Over the years, social media has been regarded by many as a place where people are seemingly soulless and unfeeling. Anonymity gives every internet user a bit of courage to say and do things that they would never do in person. And while this ultimately points to an age of cyberbullies who thrive off of viciously attacking people, this also brings up an important question: as social media users, how prevalent is empathy? And, from a marketing perspective, how important is empathy for influencers today?
As someone who was brought up in an age where my middle school days were spent coding to customize my Myspace profile on my old, clunky PC and my university days could be filled with whipping out my smartphone, and scrolling down my Twitter feed to see the latest viral cat video, I’ve noticed that we as people have become more empathetic through social media. I’m not the only one who thinks so either.
According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, people who use Facebook frequently receive more social support than other people. Additionally, Facebook users are reported to be more trusting than others, have more close relationships, and are more politically engaged than those who either do not use Facebook or use it infrequently.
And despite the reputation social media receives for being this seemingly black hole of negativity, a 2013 study revealed that teenagers found social media garnered more positive experiences than anything else. With social media, the younger generation are developing deep friendships and are building their own confidence.
Social media users are also reported to experience a fascinating phenomenon often referred to as “the cost of caring,” where exposure to adversities faced by others increases stress levels. It could also explain people’s need to help whenever a particular hardship is publicized on social media.
In the past year or so, empathy has become a buzzword for marketers in the industry. Many brands today strive to create content that invokes empathy, especially since the biggest generations, Millennials and Generation Z, are fluent in the language of social media. In fact, 39% of Millennials have been reported to learn to view the world around them in a new light after watching a YouTube clip. Social media combined with empathy is a very powerful tool when used effectively, and the marketing world is well aware of its power.
Brands have found success in launching campaigns where the product or brand being advertised is not necessarily the main focus, and that most of the attention is being given to the message the brand is trying to advocate for.
Case in point: Dove.
Dove is known as a brand that has given a voice to many people who don’t fit the mainstream beauty standards. The brand recently took to social media, inviting women to talk about their own #BeautyBias. The campaign was well-received by the general public. This wasn’t the first time Dove produced campaigns that utilized an empathetic strategy either. Dove has become one of those brands that knows how to use empathy to not only market their brand message, but to also invoke inspiration by giving a platform for people to talk about their hardships.
Taking the very basic human feeling of empathy and invoking it using a different method, in this case social media, only means that people are still as empathetic as they were before and empathy has found a way to live digitally.