The Hidden Cost of Social Media: It’s Making You Spend

There is a somewhat hidden cost of social media. Whether or not you realize it, you might be spending money due to what you see on sites like Facebook.

Of course, the ads play a part in that. In recent years, sites have become increasingly sophisticated with targeted marketing. In fact, it’s a little bit eerie. For example, a few months ago, my partner broke up with me, and I almost immediately started seeing ads for singles dating sites. I didn’t think I even posted anything about being single, but apparently somewhere along the way I did, the algorithms noticed, and I was a target for that marketing.

We see ads for all sorts of things in social media. Hopefully, we’ve learned ways of scrolling past and ignoring those obvious bids for our cash. However, that’s not the only thing that we have to worry about. Research indicates that there’s a much subtler way that social media increases our spending.

The New Way of Keeping Up with the Joneses

Basically, the cost of social media boils down to wanting what your friends have.

A new study emphasizes that social media deliberately shows us more of what our friends have. We tend to compare ourselves to others, so we see what they are spending, and therefore we want to spend that, too.

Think about it. Just in the last few days, what have you seen your friends subtly advertising, even though they probably didn’t intend to do so? It might have included:

  • The dinner they ate, either at a trendy restaurant or displayed on their own cute china
  • Crafty DIY things that required a Cricut or other pricey supplies
  • What their pet is eating, wearing, and checking out around town
  • The “shelfies” that show not only what books they read but the beautiful editions they choose
  • Their fabulous vacation destination

These photos can be inspirational, and often they become aspirational. You want to go to that restaurant, buy your dog that collar, and get the full set of those nineteenth-century novels that have been republished with beautiful new (matching) covers.

The Cost of Social Media: Ad Placements and Influences

In addition to following all of your real life friends on social media, you probably also follow a lot of people you don’t know. Some are famous, some are known in their niche, and others just caught your eye. You love their photos because they inspire you. However, if you are following huge accounts, then you probably see a lot of advertising.

Of course, there are lots of rules these days about how people can advertise on sites like Instagram. After the whole Fyre Festival debacle, those rules got even more stringent. You can pretty easily see that someone you’re following is doing a #sponsoredad. However, you also follow them for their non-ad accounts, so you start to get this feeling like you really know them. Therefore, you tend to get drawn in by what they advertise or show off in their posts, even if you think that you know better.

You Want to Show Others What You Have

There is one more element to the cost of social media, which is your own posts. As the authors of the study above noted, you only show up on your friend’s social media when you post something. If you are living a minimal, frugal lifestyle that you don’t photograph and share, then you aren’t showing up on their feeds. If you post the new shoes you bought, well, they see that.

The more time we spend on social media, the easier it is to get sucked into doing things, and even buying things, just for the Instagram photo. It’s easy to believe we’re just living our regular lives when really we are subconsciously choosing poses, locations, and even props that enhance our online image. Before we know it, we’re spending money we wouldn’t have if we’d thought more clearly about what we were doing.

Ask yourself, “if no one ever saw this, would I still buy it/ do it?”

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