? Sometimes it seems that way. With our digital devices buzzing, world events demanding our attention, and more things to entertain us than ever before, it certainly seems harder to focus on what’s really important. And yet, focus is exactly what it takes to get things done and get ahead.

Distraction might appear more available than ever, but it is nothing new. Over 2,000 years ago, Socrates and Aristotle debated the nature of “akrasia,” (pronounced uh-crazy-uh), our tendency to act against our better judgement. To the ancient Greeks, mere mortals were prone to distraction due to our weakness of will. Easy for them to say — Socrates and Aristotle never had to resist binge-watching “Game of Thrones.”

In this Golden Age of distraction, what does it take to focus? How do we do what we must so we can have the lives we really want? Instead of blaming our puny attention spans, we should dig deeper to understand how certain products affect us.

I’ll use my own struggle as an example.

I decided to plot certain products and services on the matrix below. On one axis is the question of whether the product is harmful to my life. On the other, I asked myself whether I could stop using the product or whether I was dependent. With this two-by-two tool, I can begin to classify certain products and decide how to put them in their place. You can do this, too — and you probably should.

Goods

The top left quadrant is an easy one. Things that aren’t harmful and I can easily stop using are what I call “Goods.” The vast majority of the products and services I use fit into this category. Goods are not problematic. In fact, I wish I used some of these things, like my gym membership, meditation app, or water bottle, more frequently.

Necessities

In the upper right are “Necessities.” These things are not harmful but I can’t stop using them without serious consequences. For example, food, clothing, and shelter all fall into this bucket. As much as I wish I didn’t have to shove nutrients into my face hole to stay alive and that societal norms allowed public nudity, unfortunately, that isn’t the case. I can’t stop consuming these things even if I wanted to.

One might also argue that having a connection to certain technologies like an email account or Google has also become a necessity. Disconnecting won’t kill you, but neither would walking around the office in the buff. Rather, society expects certain things of us (like being web proficient and accessible through email) and we would find it difficult to live, work, and sustain personal and professional relationships without these services.

It’s interesting to note that this category can become harmful, depending on the degree of use. For example, eating too much food or spending too much money on clothing can have negative consequences, but there’s nothing inherently bad about these products when used in the right amounts.

To make sure we don’t over-use, we set budgets, listen to our bodies’ satiety, and set limits. The key is to monitor and moderate our use. When it comes to necessities, most people find self-regulating relatively easy. It’s the next category of products that presents a bigger challenge.

Distractions

I love sweets, I love Facebook, and I love YouTube. But as much as I love these things, they don’t love me back. For me (but not necessarily you), these products are harmful. Your harmful distractions might include other indulgences, like being a sports fanatic, a romance novel reader, a Netflix binger, a political news junkie, or worse. In any case, it’s not for me (or anyone else for that matter) to point fingers at whatever poison you pick.

What all distractions have in common is that they have the potential to keep us from living the life we want. When I think about what I want to accomplish with my remaining time on this planet, certain things just aren’t helping me.

If I could wave a magic wand and no longer want to use these products, I would. Unfortunately, there is no such craving-killing spell. The reality is, I do want to consume these things. They’re fun! They’re entertaining! They’re delicious! But they’re also driving me akrasia. The tendency Socrates and Aristotle warned us about lives right here.

Why do we do things against our better interests? For the most part, when a product doesn’t give the customers what they want, they stop buying it. You wouldn’t keep buying apples at a grocery store that sells rotten fruit. But distractions are sneaky. We use them despite knowing they aren’t doing us any good. Distractions trick us into hurting ourselves by dulling our awareness of the price we’re paying. They feel good now, but we feel bad later.

However, as seemingly sinister as distractions might be, the responsibility to quit them is on us. Though I’d like to say I’m powerless against the pull of Facebook, YouTube, or sweets, that’s not really true. “Distractions” are defined as behaviors that harm us but that we can stop doing, if we choose.

How do we put distractions in their place? The answer is: we realize and reduce.

The first step is to call these products what they are. Distractions are bad habits. For me, a scroll of the newsfeed, a sweet snack after a meal, or a video binge after work are all things I do just ’cause.

By definition, habits are impulses to do a behavior with little or no conscious thought. Therefore, the solution starts with bringing consciousness to an otherwise unconscious act. When I asked myself the uncomfortable questions, “Is this product serving me? Does it help me do what I really want?” I answered with a sheepish, “No.”

Over the past several years, I’ve dissected what makes products habit-forming and compiled what I learned into my book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.” I discovered habit-forming products take users along four basic steps that keep us coming back: a trigger, an action, a variable reward, and an investment.

It’s not that candy makers and tech companies are evil; it’s that the market rewards them for making products people want. By and large, that’s a good thing. However, the result is more engaging Facebook feeds, more engrossing YouTube videos, and more delicious desserts.

In a world where the features that make a product better also makes it harder to resist, the answer lies in the ability to spot these hooks and deliberately break them where they don’t serve us. When we understand how products hook us, they lose some of their power. Getting unhooked starts with removing the triggers, making the action more difficult, delaying the rewards, and consciously not investing.

For the specific techniques I used to unhook myself from technology, see this video.

Our world is full of products designed to hook us. However, only we can decide if they serve us. Once we divide helpful products from harmful, our distractions can be dealt with and controlled.

Unfortunately, there’s one category of product people can’t control.

Addictions

When a product is harmful and users want to stop using it, but can’t, the product is more than a distraction; it’s an addiction. A relatively small percentage of people suffer from true addictions, but the consequences of these compulsive behaviors can be serious. Whether it’s an addiction to gambling, pornography, video gaming, shopping, or alcohol, people caught in the cycle of abuse harm themselves and, often, those closest to them.

The defining characteristic of addictions — that the user is unable to stop despite the harm caused — points to something deeper. It’s not just that the product is designed to hook the user, it’s that despite knowing the consequences, users can’t put it away even when they try. The user is no longer in full control; without help, it’s nearly impossible to quit. Recovery usually involves understanding the deeper psychology driving the addiction — a task most addicts find difficult, if not impossible, to resolve on their own.

Addictions are serious. It’s important that we don’t trivialize the experience of someone struggling with actual addiction by comparing it to our Facebook or sugar habits (unless, of course, you truly are addicted).

The Takeaway

For thousands of years, people have struggled with distractions that keep them from living the lives they imagine. Today, people find themselves attached to their mobile phones, but history shows us it’s only the latest in a long list of hindrances. A few decades ago, people complained about the mind-melting power of television. Before that it was arcade games, the telephone, the pinball machine, comic books, the radio, even the written word.

Not only is distraction here to stay, it will likely become harder to ignore as technology continues to make things even more engaging. However, that’s not necessarily a problem — it’s progress! We want products to improve, but we must also stay vigilant, asking whether “better” products bring out our better selves.

To ensure that technologies and products serve us, instead of us serving them, it’s useful to take a quick inventory of the products we use most (the list is probably in your browser history or home screen on your phone), classify these products, tackle each accordingly — and then get on with building the life we want.

What do you think? Are these classifications helpful? How do you deal with your distractions, addictions, and necessities? Let me know in the comments below:

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Next Story — Should We Worry About the World Becoming More Addictive? Q&A with Nir Eyal
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Should We Worry About the World Becoming More Addictive? Q&A with Nir Eyal

Nir’s Note: This Q&A recently appeared on the 15five.com blog and it pulled out some thoughts I’ve been chewing on regarding technology, addiction, and our relationship with the products we use. I’ve edited it slightly and hope you find it interesting.

Should We Worry About the World Becoming More Addictive?

Question: Pokémon GO is all the rage right now. Can you talk about that in the context of a habit forming product? Is it negative or positive?

Nir Eyal: We have to think of technology in the broader context of the environment that we live in. The knee jerk reaction that always occurs with a new technology is that we don’t like it. We are averse to change and fear new technologies.

When you think about Pokémon (which is a lot less revolutionary than other technologies) in the context of what else people could be doing with their time, I think it’s pretty good. Pokémon can be considered one of the first mainstream fitness apps with wide appeal, that just so happens to be disguised as a game. You can’t play it sitting in your living room. Compare it to Clash of Clans or Candy Crush, that are not social and very sedentary.

Q: People are so engrossed in the game that they are actually getting injured. What is the difference psychologically or physiologically between habit and all-out addiction? Is Pokémon an addiction or just lack of awareness.

NE: A habit is just a behavior done with little or no conscious thought, about 40% of the behavior that you do every day is impulsive. Habits can be good or bad, but addictions by definition are always bad. An addiction is a persistent compulsive dependency on a behavior or substance that hurts the user.

There should be a rule that any sufficiently good and popular technology will form an addiction. But if a user is not harmed and the behavior is not something that the user can’t stop without assistance, then it’s not an addiction. When we look at Pokémon GO, it doesn’t really pass that test. It’s enjoyable, engaging, and habit forming. And yes, some folks won’t be able to stop and will become addicted. What to do about them is a different ethical question.

The good news is that for the first time in history, people who are making products that are potentially addictive can mitigate the harm. Addiction is nothing new, but now the maker of an addictive product knows who the addicts are. Distillers of alcohol don’t have that much insight into the identities or behaviors of end users, so there’s not much they can do for them. With companies who create products like Facebook, Instagram, or Pokémon GO that will create addicts, they could do something if they wanted to.

As I work with these companies and consult them, I know that those addicted are a small number, only 1–2% of the population. But for those small percentage of users I think these companies do have an ethical responsibility, and I increase awareness of this issue to encourage them to do something about it.

For most of us however, what most people flippantly call an “addictive product,” like Pokemon Go or Facebook, is just an engaging products. But would we want it any other way? No, we want products that we enjoy using. The vast majority of people know when they are using these products too much, and they opt to self-regulate.

Q: In Hooked you raise the ethical question of manipulation. Research is emerging that overuse of social media (if not outright addiction) has negative impacts on mental health. Couldn’t Google, Facebook, and Twitter get ahead of inevitable tech-burnout by advocating for something like an hour of downtime each day, even factoring the disruption to the revenue stream?

NE: What we’re seeing already is the proliferation of what I call attention retention devices — technologies specifically designed to block out the triggers and distractions from other technologies. Here are some examples that I use:

- DF YouTube is a Chrome browser plugin that gets rid of all of the videos on the sidebar of YouTube. This prevents me from watching one video after another.

- Facebook News-feed Eradicator prevents something engineered to suck me in, from distracting me.

- I never read an article on my desktop, I always save it to Pocket. The app removes all of the ads and links to other articles. I reward myself when going to the gym by listening to these articles later.

- I use Freedom, to block my internet while I’m writing. This prevents me from checking email or doing research when I should be thinking to get my work done.

Companies would be wise if instead of making it so difficult to leave sometimes, they would make it easier to moderate use. Instead of users burning-out and abandoning altogether, these companies can help us moderate.

This is the challenge of our generation, the first to grow up with interactive technology from birth. We are struggling with trying to figure out how to put tech in its place, even though it’s great and interesting and meets our needs so well.

Information today is no longer scarce. I’m a Gen-Xer, and when I was applying to college I received pamphlets in the mail boasting the size of their libraries. Today information is abundant, but knowledge and insight is scarce. To gain insight we need information, but also the attention and focus to process that information into knowledge. What will differentiate success from failure, and contributors from consumers, will be our ability to focus and control our attention. How will we think deeply and get our work done when there is so much distraction out there?

By the way, this is not really new. Socrates and Aristotle debated the nature of akrasia — the tendency to do things against our interests. We have always had distraction in our lives. When we have to do hard work, we try to weasel out. What has changed is the medium. Maybe for our grandparents it was reading a trashy novel. Maybe for our parents it was radio or TV. Today the new medium is interactive technology, but we’re not hopeless to fight it.

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Q: I deactivated my Facebook account this week, but I need to post to social media as part of my job. Any suggestions for managers to disrupt negative employee habits regarding social media? Are there any companies that impose these protocols?

NE: So your question is, “as a social media manager, how do I avoid social media?” (Nir and I laugh.) I think the deeper concern is not how to eradicate it altogether, but how to prevent it from creeping into areas of our life where it doesn’t belong.

There are all kinds of things you can do to address that. Speak to your employer about your company culture to see what’s expected. Are you expected to be at the company’s beck and call 24/7? If so you need to know that and maybe you’re not okay with it. Many employers will provide some guidance as to expectations of performance when managing social media and email over a specific time period each day.

Employees should discover how much time they are expected to do what Cal Newport calls Deep Work — that’s thinking and producing as opposed to reacting. You cannot tweet repeatedly while you are writing an article or working in your reflection time.

The other question that I think is more severe is, “what if I don’t like social media at all?” In that case, I don’t see a difference from picking any sort of profession that doesn’t comply with your preferences. For example, I like nature but I don’t like working outdoors all day. Being a forest ranger would not be a good career for me.

We should ask ourselves what suits our temperament. Just because something is a hot field, you don’t have to necessarily work in that field. And if you do like it, then keep it in your professional life and don’t let it bleed over into other segments like your personal time.

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