Shifting the Narrative: How Brands Can Create Mindful Social Content in a World of Photoshop and Filters

Social media is increasingly coming under fire as platforms like TikTok, YouTube and Facebook are accused of fueling a mental health crisis among younger generations. On February 6, 2024, New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams officially announced social media as a “public health hazard,” attributing dangers to its addictive features. In a 2023 CVS survey, six out of ten respondents aged 18-32 reported that social media has negatively impacted their mental health. But despite the rising concerns, the reality is that social media won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Social media remains a powerful tool in shaping messaging across brands. It has transformed how brands reach and communicate with their audiences, allowing for more immediate and personalized interactions. But when digitally modified content is taken at face value, this can negatively impact those on the receiving end. The content brands release has tremendous sway over their audiences, so ensuring yours adds positive value to news feeds is crucial. Taking a more humanized approach to content creation will help foster a safer online environment for users.

Lead with Authenticity

A growing interest in social impact and values alignment has prompted consumers to pay closer attention to brand authenticity in recent years. Customers who can identify with the brands they use are more likely to remain loyal. But with advances in photoshop and filters, it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between what’s natural and what’s not. This can be harmful when images presented as “normal” are not representative or accurate reflections of the average person.

Leading with authenticity through visual content requires limiting your photo and video editing, especially of human faces and bodies, to the bare minimum. When heavy editing is needed, add a sentence below the image or at the end of post copy to let audiences know. In 2018, CVS Pharmacy announced its ban on photo alterations in its beauty marketing, paving the way for beauty suppliers to do the same. Brands can set more realistic expectations and celebrate diversity in appearances in the media by letting humans look human. Capturing and posting organic interactions rather than scripted ones will help customers perceive your brand as more transparent, relatable and trustworthy.

Amplify Underrepresented Voices

Diverse storytelling has the potential to challenge existing biases and reshape narratives, so it’s important for brands to use their reach to actively incorporate representations of historically underrepresented people in the media. Use your platform to amplify the voices of those who have been traditionally left out of the conversation when their message or mission aligns with yours. This may mean diversifying the people in your promotional materials, working with underrepresented content creators or highlighting the social impact work your company is already doing.

Additionally, let the people who have experienced your company’s service or product do the talking. User generated content may be especially beneficial for this as it generates audience engagement and showcases experiences with your product or service from various perspectives. It will feel and sound a lot more authentic too.

Use Mindful Messaging

With brands coming into contact with so many people of diverse backgrounds and experiences on a daily basis, it’s important to be cognizant of how your messaging may be received. Anticipating how audiences may engage with your content can reduce misinterpretation. Make sure that the content you post—whether it be copy, photos or graphics—is respectful of different ages, belief systems, body types, etc. If your content is potentially triggering for those with certain experiences, put a warning up front so they are not caught off guard. Not everything can be inoffensive to everyone, but prioritizing kindness goes far.

Social media is a storytelling tool with more influence over mental wellbeing than many realize. A greater platform and reach entail a greater power to spur change within your community. Brands have a responsibility to use their platforms thoughtfully and inclusively to drive your narrative while leaving the world a better place than you found it, because if you curate your feed with authenticity, others will follow.

By Pei Ying Ren

Photo by via Pexels