Is The Internet Becoming an Echo Chamber?

iPad and coffee | Web Design Surrey

Google

Google started personalising its search results a few years ago. Many people still don’t know of this opt-out feature. It just happened, and now, when you search for something on Google, you see a reflection of your interests and previous queries. Google learns which search results you click on and over time, you will see results optimised to reflect your interests.

There is a little stick figure portrait and a picture of a globe on the top right-hand side of the Google homepage – click on the globe to see generic results instead.

Why is this significant? Well, on the plus side, you will find what you are looking for faster, providing you are looking for more of the same. But what if you’re a student and wish to find evidence to disprove a theory? What if you are using Dr.Google to look up your illness (never a good idea, but let’s face it, people do it) and you’ll only see the most worrying results on the first page because that’s what you’ve been clicking on before.

Personalised Google search engine result pages (SERPs) become a reflection of you and lull you into a false sense that everything on the Internet agrees with your fears or opinions.

There is another phenomenally popular place online which is becoming more of an echo chamber every day.

Facebook

Many people have noticed (and voiced their complaints) about the new Facebook timeline algorithm – it seems that we keep seeing more of the same, and that popular stories keep rising to the top by default. This is intentional, but you can change your settings by clicking the little arrow below your status update field and selecting “Sort: most recent”. This way you will see the most recent updates from your friends and from the pages you’ve liked. However – this feed is still filtered.

Facebook uses a system called Edgerank to filter out content you haven’t interacted with often enough. It is absolutely necessary – imagine you saw every single thing everyone you follow posted; you’d never be able to keep up.

People and brands you follow are shown on your home feed if Facebook has learned that you interact with them. This has a significant impact – you might be friends with someone whose content you used to like reading but just never clicked “like” or commented on. They will eventually disappear from your home feed.

This is also significant for Facebook business pages. Your page might have 1000 likes but your analytics might show that only 200 people saw your latest post.

It’s obviously in Facebook’s best interests to encourage business pages to pay for the exposure. Facebook has been a free ride for a long time. And, yes, taking out a targeted Facebook advertisement is a really good idea, especially when you are just getting started or you have a new product or a campaign to promote.

However, a free, and effective way to get your Facebook content seen by more people is to design content that encourages interaction. Every like, comment and share increase the visibility of your post, far beyond the normal reach of your fanbase, too. Asking questions (this or that? Which do you prefer?) and posting visually engaging content are the best tools for this at the moment. You should also pay close attention to your Facebook analytics and see which content type generated the most organic (free) reach and try to produce more of the same.

For individual Facebook users, there is a way to ensure you see updates from friends whose updates you never want to miss. Add them to a user list (on the left-hand side of your home feed, you should see a heading somewhere under Apps, called Friends). You can add people to a “close friends” list, which means you see everything they post and get notified every time they do. I wouldn’t recommend going overboard with this feature, or you’ll log in to see 300 notifications. Still, it’s useful if you have friends in different time zones, for example.

Content Marketing

The third echo-chamber difficulty is the increasing popularity of “content marketing”, interpreted to mean “any fluff we can stuff keywords into.” Google punishes you for writing purely for search engines (and so will your potential customers – you must strive to create content that is actually useful).

For content marketing to be successful, you need to plan and create a routine which allows you to a) blog and capture interesting content on the move, b) get your in-house subject matter experts involved (even if they don’t create the content themselves: interview them or quiz them or get them to devote some of their time for generating ideas), c) fully embrace social media marketing to get your content out there.

There are far too many fluff and puff piece articles out there these days which may actually have a negative impact on the business or brand they are intending to promote. If you, as a potential customer, have taken the trouble to click on a link from somewhere and land on a page which just wastes your time (e.g. doesn’t inform, entertain, educate), are you likely to make the same mistake again? Of course not.

Quality over quantity matters and will be rewarded in the long run. The trick is, of course, to see the potential in your type of business for interesting content. Many businesses could, for example, create YouTube videos on how to use their products, to answer common customer queries or to show some behind-the-scenes footage.

The best content marketing gives something away for free. Will some people just take the free stuff and never become your customers? Of course. That’s not a problem. When you build a reputation as someone who knows what they are talking about and acts generously; it will become an asset, too.

If you need help with online marketing, give us a call today on 01252 413757. We design brilliant websites for all types of clients (and are the Surrey County Council’s preferred digital partner). We also help with branding, logo design and copywriting. We are based in the Georgian market town of Farnham, Surrey and we love to help businesses succeed.

Photo credit: Bert Kaufmann

CSS Design Awards Nominee