Streaks are hugely powerful on social media. Your teens can tell you all about how important they are, especially on Snapchat. I picked my daughter up from a weekend retreat today and kids were talking about how the fact that they were willing to give up their streaks evidences how much they really wanted to attend.
It's not just teens, though, I've recently seen adults bragging about their 100 day streaks on Timehop.
What is the point of streaks?
On 60 Minutes tonight, a former Google product manager, Tristan Harris, sat down with Anderson Cooper and explained how social media apps are designed to hook users. (You can read the full transcript of the 60 Minutes segment here.)
Harris explained that social media companies are programming people as well as apps. More people and more time mean that companies can charge more for ad space. That benefits their bottom line.
Social media companies want your attention on their platform, and they want to hold on to it as long as they can. Streaks are not only addictive, offering positive reinforcement each time you log on, but they keep people coming back over and over.
It's also why there are little bits of competition included in apps, and teens use streak length. Chances are your teens know people who have really long streaks.
Even scrolling is designed to keep users on an app. People keep scrolling wondering what they'll find next.
Harris says that teens are not using social media in the same way parents used telephones when they were kids. That's because "your telephone in the 1970s didn’t have a thousand engineers on the other side of the telephone who were redesigning it to work with other telephones and then updating the way your telephone worked every day to be more and more persuasive. "
Social media platforms like Snapchat, Ask.fm, Twitter, Facebook, etc. are continually evolving to manipulate users' behavior in ways that are good for them and their bottom line.
Watching the segment, I quickly recognized that a lot of my own behaviors on social media platforms are beneficial to the companies behind them.
Stepping back makes it easy to see that. But it's also very easy for users of any age to forget in the moment when on the app that social media is using us and manipulating our behavior to benefit their bottom line. And it's entirely possible that our kids have never considered that fact.
If they are to be smart and savvy media-literate consumers, it's something they need to be aware of. Social media is not a non-profit, it's a business. Awareness of that may not lead teens to dramatically change their behavior, but better to be aware than not.
When discussing this with them, take it a step further and ask them about their favorite apps and what features they enjoy most. Then ask them how those features benefit the company behind the app.
Have conversations with kids to help them understand both that apps that connect people can be great and that social media manipulates users to make money.
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