The phrase ‘digital wellbeing’ is being thrown around more than ever. Even the world’s tech giants are beginning to address the obsessive behaviour around usage. And following the news about Apple’s new ‘digital wellbeing’ tools aiming to help reduce screen time, and Google unveiling a range of tools focused on “digital wellbeing”, designed to help people disconnect from their phones, it’s clear things are changing.

However, there’s no need for brands to panic. This recent focus on digital wellbeing is an opportunity to improve relationships with consumers. In order to do this, brands must invest in developing services that enhance people’s lives and restrict budget spend on ads that consumers will choose to ignore. A brands’ tech offering needs to be more than gimmicks and quick campaigns for PR content; they should be taking some of their brand building budget and creating valuable, long-term experiences.

Tech companies are becoming more conscious of the time we spend on apps and technology, not only due to the backlash coming from Silicon Valley, but also from a global influence. Companies are increasingly aware of changing behaviours and habits and are mindful of consumers becoming unhappy from spending an excessive amount of time on social platforms. Our recent research focusing on young mothers proved this to be true. 45% of our group said that they ‘strongly agreed’ that ‘there is peer pressure and competition between mothers about how they feed their baby’ and when we talked to them in more detail it emerged a lot of this pressure comes from social media. Social conventions are also being impacted, for example couples are often spotted on their phones on date night, not communicating with one another. This general awareness of how much time we spend looking at a screen has accelerated because of the omnipresence of mobile phones.

That’s where time limits and wind down sessions on apps are beginning to kick in. It’s a step towards better mental health. Many social apps have psychology built into them, there is a specific discipline, called persuasive technology, which aims to use human weaknesses to sustain addiction. Consciously we don’t know this is happening to us, but there’s clear proof if you take, for example, how personalised our notifications on Twitter are. Each one of us has a different response to these actions depending on our mindset. The algorithm for different social platforms identifies what’s most effective in driving us to remain engaged with the platform. The fact these platforms are ad based means the more time you spend on one, the more money the platform can make from you.

It’s really important that social platforms are giving consumers the choice of handling the power of their phone behaviour. Putting measures in place for individuals now is preventing a movement of negative backlash that could eventually try and shut down an entire platform because of its addictive nature. Instead these steps help empower individuals to step away from platforms when they need to.

Technologist Zaineb Tafecki, talks about the topic of algorithms being able to make predictions based on our behaviour of interaction. It’s not necessarily just the content on the social platform, but also how we’re actually interacting with that platform. The ability algorithms have to identify different traits in our personality in relation to how we interact with those platforms is where brands can step in to help consumers balance their tech usage. The question is how, without the consumer realising it, can brands help the consumer subconscious to improve mental wellbeing? Can they actively intervene and help create a positive frame of mind?

How often do you check a certain platform and how much time do you spend on that platform? How long will you engage with a video before you switch to something else? And how many times do you press ‘like’? These are all questions that brands are asking. But regardless of the content you’re liking, skipping past, or scanning through – the behaviour you show and how consistent that is in relation to your ongoing online behaviour means that these algorithms might be able to predict things like mental health issues.

Nevertheless, there is a risk of the collected data being used in a negative way. But if you look at the positive side of that information, social platforms are now partnering with mental health charities and medical organisations to help to identify negative attributes in consumers personality and therefore automatically feed things through to the consumer in a positive intervention. In addition to this, the Apple watch can alert individuals to abnormalities in their heart rate – some of which have been early-stage heart attacks.

Just under a year ago I heard Professor Kavita Vedhara from The University of Nottingham on the radio, talking about psychoimmunology and how a positive mood in older people on the day of their flu vaccination is associated with an enhanced antibody response to influenza vaccinations. For mere mortals like me, that means that being in a good mood on the day of a flu vaccination can increase the likelihood of the vaccine working. For the last few months, we have been working with Kavita and The University of Nottingham to create a digital intervention. The ultimate goal is to improve the impact of vaccinations; improving health, saving lives and helping save money for medical institutions like the NHS.

Platforms could provide the option for consumers to opt into having support from all different data points, for example when on your phone you have the option to engage with platforms. It’s a move on from existing options like Apple’s ‘Do Not Disturb While Driving’ mode that locks your phone when it detects movement above walking speed.

Right now, consumer data is generally harvested to help brands target people for sales. The data can be sold to brands who want to buy the consumer as a potential target and serve them messaging – that’s one way of monetising the platform. But the flip side is if things like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube can use personal data and mass data to look for inferences in relation to behaviour and mental wellbeing, that data can then be used by those platforms, not given to brands, and actually kept private.

This could change the content served, lock consumers out of an experience for a set period of time, or even provide information about support or advice that directly or indirectly puts people into a better frame of mind. These support branches help pave the way for consumers to be more successful, happy, confident and feel good – something which should be the ultimate purpose of these platforms.

Take our work with Estée Lauder, we created a specific utility to help users with their skin care routine. But going further than this, the assistant helped identify users that have other interests linked to skincare, not just linked with products. For example, nutrition and meditation information or support with better sleep. Through providing credible information from third parties and those that Estée Lauder have partnered with, we have been able to start to provide relevant information to users, helping them to have a more considered understanding of all the things needed to have better and healthier skin.

This is the beginning of using data for good whilst creating a better experience for users.

The act of digital wellbeing is being adopted by more and more companies and is finally giving brands the chance to help consumers with a new behaviour or implement change in their lifestyle. Brands are beginning to intervene and help consumers be both healthier and fitter, whilst providing good advice along the way. People’s increased awareness of how much time they are spending doing something that isn’t productive or making them happy, means the move away from this negative and obsessive behaviour, to something good and productive is coming naturally to many.

Rob Bennett

Rob Bennett


Rob Bennett, CEO at creative technology agency rehab.