Simple steps to become social media savvy

Have you ever had that feeling that your phone is listening to you? Or your social media profile knows what you’re thinking? You might have liked a recipe video that popped up in your feed and now all you’re seeing is grabs of greasy meal prep clips.

This is because the content you watch, read and click on determines what you and your kids see most when you are online. Whilst it can be an echo chamber of unhealthy images, we also have the power to promote nutritious food to our friends and family at the push of a button. Knowing the tricky tactics used to market processed snacks and sugary drinks on social media is half the battle. With a little bit of know how, we can teach kids to block out these unhelpful and unhealthy messages and keep their feed free of junk food marketing.

Why we see what we see?

The content you see online is based on a variety of factors; some you can control, and some you can’t. It used to be the case that whatever content got the most clicks was shown first, but now there is a long list of extra layers which determines what your family will see when scrolling social media.

  1. Your network of friends is more important than you think. The content your contacts are clicking on will control some of what you see, especially if lots of your friends are liking the same thing. This also has the potential to be a positive influence, but we’ll circle back to that later.
  2. The businesses, groups, and pages you follow will have some say in the substance of your social media feed. Following certain people or groups might be why your kids get consistent caffeinated beverage ads, which is why it is important that you and your kids try to engage with pages promoting positive health messages.
  3. The types of content you or your family enjoy most will show up more frequently. If you always click on news articles you’ll get non-stop news updates, or you may get plenty of cute pet clips if you rack up video views.

Monkey see, monkey do.

While adults are a little more conscientious when it comes to content, the cheeky little monkeys at home are very susceptible to copying what they see online. While they usually don’t realise it, kids will want to associate with the food and drink products they think their friends like, a concept that is called ‘impression management’. This can be manipulated by manufacturers through introducing competitions that require ‘liking’ or ‘tagging’ to get plenty of people seeing (and purchasing) their products.

Seeing others online eating or promoting unhealthy food can also influence how healthy or unhealthy kids think junk food actually is. Whether it’s over the internet, or in-person, kids tend to see processed foods in a more positive light when their peers or role models like them too. This is a key part of breaking the cycle of unhealthy messaging; If we like it less, we see it less and if we see it less, we are less likely to like it in the first place!

Teach your kids some mind hacks…

There are many different ways to reduce the effect marketing can have on you and your family, and when it comes to kids it’s important that they understand what is really going on. Once children are old enough to have their own social media, it might be a good time to talk to them about the kinds of ads they are likely to see. We know from research that you can minimise or avoid the exposure to advertising by focusing attention elsewhere. Practicing avoidance often can drastically reduce the effect of advertising, particularly when it comes to unhealthy food.

Top tips for parents

  1. Talk about what the purpose of advertising really is.
    This conversation will be different in every household and different for all ages. Talking about the value of money or ‘wants’ versus ‘needs’ can be good starting points that kids are likely to understand.
  2. Teach kids not to click on the posts that look like ads.
    This will reduce exposure, making ad targeting harder for the food manufacturers and creating space for kids to view more of the things they are interested in online.
  3. Introduce the concept of “influencers.”
    Talk about influencers and people your kids may follow, and explain that they are often paid to promote products online. Kids who consume gaming or streaming videos will likely see people they look up to selling unhealthy foods and drinks on behalf of food companies. Watch a video together and see if your child can point out the products their online role models may be advertising. This is a great way to start the conversation.

For some extra reading, check out our blog on how technology and apps can make physical activity fun here!