Cape Town, South Africa

Using the Echo Chamber to Affect Positive Change

From the Digital Communications Desk

“There are ways to use this principle to your advantage…”

The echo chamber effect has had a lot of bad press, but there has been little coverage regarding the more positive aspects of this phenomenon. There are ways to use this principle to your advantage, and to do good whether you are marketing a brand or product, or you are trying to rally supporters into action across the globe.

But before we delve deeper, it is important to define echo chamber effect.

echo chamber defined

The advent of social media has quite literally opened the world up to us. We have access to boundless information, to every corner of the globe and to the billions of people who are out there on the various platforms that we trawl daily. The echo chamber is a product of this age of social media, and occurs as a result of algorithms within social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, that pick up on the type of content that you are reading and give you more of the same. On the surface, this doesn’t sound like a problem. We are all bombarded with information and visual stimuli every waking minute of the day so a system where you are only exposed to what you want to read and engage with sorts through the noise. And yes, it does.

“It’s [the echo chamber] done because there is so much information, because one person could not hope to consume it all,” says Elizabeth Dubois at the University of Ottawa. “And that’s a really helpful tool but it does mean that you end up in a bubble based on what that platform or company has decided is most likely to suit you and your purposes.”

That’s absolutely fine for those who are equipped with critical thinking skills and can still see that there are other viewpoints out there. The problem comes in when ideas become more extreme and so the followers of these ideas less likely to shift their thinking. The term echo chamber comes from the idea that you are having your already formed ideas and opinions reinforced back to you via other sources, hence what you think echoes back at you. People in echo chambers are unlikely to consider that there might be an alternative way to theirs.

Using the echo chamber for good

As we have discussed, an echo chamber is a virtual place where like-minded people congregate in the virtual ether, to engage with and share the same views of the world. Previous echo chamber discussions have focussed on the rise of the right wing and extremism, and how the echo chamber has enabled this. On the other side of the coin, those who are fighting to against oppression, against racism, against the destruction of the planet can also use this echo chamber to their advantage.

In her article in the Washington Post in May 2017, Emily Parker discusses the impact of the echo chamber on political dissidence:

“It’s true that echo chambers can obstruct the flow of information, and that’s a problem. But those echo chambers can also be a formidable tool for political resistance. Where else do you have such immediate access to hundreds, thousands or even millions of people that agree with you? The key is to use social media for mobilization, not persuasion.”

She goes on to discuss the importance and value of the echo chamber in countries where basic human rights are restricted and physical gatherings are not always possible. The internet affords large groups to gather virtually and mobilise themselves. In these instances the echo chamber is used to rally supporters, rather than to convert new followers, to their cause. The philosophy behind this is that unity is key when affecting change. We are more likely to stand up behind something if there are others standing with us, and the echo chambers are filled with these fellow activists.

“In China and Russia, the opposition uses social media to organize among themselves, not to convince the other side. “I don’t waste my time arguing with leftists on the Internet,” a Chinese activist once told me — and you can hear similar sentiments in the United States. A Black Lives Matter activist told me that social media was for fostering black solidarity, not for changing white people’s minds,” writes Parker.

using the echo chamber to boost your brand

Just as the echo chamber can be a powerful political tool, it can also be a very powerful marketing tool too. You just have to know how to turn it on its head and use it to your advantage.

Here are a few tips…

  • Find your people

One of the huge advantages of echo chambers when it comes to marketing is that they are usually very niched. You have very specific groups of people with similar interests and outlooks. Once you have isolated your audience or customers you can engage with them very strategically and in a manner that speaks specifically to them.

  • Let the echo chamber do the work

By creating a conversation around your brand or product in an echo chamber, you can rest assured that the information will filter through and spread. That’s how it works.

  • Key players

If you want to gain credibility within the echo chamber identify and reach out the key players and influencers. Engage organically with them and you are more likely than not to get an endorsement, which spreads like wildfire in an echo chamber.

  • Speak directly

Each echo chamber will have a slightly different bias, so tweak your communication to speak to each one specifically. You have a captive audience. Don’t lose it as the result of generalising. If need be choose specific topics that you know will speak to those you are trying to reach, even if it means changing the tone and content slightly – your engagement is guaranteed to be higher.

  • Be bold

No one likes a people pleaser. It is important to create strong, sometimes controversial content in an echo chamber. Some see this as polarising, but from a marketing perspective you are creating stronger brand/product alignment with those you are speaking to. As with the previous point, this speaks directly to those you are trying to engage with. Wishy-washy content will not convert ‘non-believers’ and runs the risk of losing those who already follow you.

  • Go for the headlines

As we are subjected to information all day every day, most of us stop to read what stands out. A bold headline will do just this, and will get people talking.

  • Engagement is essential

Create content that draws your audience in and encourages them to engage with it. Create discussions by asking questions and engage in the conversations to promote the conversation. Present new and innovative content around your conversation pieces to keep your customers coming back.

There are obvious problems with presenting online information that has been tailor-made to support on particular point of view as it creates even further polarisation in a world that needs no more help with that. Occupants of echo chambers usually all share a common belief or opinion, and so only exchange ideas that support them. But as we have seen, there are ways to combat the echo chamber effect, turn it on its head and put it to good use.

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