Who’s responsible for social media addiction? Me and you.

Mark Schaefer
4 min readOct 30, 2023

Many times in my career, I’ve used a variation of this phrase: “I want this (product / content / service) to be so good people are addicted to it!”

In a way, that’s the ultimate dream. Sergio Zyman, ex-CMO for Coca-Cola, used to tell me the goal of marketing was to “sell more stuff, to more people, more often, for more money.”

The idea of being addicted to what you sell seems like an elegant goal that would make you strive to be the best at everything you do, especially when it comes to social media marketing.

Here’s the business case for social media platform success: Create a recommendation engine that delivers content so insanely relevant that people spend increasing amounts of time on the site. Use that engagement to collect personal information on preferences that lead to highly targeted ads.

In other words, create social media addiction … at all costs. Create addiction. That’s social media marketing success.

Here’s the problem. It’s working. And if you work in marketing, you’re probably playing a role in the global mental health crisis.

The algorithms win

A recent Gallup survey revealed significant insights into U.S. teenagers’ social media habits. More than 51% of teens spend an average of 4.8 hours daily on social platforms. Age and gender differences are evident: 13-year-olds average 4.1 hours, 17-year-olds reach 5.8 hours, and girls spend nearly an hour more than boys.

YouTube and TikTok are the dominant platforms, with usage times of 1.9 and 1.5 hours daily, respectively, while Instagram lags behind at 0.9 hours.

Adolescents with lower levels of self-control spend about 1.2 hours more on social media than their more conscientious counterparts. Those with strict parental screen time rules report 1.8 hours less time online.

Unsurprisingly, insights from the survey suggest that design strategies by tech companies that encourage prolonged use are working.

Should we be concerned? Here’s what Gallup had to say (slightly edited for brevity):

Amid declining teen mental health, many scholars have carefully investigated the role of

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Mark Schaefer

Keynote speaker, marketing strategy consultant, Rutgers U faculty and author of 10 books including KNOWN, Marketing Rebellion, and Belonging to the Brand!