Another day, another juicy testimony that we consume with multiple devices; one eye on the television, maybe another on Twitter, between live print news updates. It must be done but we really don’t feel any better. The thing we often ponder with Twitter, in particular, is whether it’s a liberating mode of communication or one that stifles us with it’s limited character count and propensity for ugliness.

All demographics access Twitter

Flip through that magazine or self-improvement tome and you’ll hear it again and again… negative emotions are contagious. Choose your company of friends wisely, they say. Or, for the sake of this blog post, choose the company of your social media platform wisely.

A quick breeze through Psychology Today and you’ll find the names of the disease plaguing the world of the negative: ‘Emotional Contagion’ (EC for short).

…the process in which a person or a group influences the emotions and affective behavior of another person or group through conscious or unconscious induction of emotions is referred to as emotional contagion’  – Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D., Psychology Today 

Wow. So, for today’s post, let’s consider Twitter (as we watch the Cohen testimony and get news that the vile Jacob Wohl has finally been kicked off the platform).

While the wisdom of avoiding negative friends makes sense, the lessons seem forgotten when it comes to social media. And this is at the root of what will likely be Twitter’s on-going challenge as it tries to promote to advertisers a channel awash in hate and despair.

The problem for Twitter is definitely a head-scratcher for them and us. It’s become one of the main sources of communication for a president and the place where breaking news happens, but it’s not to be trusted really. Experts, intellectuals, brands and trolls alike co-exist and yet fewer Americans use it than other social channels (47 million compared to 105 million Americans on Instagram)

So a few reasons why you shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about your Twitter numbers…

Twitter is awash in negativity

POTUS is negative and confrontational, often wrong and frequently frustrating and it all plays out via his prolific use of the social network. And it feels bad. While engagement and conversion (those things as entrepreneurs we worry about) is often meteoric in response to a single POTUS post (check out the thousands of often not very complimentary memes it can give life to) it all…just…feels…bad. It was impossible not to check to see which horror at the Cohen testimony was trending at any given moment. And those that popped to the top said the most vile things.

Emotional contagion is not a popular advertising phrase

From news to celebrities, from friends and back to you, negativity spreads and spreads and spreads. We roll around in negativity like pigs squealing for joy in a pit of mud. It’s a disease that is catching. So what advertiser wants to promote happy, shiny new products when we are all really bummed out? And when targeting women in particular, our intolerance is arguably higher.

We feel both bleak AND powerless to act

Sadly within the Twittersphere there is rarely a call-to-action. We can’t seem to do much about anything (besides getting a hashtag to trend, yeah for us). Even when there is some sort of emergency event in the world these days, we head to Facebook to mark ourselves as safe and offer help. Sites like Change.org at least make you feel as if the few clicks to add your name to a petition matters, but with Twitter (fair or not) you feel helpless.

Twitter man

Followers, following…all meaningless

While you have friends and followers on other networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn, no one seems to really define themselves by these figures. You maybe don’t want to extend too far past your inner circle, so Facebook numbers mean nada; and the more strangers you link to on LinkedIn weakens the power of your network, so who cares. But somehow there is weight placed on Twitter followers; and yet we don’t really know why. There is no reward, no Pavlovian response, nothing. And that feels…unsatisfactory.

It’s (mostly) like talking to a wall

For those who really enjoy posting, it can be the case that no one is listening anyway. If you aren’t famous or someone with a blue check mark next to your name it’s like laughing at your own jokes and talking to your television. While, hey, we all do it; not really productive now is it?

How can Twitter change? It might be impossible. Maybe they should just become a not-for-profit news platform. Perhaps a new-age PBS. But, the clock is ticking, because if Twitter doesn’t figure out how to make Twitter a happier platform, then emotional contagion might indeed wipe it out.

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