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Banter and bullying or community and kindness: five brokers open up about life on social media

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  • 20/04/2021
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Social media has kept us connected to the outside world during the pandemic when our usual ways of keeping in touch with each other have been cut off.

 

 

Whichever platform you use, a simple refresh of your timeline offers an endless stream of new posts.

For some brokers social media has offered a sense of community, strong professional networks and encouragement, while others find it unwelcoming and isolating.

What is meant as banter by one person can feel like bullying to another and experiences on a personal and professional level can have long lasting positive and negative effects on users’ behaviour.

Mortgage Solutions spoke to the Centre of Mental Health and six mortgage professionals to find out more about how social media makes them feel, what steps they have taken to protect themselves and the impact social media can have on our states of mind.

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, says: “Inevitably the pandemic has had a huge impact on our mental health.

“Living in isolation or quarantine-type conditions and coping with feelings of insecurity, particularly if you are self-employed or in some other way feeling financially insecure, can have a significant effect on our mental health.

“In some ways the use of social media could make it worse still or be an important way of helping to manage the feelings of isolation, losing a loved one, vulnerability or dealing with added pressures like home schooling.”

 

Community or clique?

Lots of brokers use social media platforms such as Facebook groups, Linkedin and Twitter to keep up with industry news, share work triumphs and tribulations or to ask for support or suggestions from their peers.

Theo Makris, senior financial consultant at PIA Financial Services, says his membership of a 1000-strong Facebook group for mortgage brokers has been a great source of guidance and a friendly place to ask questions.

“I can honestly say there is a comfortable experience in the group. The group hosts have tried to create a very open platform where even inexperienced advisers can ask the simplest questions,” he says.

“Out of all the social media groups I am part of it is no doubt the most enjoyable and productive.”

Rob Gill, managing director of Altura Mortgage Finance, says he too has found a lot of support from other brokers online.

He says: “At the beginning of the pandemic, people were going out of their way to be kind. If I wrote a post and it sounded like something was wrong I’d get a call from someone who’d read it making sure I was okay.”

However, not everyone feels the same sense of community on social media, and if you’re in not in a group or clique of brokers who interact frequently, you can feel like an outsider.

One mortgage broker told Mortgage Solutions that social media can feel like a lonely place, professionally.

“Unless my tweet is controversial, I find I get minimal interaction from other advisers. Occasionally I ask other brokers for advice but I don’t get much of a response.

“There’s a big mortgage crowd on twitter who are mainly men and just engage with each together. It feels like a club and I’m not part of it.”

 

Mindful posting

Thinking about how our messages are received by others is a way of showing kindness online, says Bell.

Kala Sreedharan, director of broker consulting firm Alligate Consulting, says she has limited her professional posts in recent months, and instead prefers to comment or support her colleagues with suggestions when they ask for help.

She says she has become more mindful of how her posts might be felt by her followers.

“I recently changed my mind about putting a post [on],” says Sreedharan.

“I was about to share a success story about work on Linkedin and the same day I found out that two of my ex-colleagues were made redundant and that stopped me from posting.”

She has the same attitude on her personal platforms. After a close friend suffered a miscarriage she is sensitive about sharing information about her children and how her posts are worded.

Gill says he avoids tweeting about working weekends or working late in case it makes other brokers feel under pressure to carry on working when they need a break.

He remembers feeling under pressure himself last summer after looking at social media.

“News of the stamp duty holiday had just broken but it wasn’t translating into great numbers for Altura. I was looking on Twitter and seeing everyone else was doing really well which made me think, what are we doing wrong? It depressed me for a week or two but then I picked myself up.”

After analysing his operations, Gill saw a swift turnaround in September.

Instead of posting messages about his productivity, he prefers to tweet about how he likes to relax playing tennis with his children or having a beer at the end of the day.

The unnamed broker says she always thinks how her posts will be received by others and has second guessed herself on many occasions, deciding not to post. She says for this reason her professional social media interaction is limited.

 

Reality check

Whether you use Instagram or not, you will no doubt have heard of Instagram envy. Users scroll through posts of seemingly perfect faces, bodies, lifestyles and jobs which can lead to feelings of inadequacy or jealously.

Bell uses the term ‘the negative comparison’ effect, which leads you to think that other people are having a much better life than you are.

He says it has not yet been found to be a cause of mental illness but it can reinforce any negative feelings you have about yourself.

To protect his mental health, Makris steers well clear of the platforms where people behave in a such a way.

“I don’t use Instagram either personally or professionally because I believe it has a negative mental impact,” says Makris. “There’s a lot of ‘look at me, look what I have, look how great my life is’.

“It creates a false reality and effects people’s self-esteem, especially the young and impressionable. I feel Linkedin has started to go that way too.”

Sreedharan adopts a sceptical mindset when using social media, which she has found helps her to keep negative feelings at bay.

“People usually put forward the best version of themselves and their successes when writing a post and this includes me.

“There are hardly any people who tell the whole world about their hardships. Just the very knowledge of this has helped me regulate my emotions when reading posts and success stories of other peers in the industry. I am obviously always very happy for them, but no one has a perfect life.”

 

Dealing with banter and bullies

Being drawn into a twitter spat or receiving harsh comments on your posts is one of the risks of putting yourself out there on social media. But being on the receiving end of unkind comments or bullying can have more longer lasting effects.

Some brokers say they have suffered increased online harassment and bullying from inside and outside the industry and have had to resort to blocking people or closing down their accounts to protect their mental health.

The unnamed broker says she has unfollowed a mortgage professional from a large mortgage company after being targeted by nasty comments.

“Every time I posted on Twitter, he would leave a sarcastic comment. He made me feel stupid because he was a fan of using big words and I’m not because I’m dyslexic.

“Last year I felt I deserved a pat on the back for managing to get through a huge number of mortgages. As I work by myself and there was no one else around to share that with, I shared it with my followers.

“Later that day in his posts, there were sarcastic comments about people praising themselves. I didn’t need the negativity so I defriended him. But it has a longer effect on me, because I don’t feel I can share my successes anymore.”

Mobeen Akram, national new homes director at Mortgage Advice Bureau, enjoys using social media professionally but her personal experience has been tainted by online bullying causing her to withdraw.

“I love seeing support for issues such as diversity and inclusion which brings us all together and I enjoy liking and sharing topical subjects related to the mortgage market,” she says.

“But I don’t hit the like button on personal views which may offend some people.

“I keep my distance on social media. I came off Facebook and have limited my activity after being the victim of harassment from other women.”

Gill says he’s found that some of his connections on social media have been uncharacteristically picking fights which he believes is an indication they are struggling.

To shield himself he’s found it easier to block or mute their posts for now but says he’s looking forward to reconnecting with them again in the future.

“I have reacted but I don’t anymore,” he says. “It’s been a revelation to not respond and walk away.”

Bell concludes by highlighting that we are all responsible for our interactions on social media and we have a duty to look after each other online.

But he emphasises in some ways we have yet to learn how to do that safely and kindly.

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