Audience Engagement Guest Columns
3 mins read

Publishers’ social dilemma

Netflix’s latest documentary hit, The Social Dilemma, is a sobering and spine-chilling take on the reality we live in. The film combines expert interviews with a dramatized vision of what current social media trends can lead to and the questionable ways in which it operates, collecting data without consent, mining on young people’s insecurities, and building millions of empty connections at the expense of real-life relationships.

While some aspects of the film may have been overemphasised for artistic purposes, the bleak picture it paints remains very close to our life. For instance, it reveals that social media platforms are governed by surveillance-based business models, put in place with the ultimate objective of exploiting users by way of intelligent algorithms that can identify their vulnerabilities.

The film’s content is worrying, and its message crystal clear: we need to rethink social media before it is too late.

When users first sign up to social media platforms, they experience unprecedented levels of connection as they are linked up to hundreds of peers within minutes. This dopamine rush will never be matched, which does not stop users from trying: they are destined to spend countless hours seeking the initial thrill. Of course, the community effect of these platforms is but a frail illusion. They rely on unsustainable chemistry and not on meaningful connection, inundating us with empty content we do not actively engage with, but which somehow keeps us coming back. Users feel at once overwhelmed yet unstimulated, which explains why time spent on social media has a negative impact on their mental as well as physical health. A number of studies have found a correlation between social media use and depression, anxiety, sleep problems, eating disorders and fatally, suicide.

With such a pessimistic outlook, a key thing Netflix omits from their documentary is that there are sustainable alternatives, or escape routes from Facebook’s mousetrap. With the right approach, we can decentralize social media giants, replacing them with a global network of independent valuable communities, fuelled by passion.

Disciple’s users, as one example, create meaningful connections based on niche interests and use the power of the Internet to link up with a welcoming community. Instead of generalized feeds focused on giving users a temporary high, small communities are all about creating and sharing content that resonates with individuals on a visceral level. Members of these communities have a genuine interest in their community and a strong belief in its values. They are not simply spectators of a one-sided stream of activity, but active members of a diverse group, making real contributions and getting their voices heard. Communities like this replicate the experience of human connection much more authentically than the oversaturated and de-personalized framework of traditional social media platforms.

Thanks to this unique approach, we have seen a significant increase in engagement, as community app audiences stay connected to the source of their passion. Passion communities achieve a retention rate six times higher than the industry standard. The retention rate for these apps – defined as the percentage of users who still use an app 30 days after installation – sits at a staggering 33 percent. These stats show the true power of community – an exceptionally productive force which has been compromised in the hands of profit-focused tech giants, but which we can still reclaim and use to build a better world.

2020 has been a turning point in a number of different ways – politically, economically, environmentally – leading to important realisations about the negative patterns our world is stuck in. In this context, Netflix’s documentary should be less of a terrifying eye-opener than a call to action. The systems we built have turned against us, and it is our responsibility to end this vicious cycle. By recentering socials around positive communities, we can build better networks that really nourish our need for connection. Together, we can solve this Social Dilemma.

Benji Vaughan
CEO and Founder of Disciple Media

Disciple Media specializes in building independent, digital communities where people can coalesce around a single passion. The company has come to the fore by creating a community for music acts like the Rolling Stones, as well as a number of publishers including Forbes.