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17 February 2017, 10:05

Is our increasing precision in targeting at risk of creating echo chambers?

The term ‘echo chamber’ rocketed into everyday use in 2016 – the year that brought us Brexit and the unexpected election of President Donald J. Trump. But what does it mean? Well, as users, we’re constantly sharing data about ourselves online. This data is then used by algorithms to tailor the content we see. Sometimes, though, if we’ve told an algorithm that we like certain things, we can get stuck in an echo chamber, where we’re only ever given content that matches our likes and interests. So, while our online experiences become more personalised, they also stop us from experiencing other ways of thinking!

As marketers, this is seemingly ideal, as it means we can target users perfectly with fully tailored content we know they’ll love. In practice, though, brands can often end up over-targeting their existing customers to such an extent that they completely isolate themselves from new users. What if, then, we could use our targeting skills to communicate with users within different echo chambers and build reach with content that disrupts the status quo?

Reach over targeting

By breaking the pattern of over-targeting, marketers can access new markets, reinvigorate overly-exposed target markets and achieve greater awareness. Don’t just take our word for it: in Byron Sharpe’s book How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know, he states that, in the age ofabsolute precision, reach-based marketing is integral. Many marketers disagree with Sharp, but there is alot to be said for breaking down barriers that limit a brand’s reach.

A new perspective

We saw the impact of echo chambers during last year’s presidential election – for example, when the article ‘Why I’m Voting For Donald Trump’ (the second most popular article shared on social media with the words ‘Donald Trump’ in the headline) was shared 1.5 million times but liberal users said they never saw it in their news feed. This demonstrates how echo chambers can create ‘tunnel vision’, and stop people from looking beyond a particular opinion or idea, so there is a great opportunity for brands to offer users a new perspective and build trust.

Four steps to reversing the echochamber pattern

1.     Determine who you need to target: Use segmentation data to highlight users that are stuck in an echo chamber you want to disrupt.

2.     Create content that challenges their way of thinking: Rather than developing content that reinforces what they want to hear, take a risk and offer a new angle.

3.     Boost the topics that gain the most interest: If you notice a topic is gaining traction, keep creating content that uses and develops similar themes.

4.     Encourage your users to interact with your content: The more that users engage with your content, the greater your reach will be.

If, as marketers, we can create silos through algorithms, then we can also break them down. By doing so, we can challenge established ways of thinking, enabling us to stand out from the crowd and appeal to a new audience that might not have come across us otherwise. At pslondon, we’re always exploring ways that our clients can make the most of social media trends.


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