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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Three steps social networks can take to foster community

It’s important for you to cultivate a positive, inviting, and welcoming environment.

Three steps social networks can take to foster community
[Elena / Adobe Stock]

Social networks have become part of the fabric of everyday life for many people. Whether it’s checking out what your friends or colleagues are doing, passing time with entertaining clips, or hanging out in comments sections, on average, people spend two hours and 24 minutes per day on social media. Users often see friends or colleagues in perfect surroundings “living their best life” with a filter. But, real life isn’t perfect. It’s messy, and it certainly isn’t filtered.

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The influence of social media on users’ mental health is increasingly studied. Recently, 11 state attorneys general launched an investigation into Meta, the parent company of Facebook, for promoting Instagram despite knowing the harm it can cause to teen users’ mental health. A recent study from JAMA found that users of Snapchat, Facebook, or TikTok were more likely to report increased symptoms of depression.

There are ways to put the “social” back into social networks and make them as they were intended—a place for like-minded individuals to connect and spend time with one another online. Niche social networks have become successful because they make their users feel welcome and offer a safe space for them to interact. Here are some guidelines that have proven successful to foster a healthy online community:

1. LISTEN AND ADAPT TO YOUR COMMUNITY

Your community is everything. It is the heartbeat of what you do and every decision you make. As a business leader, you must find the time to listen to your community every single day. As passionate users of your platform, they can offer insights into your business that might surprise you. There’s power in that. Unsure what major move to make next with your business? Tell your community to let you know what they want. And if you’ve done a good enough job listening to them along the way, they will support you in whatever changes you implement.

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2. THINK IN 3D

When you stare at your screen you see people in 2D—an avatar and text. It can be easy for major social networks to base their business decisions on what they see in 2D, such as how to increase traffic to serve more ads. But in this scenario, the person behind the avatar gets lost. That person is three-dimensional. They are real human beings with thoughts, feelings, emotions, and challenges that they deal with on a day-to-day basis. Losing sight of that causes distrust, and distrust causes people to leave. Think in 3D.

3. PRIORITIZE MENTAL HEALTH

We already touched on the potential effects social platforms can have, but let’s take it a step further. If you take the 3D approach, you realize that you have a significant responsibility as a business leader to create a safe space for your community to interact. Any decision you make that affects your community will impact their real, day-to-day lives. Think about a toxic social media experience you’ve had and how it left a lasting impression. If you allow that to happen repeatedly, you’re impacting a real person, in 3D. It’s important for you to cultivate a positive, inviting, and welcoming environment to try and avoid triggering depression, anxiety, or addiction among your users.

A community is only as good as its leader, and social networks place a tremendous amount of trust in their leader. A thriving community is like an entire ecosystem where every person contributes to the health of the whole. It is possible to put the fun back into social media as long as the business listens and adapts to its community, the people are looked at in 3D, and users’ mental health is prioritized.

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