How Social Media Is Polarizing Your Audience (and What to Do Next)
It would be nice if interactions on social media were consistent, predictable, and in regular intervals, but sadly, that’s not the case. The social media world isn’t wholly unpredictable, but the sheer number of variables associated with your followers’ habits and behaviors makes the equation extraordinarily complex.
Over the course of the past decade, social media audiences have undergone a kind of evolution, in multiple areas, driven by increasing familiarity with social media, bigger audience sizes, the manifestation of personal habits, and of course, changes to the social media platforms themselves.
The way I see it, your social media audience has become polarized — in three important dimensions — but rather than seeing this as a threat, you should see it as an opportunity. How you respond to this polarization will determine whether you attract a host of new followers — or collapse, and alienate the ones you’ve already gathered.
Ideological Echo Chambers
The first dimension refers to groups of users themselves, who tend to organize themselves in ideological echo chambers. Echo chambers develop when some form of selection artificially exposes people to more sources that agree with what they already believe, and eliminates exposure to contradictory information or posts.
This happens in part because social media algorithms want to give us content it knows we like — and that usually means content we already agree with. However, users also create their own echo chambers by following friends, brands, and other sources they align themselves with, and deliberately unfriending, blocking, or avoiding sources that contradict them. This makes it hard to bridge the gap between your brand and users who aren’t immediately aligned with you, and even harder to remain neutral.
There’s also a stark divide between content that earns lots of likes and shares, and content that doesn’t. A couple of years back, Moz and BuzzSumo analyzed over one million pieces of content to learn that the vast majority of content never earns a single link or share. Instead, most links and shares are earned by a small minority of posts.
That means most engagements and interactions on the web are pooled toward a tiny fraction of the best content available, and the rest of the content produced gets ignored by the masses. It’s an all-or-nothing game.
There’s also polarization in regard to who supports your brand and how — and the Pareto principle applies here. Roughly 20 percent of your followers will be responsible for 80 percent of the new exposure your campaign generates — they’ll be the ones liking, sharing, and commenting on your content.
These are your brand evangelists, and the more you have, the better. The rest of your followers will remain mostly inactive, rarely contributing to your brand community, and adding little value to your campaign.
Strategies and Tips
These polarized extremes are interesting concepts, but what practical value do they really hold? What can you do to take advantage of these paradigms?
· Stop trying to do everything. If you try to spread your efforts out evenly (among different types of content, different followers, etc.), you’ll end up wasting your time. Polarization in all three areas illustrates that some forms of investment are far more valuable than others. If you try to do everything at once, or if you try to please everyone at the same time, you’re going to fail (and waste resources doing it).
· Don’t be afraid to cause controversy. Most brands are afraid to post sentiments or content that’s controversial. After all, if you end up offending a portion of your audience, they may unfollow you and proclaim to never buy from you again. However, posting controversial content also strengthens the bonds you have with your ideologically aligned customers, increasing the likelihood they’ll become brand evangelists. In essence, you could end up trading quantity for quality, filtering out some of your weakest followers in favor of strengthening your best contributors.
· Invest in your best content. Only the best of the best content is going to earn shares and links, so why bother investing in content that’s only meant to fill space? Split your investments carefully, investing the bulk of your time and resources into a select number of highly valuable pieces, rather than churning out as many posts as you can.
· Pay attention to your most active users. Some of your followers are more valuable than others. Pay attention to who’s liking, sharing, and commenting on your posts, and make sure to reward them. Engage them in conversation, thank them for their contributions, and consider sharing some of their material in kind. This will improve your retention rate and encourage others to engage in similarly active behavior.
· Zoom in on outliers. When measuring your performance on social media, pay close attention to outliers — strange peaks and valleys in your data. These are signs of where you should invest more heavily.
We’re facing increased polarization in many areas as a society, including politics and subcultures, but polarization has always existed because human beings are wired to view things in an “us vs. them” mentality. We’re naturally drawn to associate with and support the people like us, and avoid (or even vilify) people that aren’t like us. It’s a sometimes unfortunate element of human nature, but you can’t make it go away.
Instead, reshape your strategy to accommodate it, and reap the benefits the best you can.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!