Social media considered harmful (for PMs)

I don’t often write about my day job as a product manager, mostly because I feel there is already so much good content from blogs like Learning by Shipping or podcasts like This Is Product Management. But recently I came across a few studies that I thought I could chain together into a theory – something that I haven’t seen covered before by any of the product managers I’ve been exposed to.

This theory is about social media and its impact on product managers specifically. I believe there is an inverse correlation between the use of social media and the effectiveness of a product manager, and here I’ll outline why.

PM Effectiveness Versus Social Media Use

Social media use linked to narcissism

It is clear that there has been a sharp rise in narcissism (at least in the US) over the past few decades. It is not yet clear that social media is a definite cause, but it has been shown that social media accentuates narcissistic tendencies and provides the platform to exercise them. We’ll have to keep monitoring the research on this, but for now it can be assumed that social media is just not helping with the narcissism crisis we are seeing – and could be making it worse.

Narcissism leads to a lack of empathy

If there is one hallmark trait of a narcissist, it is that they lack the ability to emphasize with other people. By default, narcissists just don’t care how others feel – and this ambivalence scales along with the severity of narcissism. Sure, there might be a category of empathetic narcissists, but even they have trouble applying their empathy to make real changes in behavior towards others.

Empathy is essential in a product management role

It’s hard to overstate the importance of empathy in life, regardless of whether it is used at work. It is well documented that empathetic people are happier, have longer-lasting relationships, and excel in their professional aspirations.

Empathetic people also have the ability to understand the unique needs of individuals they interact with, which is coincidentally a huge part of what makes a great product manager. The needs of customers, teammates, and project stakeholders are all critical to consider in order to deliver the right product in the right way – and this is all powered by empathy! Case in point – I have personally seen my own work shine or suffer depending on how deeply I was able to empathize with the people around me. Hence, I am convinced empathy is the one skill to develop and look for when seeking PMs for any product.

Conclusion

So social media use exacerbates narcissism, narcissism suppresses empathy, and that lack of empathy hampers a product manager’s ability to deliver the best possible product to market. The thinking is fairly straightforward, but there are a few points that can be poked at and/or researched more:

  • Does social media actively introduce narcissism in those who don’t historically have it? Or does it just amplify the narcissism that already exists?
  • Is it possible for certain types of people with narcissism to force themselves to empathize, if only to fulfill a certain job role?
  • Does some effect of narcissism outside of empathy (e.g., self-confidence) perhaps benefit people in product management roles, countering the negative effects?

Too much for me to tackle on my own, but for now I plan to take my new theory to heart and work at growing my own empathetic abilities while being more cognizant on how I use social media.

If you have any thoughts or counter-points to this theory, I’d love to hear them!

 

P.S. Shout out to Barking Up the Wrong Tree, one of my favorite blogs on human behavior, for inspiration and many of the references to studies mentioned here.


Also published on Medium.

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