No matter what you are interested in, we can almost guarantee there will be a TED Talk on it. You might even find yourself watching the most bizarre TED Talks about topics you never thought would catch your attention, such as Joe Smith’s 2005 tutorial on ‘How to use one paper towel’!

On a more serious note, TED Talks can be used to get a better understanding of social media from thought leaders across the world.

Social media success can often rely on trends and evolving with the ever-changing trends. So, it is interesting to watch older TED Talks about social media success and what their advice was at the time. For example, five years ago, Dr. Cal Newport told his audience to ‘Quit Social Media’ and even proposed that he has ‘been more successful professionally without social media’. It is no secret that even today there are many mixed opinions on the usefulness of social media. However, in 2022, some of us are building entire careers around social media and so it was certainly interesting to look back on this video.

In current times, it is so crucial for social media managers and anyone trying to grow online that the content we put out there is engaging and relevant but also extremely credible. Much to Dr. Newport’s dismay, social media continues to grow, and it doesn’t seem to be disappearing anytime soon. With this in mind, there are three TED Talks we found useful and educational for those of us in the social media world.

1. Joseph Gordon-Levitt: ‘How craving attention makes you less creative’

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is recognisable from some of his hit movies, such as ‘Batman’, ‘500 Days of Summer’ and ‘10 Things I Hate About You’. Yet, his TED talk explored how the attention-drive model of big technology companies impacts our creativity. He begins his TED talk by expressing that there are two powerful feelings: ‘getting attention’ and ‘paying attention’.

Joseph spoke about the introduction of new technology that allows people to gain more attention and how these technologies allow us to become more creative in an unlimited number of ways. However, he proposed that there is an unintended consequence of creativity. It is becoming a ‘means to an end’ and that end is attention. In his personal experience, the more he tried to pay attention to people, the happier he became. However, the more he tried to get attention from others, the unhappier he became.

Attributing this to social media, he asked the question ‘How does a social media platform, like Instagram, make money?’ The answer- it sells attention. Consumers, like ourselves, provide that attention to the platform and so it is in the platform’s best interest to gain as much of our attention as possible.

He concludes that the best way to keep others from controlling your attention is to pay attention to just one thing. When someone pays attention to just one thing, such as being creative, they tend to be happier, according to Psychologists. Seeing other creators as competitors leads to unhealthy comparisons about how much attention you are each getting. When seeing others as collaborators then we are able to focus on what they are doing and acknowledge it without becoming wrapped up in who is getting more attention.

2. Hazem El Seddiq: ‘Unfollowers: A mindful approach to social media

In a December 2021 TED Talk, Hazem El Seddiq, a vlogger and podcaster reached an epiphany where he realises that both consumers and creators are part of a bigger game: The social media game.

To begin, he outlines four types of social media consumers:

  • Purpose-driven consumers – Someone who knows exactly what they want, they search for it and then leave without any other distraction.
  • Aimless follower – Someone who has no goal and just wants mindless entertainment.
  • Combination – Most people consume content with some purpose but are also able to scroll somewhat mindlessly through other content.
  • Content creator.

There are many reasons why somebody would want to become a content creator, such as influence, money, freedom, fame and creative expression. There are two ends to the spectrum of content creators: real creators and copy creators. Real creators create organic content that they enjoy regardless of the trends and do not care about viral posts or popularity. Copy creators solely focus on what is trending regardless of personal enjoyment and will even partake in trends that they have no passion for. Most creators sit in the intermediary, which is seen the be the healthiest form of content creation.

In Hazem’s 100-day vlogging challenge was a great achievement but he struggled with the journey as soon as it became a source of income. In order for him to ‘find himself,’ he started a podcast and realised that he was struggling with his sense of purpose and authenticity again. He was collaborating with influential people and remaining consistent- which we all know are key techniques for any content creator. However, as soon as he had to fulfil brand deals and continue earning money, he lost some authenticity and passion for the podcast.

As soon as Hazem set up a podcast that wasn’t monetized, his values were kept intact, and he felt more fulfilled and authentic. He proposed that people should become ‘unfollowers’ and choose what social media platforms they use, what trends they follow and what they create and consume. His aim isn’t to persuade people to leave social media altogether, but rather to make consumers and creators aware of the challenges of social media and the autonomy that we all have around how we consume and create.

3. Rachel David: ‘How influencers have transformed modern marketing’

Rachel David is a popular YouTube personality, entrepreneur and the CEO of Hashtag Communications. As someone with hands-on experience in influencer marketing, she advises how brands can connect better with customers through online platforms.

Providing an introduction to influencer marketing, Rachel gives a unique perspective by suggesting that influencers are useful for anyone trying to get attention to anything. Businesses, especially in the ecommerce industry, have sky-rocketed due to influencer marketing. For example, millennials are spending 9 hours on social media a day and so they see influencers online often more than they see their friends. Continuous exposure to someone builds up trust and so anything they promote; we want to buy as if it was a personal recommendation from a friend.

Rachel provides the example of HiSmile, a tooth whitening company. Within 18 months from launch, they did $10 Million in sales by utilising micro and mid-level influencers. They grew somewhat organically and then saved up enough money to do a paid collab with Kylie Jenner. At the time, Kylie has 75 Million followers and so one social media post from her skyrocketing HiSmile’s sales.

What is the difference between a celebrity and an influencer? Relatability. People love the idea that influencers are unscripted and uncensored. Influencers are famous for being themselves. Celebrity endorsements are nowhere near as popular compared to influencer endorsements solely because of the relatability factor. And yes, we are suggesting that Kylie Jenner has some form of relatability (somewhere).

 Key takeaways

  • As much as competitor analysis is an important part of marketing, it is important to not get consumed by this comparison. Instead, perhaps appreciate their content and focus on being the best creator you can be whilst being able to co-exist with others in the same field.
  • Social media is a revenue stream for many, and it is important to acknowledge this. However, the enjoyment of content creation is still just as important. Consumers are aware when posts are too pushy and too much about sales. Build a community and relationship with your audience to keep that authenticity.
  • Influencer marketing is huge and will continue to grow. It is smart for businesses trying to make moves in the online world but make sure that you work with relatable and relevant influencers. There is little point in getting a fitness influencer to promote your high-calorie, indulgent sweet treats. Find your niche and match it to a relevant influencer.

Tinisha Osu is a Marketing Executive with two degrees in Psychology. She is the first-author of a published psychology paper and is beginning her career in marketing through blog-writing, creating social media content and running marketing campaigns.