I was struck recently by a tweet from a social media guru, commenting on how staid and outdated he found the presentations at a healthcare conference because social media was so undervalued and unappreciated as a marketing vehicle. That tweet really got under my skin. It seemed pretentious to me, calling healthcare marketing outdated because they aren’t using the latest social media tactics. But then I realized this ‘guru’ probably spends much of his time on social media blogs, following other social media gurus on Facebook, Twitter & Google+, and using all the latest ideas himself. I’m sure he talks with hundreds of clients, helping them make the best use of social media for their businesses. Of course he would think that healthcare professionals ‘just don’t get it.’ He, after all, lives in the social media echo chamber.
If you’re active in Social Media – any kind of media, in fact — you’re probably familiar with the echo chamber. The echo chamber is what happens when you follow online communities or media sources you agree with, and before long, you find you’re listening only to like-minded people, you hear your own opinions constantly echoed back to you, and you’re further reinforced in your own belief system. It goes a long way to explaining our currently polarized political system, where neither side can even hear the opposing side anymore, much less appreciate their point of view.
For many of us, the echo chamber also frames our business and personal discussions. Do you find yourself bored from reading ever- similar story themes in your daily Facebook stream? Do the tweets from people you follow all start to sound the same after a while? Do you find the sources you read tend to cluster around certain repetitive themes? If so, you’re in an echo chamber that was most likely crafted for you by Google or Facebook. It’s a dangerous place to live for very long, because you’ll find after a time that your opinions become hardened, you start to think your views are ‘the truth’, and you gradually lose your ability to see other points of view. Or, if you’re naturally more open-minded, you’ll find yourself becoming bored by the lack of diversity and new ideas you find online.
Remember those long-ago days when most people got their news from mass media, when we had to trust news editors to decide what was newsworthy and fit to print? In those days, editors had to print a diversity of topics in order to satisfy their diverse readership. Today, Google serves up a smorgasboard of information, making us feel like we’re exposed to endless diversity. But it’s deceiving because Google tailors the delivery of that information in search results based on what it knows of our interests and previous behavior. Facebook does the same, by favoring posts from people we interact with most. And Twitter has the same effect, as we follow people we find interesting and then get drawn further into their circles of similar people. Google+ alleviates the echo chamber somewhat by allowing you to deliberately create separate – and ever-widening — Circles of connections. But it doesn’t do away entirely with the echo chamber.
In the world of social media, it takes work to keep an open mind and a broad perspective. We’ve offloaded that job from the mass media news editor to the online individual. It’s a heavy burden but an important responsibility – to yourself and others. If you leave it to Google and Facebook, they will, over time, cocoon you in a well-padded chamber of echoes of your own voice. If that is scary to you (it is to me!), you’ll need to keep a vigilant hand in the management of your social media circles. Prune the list of who you’re following, what blogs you’re subscribed to, and what perspectives you’re reading. If you feel the chamber walls narrowing, go out and find opposing viewpoints and subscribe to those. Get active in their comments. Engage with other perspectives. The old adage “don’t judge a man till you’ve walked a mile in his boots” could be updated to say “don’t form your opinions till you’ve ventured outside your own echo chamber”.
I have this nightmare image that, if we don’t keep ourselves vigilantly openminded online, we could become an entire nation that’s a macrocosm of our current Congress. Now that’s a scary thought.
Just to keep things interesting and open-minded, here are 3 articles with quite different perspectives on the theme of this blog post.
- Mass media marketing is dead. Not. (customerthink.com)
- Swarm Theory: How the Media Controls the Debate // Luke Stibbs // 12.06.2011 (thecollegeconservative.com)
- The Filter Bubble Within Social Media (searchengineland.com)