Whether you run a Fortune 500 company, a startup, or a small business, it's strategic table stakes for leaders to use social media to their advantage. As a vehicle for promotion, advertising, engagement, and recruitment, social media has undeniable business benefits, but are the professional advantages driving us to ignore the personal disadvantages? 

As the leader of a mental health company, I find it hard to separate the two. I'm going to use this article to weigh the pros of using social media authentically while also shedding light on the negative impact it can sometimes have on mental health, to help you make the best decision for your business.

Avenue for Authenticity 

Personal branding has become one of the primary avenues to drive brand awareness and considering that 4.2 billion people are now active on social media, there's no better vehicle for it. Think of Elon Musk for example. His personal brand has clearly been amplified through his consistent use of social media -- sometimes a single tweet from him will move markets.

There are also countless examples of personal branding on social media benefiting society, not just business. Naomi Osaka's use of social media to speak vulnerably about her mental health has played a huge role in destigmatizing the conversation and helping people realize that seeking support is a sign of strength rather than weakness.  

From the corporate leadership perspective, social media is a platform that allows employees to connect with their employers and vice versa. And it's something employees have come to expect -- a recent survey found employees prefer to work for a leader who uses social media by more than a 3:1 ratio. I share aspects of my personal life with my employees, especially the struggles, since I've seen the power of vulnerable testimonies, not just from Naomi Osaka, but the countless athletes who followed in her footsteps. Authenticity is the key -- leaders who use social media to share their human nature, build trust, and communicate transparency will find their messages resonating with employees, which in turn can lead to employees feeling more emotionally engaged and connected to their company. 

Mental Health Consequences

From a mental health perspective, social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it helps us stay connected to one another and address topics that were once taboo, but it's also associated with an increased risk of mental health issues, social comparison, and a lack of boundaries (we've all heard the phrase "social media never sleeps"). 

For both leaders and employees, there's emotional pressure to stay engaged on social media. For some, it's a simple feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) and competition that drives them to refresh their social media feed every few hours, and for leaders there can be an internal pressure to build their public profile. But for others, the negative feelings are more extreme and concerning from a clinical perspective, with the potential to exacerbate depression or anxiety. A 2018 study found that the less time people spend on social media, the fewer symptoms of depression and loneliness they felt. 

If comparison is the thief of joy, social media is the thief's getaway car. The platform can promote unreasonable expectations if we see others posting a filtered version of their seemingly perfect life. As leaders, it's important to be mindful of how social media makes you feel. If it exacerbates your stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, the professional benefits aren't worth the personal sacrifice and you should consider setting social media boundaries. For me personally, I make sure to disconnect during family time by turning off my phone and disabling notifications during nightly dinner with my husband. I also leave my phone outside my bedroom door every night so I avoid checking social media or emails last thing before I go to sleep and first thing upon waking. 

Social media isn't going anywhere and will continue to play a huge role in how organizations build their brands, market themselves, recruit talent, and connect with their communities. But as leaders, we have a responsibility to promote positive social media usage practices that protect the health of our businesses and ourselves, to ensure social media's blessings outweigh the curse.