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Smartphone Addiction: Should Influencers Advocate for Less Screen Time?

Published: March 19, 2020 Updated: March 19, 2020

Influencer culture is built around encouraging people to engage with one another via a screen, in many cases that screen is on a smartphone. What does that mean for the health of those who are consuming the content and how can influencers wield their influence to limit use while retaining their audience? Or, is it something influencers should leverage to grow their influence?

What is Smartphone Addiction?

Smartphone addiction has been largely controversial in academic circles because of the word addiction and the difficulty in tracking the true behavior of smartphone users. Most data collected has been self-reported which makes it less reliable and difficult to duplicate.

However, a study recently published in the British Medical Councils Psychiatry Journal indicates that problematic smartphone usage (PSU) is now an “evolving public health concern that requires greater study to determine the boundary between helpful and harmful technology use.” The authors of the study urged policy guidance to determine harm reduction strategies.

While PSU is not officially an addiction, most people recognize the pervasive use of smartphones as a problem. Many popular sites have even begun to promote ways to help limit user’s screen time. Bustle offered up a list of 7 apps to help those who are worried about smartphone addiction to their millions of followers.

Clearly, there is SEO value to be capitalized on in regards to the smartphone addiction controversy.

The Role of Smartphones in Influencer Culture

Influencers, small business owners, entrepreneurs, and even international brands have seen the potential to reach new audiences expand dramatically since the internet became widely available. However, growth was somewhat limited when access to online mediums was restricted to the time individuals spent in front of their computers. Not only are computers more expensive and therefore a barrier to reaching all demographics effectively, but they are also primarily stationary.

Smartphones are the great equalizer. Each year smartphone prices decrease while their ability to connect users with people from all over the world increases. People take their phones with them everywhere and check them around 47 times per day on average. It’s important to note that an average means there is a significant portion who is checking their phone far more frequently. If recent trends are any indication, this number is only going to go up.

Statistical data over the past decade all show the same thing – growth. In 2019, the number of mobile users was up 2 percent to more than 5 billion people. While this sounds like an impressive number, it represents only about a 67 percent penetration of the market, which means there is plenty of room for continued growth. The same report shows social media users in 2019 grew by 9 percent. The number of users totaled nearly 3.5 billion which is a penetration rate of only 42 percent. Again leaving room for exponential growth over the coming decade.

The increased rate of internet availability and access to social media means influencers and businesses of all sizes have the potential to increase the size of their audience. It also means the ranks of small business owners, online entrepreneurs, and influencers will continue to expand.

Why Should Influencers Care?

If Instagram influencers need subscribers who are actively engaged with the content they put out, doesn’t it make more sense to encourage subscribers to use their smartphones more often? Calls to action telling viewers or readers to subscribe and turn on alerts have been running rampant for the past decade. APIs and various browser push notification services now make it even easier for influencers with blogs or websites to get in front of their fan base quickly. These are important tools for keeping your audience engaged, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best thing for them. Ultimately, if what they are doing is causing emotional and psychological distress a percentage of them will eventually withdraw from the community.

By being proactive, influencers can begin to build a sustainable culture of engagement with their followers while minimizing any harmful side effects that could eventually lead to less interaction.

What Can Influencers Do?

Talk about the issue. Influencers largely depend on smartphones and other digital devices to spread their messages and may feel the addiction acutely in their own lives. In many ways, being an influencer makes it even more difficult to disconnect from work-related emails and notifications than it is for the average 9-5 employee. Fortunately, that means it will be easy to talk about the issue from an authentic and even vulnerable position.

Influencers can also talk about the impact of comparing themselves to others on social media and how that impacts their quality of life or the lives of their partners and friends. The potential topics are endless regardless of niche and audience demographics.

In addition to talking about the problem, it’s important to also offer solutions. For Apple users, it’s easy to get an idea of just how much time one is spending on a device and to narrow it down by the type of app.

Both Android and Apple users also have the ironic option of turning to apps to keep their smartphones out of their hands and eyes off the screen, at least for a little while.

There are a number of ways people can cut back on their smartphone use while still remaining actively engaged members of the audience. Influencers can still encourage them to subscribe to various social media and distribution channels such as email lists, Facebook, Instagram, or Youtube so that during their smartphone time they are easily able to catch up with the community while also encouraging them to turn those notifications off on their phones.

The design of many apps is intentionally addictive, and it starts with notifications. By making your followers aware of the practices that make them more susceptible to addiction and the little steps they can take to counter addiction, you are helping to create a culture of responsibility while maintaining the interconnectedness offered in online spaces.

One easy way you can help your community is to encourage them to make the bedroom a device-free zone. This is important because the mere presence of a smartphone can be disruptive. While you may lose a few views while they are falling asleep, you will be promoting higher quality rest which will lead to a happier and healthier fan base with minimal impact on meaningful interaction.

End Game

As an influencer, you can easily use a subscriber’s addiction against them to boost your rank, sales, conversions, and overall earnings. There are courses that teach corporations, small business owners, and would be influencers these tactics as a form of marketing. In fact, many companies rely on influencers who are willing to do just that. If that’s what you want your influence to promote and how you want to engage with your audience, that’s a personal decision.

However, if you are one of the millions of people who have found it more difficult to walk away from tech and you want to help empower your followers to use their smartphone more intentionally – it’s a hot topic and may ultimately lead to fostering greater trust and admiration from your audience.

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