Echo chambers are a dangerous side effect of how we use social media. They’ve been acknowledged and criticized publicly by many media outlets, with experts citing them as making us even lonelier in our digital universes and, quite possibly, shaping the results of the 2016 Presidential election. Depending on how you look at them and how much you’ve felt the effects in your own life, you may view echo chambers as harmless and necessary results of a valuable algorithm, or volatile and destructive social bubbles that are ruining our society.
But no matter how you view them personally, take a minute to step back and see them as a marketer. There are some critical opportunities here, if you know how to exploit them.
The Echo Chamber Effect
In case you’re unfamiliar with the “echo chamber” effect in social media, it functions as a direct result of the newsfeed algorithms used by Facebook and other major platforms. Newsfeed algorithms have one job; figure out what kind of content you like and serve it to you.
Over the years, they’ve become exceptionally skilled at this task. Most algorithms pay attention to what types of content you like, engage with, and share, and then work to provide more content of those types in your newsfeed.
On the surface, this seems great; users get more of the content they like. But over time, users of a particular political leaning or users with picky tastes only end up seeing content that already appeals to them, and don’t see nearly as much content (if any) that disagrees with their beliefs or challenges them to think or try something new. This creates the echo chamber effect.
Why It’s Going to Get Worse Before It Gets Better
There have been a number of suggestions for how to deal with the social media echo chamber effect, ranging from encouraging more people to engage with posts and opinions that don’t appeal to them, to forcing major social media networks to change their algorithms. Unfortunately, the echo chamber isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
For starters, social newsfeed algorithms work. They’re good at what they do, so it’s unlikely that Facebook or any other platform would go out of its way to do a major overhaul. Plus, remember that even though algorithms are facilitators, we’re still the creators of our own echo chambers — the burden’s on us to be open minded about new ideas or competing viewpoints, and as a species, we’re just not very good at that.
How to Exploit the Echo Chamber
So with the echo chamber sticking around indefinitely, how can you leverage it within your online marketing campaign?
1. Separate your audience into niches. This is a good content strategy anyway, but echo chambers make it twice as powerful. Instead of writing all your content to your entire audience, split your audience into highly specialized segments, and write content that specifically appeals to each of those segments. Choose topics that clearly stand out only to one demographic, and encourage that demographic to share and engage with each other. You’ll earn more shares and comments because of its specific appeal.
2. Start creating polarizing content. It’s also a good idea to create controversial or polarizing content, which half of your audience will find inspiring and empowering, and half will be uninterested in. There are many advantages to running a controversial content marketing campaign, and echo chambers make them even more powerful because eventually, they’ll only display controversial content to the audience that wants to see it.
3. Escalate the intensity of your best-performing themes. If you see certain themes or topics that perform exceptionally well (such as specific opinions or viewpoints), start writing posts that escalate the intensity of those feelings. For example, you might go from “echo chambers might be problematic” to “echo chambers are a dangerous threat that must be stopped now.”
4. Encourage more discussion and interaction. Of course, echo chambers draw power from user engagements, so encourage your users to post comments, discuss, and interact with your content as much as possible. When you syndicate posts, ask questions to start conversations, and ask your users to share or “like” your most valuable material.
The Other Half
If you’re polarizing your audience into those that agree with your controversial content and those that don’t, what do you do with the other half? You could consider catering to them as well, with different content, but then you run the risk of being seen as unreliable. To get around this, you could use different author accounts (ie, personal brands) to post different types of content and separate them both from your brand.
However, if your goal is increasing relevance with one segment, you may not need to worry about the other half — the strong, loyal half will typically more than make up for their absence.
The One Caveat
There’s one caveat to all these strategies, and exploiting the echo chamber in general: not all businesses will benefit from this. Some businesses are better adapted than others for making use of these types of strategies. For example, some consumer product brands will need to stay as neutral as possible to maximize audience share, and some niche industries may not have much room for polarizing or controversial content.
Use your best judgment with your own brand, and only employ echo chamber exploitation if you do the research and know your audience will respond to it.