SiteCrafting’s Hot Take: The Social Dilemma

Marketing Social Media
Jen Rittenhouse

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. This has been my mantra for the past 15 years as I’ve traversed industries and mediums as a brand marketer for products, businesses, ideas and services. 

For every radio spot I’ve written, for every tweet I’ve scribed, and for every campaign I’ve planned, this mantra has played over and over in my head like that one John Mellencamp song you just can’t shake once you hear it.

Watching the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma underscored my belief that marketers are beholden to audiences over ROI every day of the week. Now that we know algorithms are at the helm of our emotions, purchase behaviors and information streams, respect is the currency of the internet. 

We must remain human. We are, after all, marketing to other humans. The brands that forgo spending money for vanity metrics and create content with integrity will add value in the moment and pave the way for those big meaningful wins we are all chasing. (No, I’m not talking about viral content. Don’t even get me started.)

In addition to fueling fodder for this slightly ranty blog post, The Social Dilemma inspired me to start a Slack channel to hear what a few of my peers were thinking in the wake of watching. From truth and bias, to the exploitation of our attention and our responsibility as marketers, here is a sampling of our thoughts.

On The Exploitation of Our Attention

In graduate school at UW, I was part of a directed research group that focused on persuasive design. We researched behavioral change through technology for overall wellness. The techniques that we studied and used were focused on improving overall wellbeing whether through physical, mental or financial health. I was proud of the work we did and I still am. Although we never felt ethically conflicted about our research, the specter of what could be done with persuasive design techniques was always there. We deal with these types of interactions frequently within UX. 

The exploitation of our attention comes at too high of a cost. The polarizing effect of news and social media is deliberate and damaging. So, what can be done? 

In the short term, turn off your phone or step away from your computer, go outside, and take a deep breath. In the long term, I recommend taking some advice from Humane Tech on taking back control

  • Turn off notifications 
  • Delete problematic apps
  • Stay away from outrage sites and apps

We’re all in this together. Don’t let the internet tell you otherwise.

– Chuck Johnston, User Experience Manager

Chuck teaches ethics at UW Tacoma to Computer Science students. Every quarter he focuses one class on persuasive design that features readings from Tristan Harris and BJ Fogg. This quarter his class will also watch The Social Dilemma to underscore the implications of what they may someday create.

On Truth, Bias and Your Facebook Feed

We are living in a post-truth age full of fake news and alternative facts. The line about each of us getting our own version of truth from the Social Dilemma stuck with me. This is also a point from a recent Nerd Farmer podcast featuring Sarah Frier, author of No Filter. In essence, our newsfeed is feeding our egos and biases. My newsfeed is not your newsfeed, and thus my truth becomes just truth for me. This separates us. If you were to review my newsfeed you’d find that what really matters is cat videos (cats vs. babies is worth searching), epic fails, outdoor posts (fishing, climbing, etc), and offers to make my life better. I have no doubt the same is true for you. Much like watching only the same channel on TV feeds into this truth. This is confirmation bias and it’s not helping us as individuals or as a society.

I encourage everyone to consider reading something that makes you uncomfortable, listening to someone you think you disagree with, and seeing clearly the bias and ego that is reinforced daily through platforms such as this.

– Brian Forth, Founder and Brand Ambassador

On our Responsibility as Marketers

As digital marketers, our job is to help our clients achieve their business goals by helping promote content via social media or their website. The Social Dilemma reminds me of the fact that ultimately, our true customers are the people who are consuming the content that we help create.

How can we be responsible stewards of information to the general public while also serving the needs of our clients? When it comes to issues like protecting personal information, that line is pretty clear. We are either protecting that information or not. Some of the more difficult questions center around our role as partial gatekeepers of content. When we are helping clients try and rank for keywords on the first page of Google, what is our responsibility to ensure that their content is worthy of ranking so highly? How are we measuring success for campaigns that is beyond just spending money and getting eyes on a piece of content? I want to encourage more conversations about providing content that is valuable to the customer, not just answering to the C-suite.

Angie Carson, Manager of Web Strategy

Have you watched The Social Dilemma? Are you rethinking your social media marketing efforts as a result? We’d love to know. Hit us up on, er, social media or send me an email so we can talk about it.