Ashley Stryker

Has Audience-Focused Content Marketing Created an Echo Chamber?

By: Ashley Stryker | October 11, 2017 | 
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Has Audience-Focused Content Marketing Created an Echo Chamber?

During Episode 190 of This Old Marketing, Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose discussed a New York Times piece on the Cannes Lions advertising festival.

People may not remember this segment, but I certainly do.

I’m the listener who submitted the story for their consideration.

And they completely missed why this article is so vital to the future of marketing.

The Real News Story

Here’s the bit that got my attention:

The race to grab your attention and hold it is leading to a new era of informational hedonism that’s doing more than shortening attention spans. It has given rise to the online silos that allow people to live in vastly different realities. If you enjoy and engage most with the news that supports your worldview—no matter its veracity—algorithms will naturally want to give you more of it. ~Jim Rutenberg/NYTimes

The bold bit is my addition, and in my opinion, is the real consequence of this “oil boom” of a content-marketing strike.

(Talk about “burying the lede.”)

The modern content marketing boom is a veritable geyser of blogs, videos, and quizzes—all designed to be the content that you, as an audience, want to see.

The important distinction here is “want to see”—because it’s not necessarily the content you need to see or should see.

 “Give the Audience What it Wants”

As modern marketers and public relations professionals, we’re told to craft stories with our audiences in mind.

We constantly hear this exhortation to tune marketing efforts to our readers’ (or listeners’) desires:

Now, I can see folks dismissing this trend as, “Oh, they just want us to post more cat videos.”

(On a personal note, I’m all for more cat comic relief, interspersed with .gifs of dachshunds eating bananas.)

But the savvier among us—the truly dangerous and weaponized among us—will realize what I’ve begun to understand.

We were all wrong.

Content Marketing is Responsible for the Ideological Echo Chamber

If we only give audiences what they want in entertaining or “engaging” snippets, does that mean we should never challenge their way of thinking?

If that’s so, then our audience is never confronted to change for the “better.”

Their viewpoints are reinforced, rather than refined.

Therefore, by turning organizations and businesses into media companies—producing content with clear biases and priorities—have marketers and public relations professionals inadvertently created the siloed “echo chamber” that Jim Rutenberg called out in his New York Times article?

The repercussions of these echo chambers are frighteningly real on both micro- and macro-scales:

  • Sixty percent of Millennials say their primary source of news is Facebook, which uses an algorithm to enhance user engagement and continuously “feeds” users similar content. (Check out Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You for more on this.)
  • UK think-tank demos found people only engaged with material from companies who were most likely to “agree” with them, whether or not the information provided was correct or unbiased.
  • Tim Riesterer, of Corporate Visions, discussed during a Content Marketing World workshop how people instinctively make decisions in their “emotional” mind, using their “rational” side to rationalize. They seek out information to justify their decision, instead of balancing their perspective.

At the present, we used that information to better promote our companies and their services to the easiest-converted.

My question to you is, should we?

The New Outreach Model

If we want to be more thoughtful marketers and PR professionals, we need to consider the following:

1. Know what kind of person you want as a potential customer.

Look at your audience personas, your targeted media outlets.

Who are the people who consume those sorts of materials? Are they folks your company would want to socialize with? Or would you dare not meet them alone?

Dump outreach designed for eyeballs, not ethics.

Instead, craft content that attracts an audience you’d be proud to call friends (or customers).

In this case, immeasurable KPIs—like who your company associates with—are worth more than raw analytics.

2. Ensure your talking points serve your audience in ways they need—not just what they want to hear.

An executive once tried to talk me out of posting a news story on our social media feed that might’ve helped all our clients.

Why? Apparently, if clients tried the recommendations, it would make the company’s job harder (and less profitable).

His company perspective was antithetical to what the audience—his clients—needed to hear in this case.

The problem was the company’s issue to solve, projected onto the customer.

In the end, we managed to resolve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction.

And the company is currently fixing those issues, should customers adopt the new model.

In this instance, it was the company-client who only wanted to hear a particular narrative.

By listening to what it needed—instead of focusing on what it wanted—the company now has a more forward-thinking plan.

Whew.

Well, that was the conversation I had hoped for on the This Old Marketing podcast.

And by the way, they do a great job of reviving this topic after I showed them a draft of what you’re reading now.

(Skip to minute 42 of episode 197 for the direct response.)

Let’s continue the conversation.

Are you reaching—and improving—an audience with which you’re proud to associate? 

About Ashley Stryker


I'm a content marketing manager who focuses on creating content that helps my audience in some way--whether or not they buy my employer's service or goods. When I'm not cuddling with my beagle-mix pups or watching the DotA2 International tournament with my husband, you can find me (finally) deadheading the calendula marigolds in my medicinal herb garden.

  • Soooooo much yes to this! This is a topic which is really concerning on a large level and I think fuels a lot of the huge divide going on in our country right now (not to mention allows “fake news” and “alternative facts” a solid place on the playing field.

    if you study psychological biases as all (I did a series of articles a while ago on them), the way content distribution works right now plays into many of them…..so we continue to reinforce our own world view, over and over, and over again…until we forget that view is OUR view, not universal.

    • EXACTLY. But I’m honestly not sure how we can change this, as marketing professionals, except to point out to our superiors that traditional KPIs might need to change.

      Maybe instead of pointing out that we won X leads that lead to $$$ revenue, maybe we need to analyze the leads as a community.

      For example, my current employer focuses on specific metro areas in which to offer the product. On a surface level, I could do an analysis of, say, the zip codes of all the leads to see if they’re in served metro areas–and to possibly guide future metro implementation.

      On a deeper level, I might create a persona of Q3 leads vs Q2 or Q1 or YTD–and then compare those to the type of persona I originally created as someone I “want” to attract. Then, those insights could be used to guide content creation more toward the more desired audience of my company’s “guest list.”

      • Hmmmmm…..I like that thought path. So, so much to think about here!

  • Like Laura, I believe a lot of what is happening in our country is because we contribute to the echo chamber, and because we flock to the content that supports our thinking.

    It’s so hard. Just yesterday, a friend of mine was defending Trump and saying he’s not a sexual predator because he used words to describe what he wanted to, which is not as bad as what Harvey Weinstein actually did. It was REALLY hard to read the debate because I think she’s wrong (and it’s hard for me to understand how a woman can defend that). My thinking is words or actions…it doesn’t matter. It’s not OK and it’s still abuse toward women.

    That’s an extreme case—and I often recommend to clients to take a stance on things—but it’s not easy to do.

    • Actually, that’s a great example, even if it’s extreme. See, I think a lot of us get caught up around “rightness,” and our innate belief that there is only one right way.

      For my Etsy shop, I believed that substituting EOs for vaccinations is dangerous and thus mine is only “right” way. But for that woman, she believes that vaccines are dangerous, and that’s the “right” way.

      But by focusing on our respective “rightness,” I think we’re losing our ability to empathize as a collective whole… and we only read things or watch videos or listen to leaders who support our “rightness.” (There’s this amazing Cracked article on how the last election was a city vs country issue that presented how the latter views the former and the actual justification that made sense… one sec: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-trumps-rise-that-no-one-talks-about_p2/ <–read this. I think everyone needs to read this.)

      At the same time, companies need a perspective. They MUST have their own internal codes and environments if they're to reach that desired audience. AND their marketing and PR must adhere to that vision. Chick Fil A, for example, is founded on unabashedly Christian values; Hobby Lobby, as well. They both do an excellent job of "walking their walk," even though I disagree with both on a number of levels.

      How can we balance this need for perspective while acknowledging that our own "right" isn't always the sole solution?

      • I read that, too! It’s a really interesting perspective. I often joke that I love my urban city bubble.

  • A few years back, I wrote a post that referenced a study by Pew, that talked about the silence on social networks when it came to topics that made us think.

    The study found that, since the Snowden revelations, people were afraid to offer differing points of view, because they weren’t sure where it would end up. Instead, they’d only join conversations when the POV matched theirs.

    The result? Silo’d, non-learning bubbles where everyone is riding a unicorn, sprinkling happy dust and singing The Partridge Family show tunes.

    You see this so much on blogs centred around content marketing. Fellow marketers slapping each other on the back, propping up their non-original thinking, dining on fast food crap versus a good steak.

    And then people wonder why the “all blogs are dying” mantra keeps rearing its head.

    Get out and challenge. Think for yourself. Ask more of people. Demand more of “insights”. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    • Many content marketing blogs are freaking circlejerks of reddit proportions (much as I love that forum). I’ve unsubscribed from a number of them for those reasons.

      I answered a HARO request the other day from a marketing blog that wanted original ways to distribute content online, giving a link to a massive “101 ways to distribute content” article as the baseline. I looked at that, raised both eyebrows, and thought that why do you need 101 ways to do something if 20 are effective? And why do you want “original” ways without asking about their effectiveness? And how do you measure that effectiveness, anyway?

      What more would you demand from insights, though, to be able to grow properly and ask more from people? Are we “allowed” to ask more of customers while still remaining effective as PR and marketing people?

      • “Circle jerks of Reddit proportions” – love it! 🙂

        I think when it comes to insights, there are two trains of thought:

        – As a reader, I don’t want your “insights” to be every single blog post pimping “in my book, I talked about…”. That is not an insight – that’s BS shilling.

        – As a blogger, show that you have the chops to back up what you’re saying. Anyone can Google “strategy 101”, but those that have really been in the trenches and done the work? Highlight that. You don’t need to give away the secret sauce, but damn, show me your recipe is worth devouring.

        And, yes, we should ask more of our customers every single time. They’re looking to us to be leaders, but we can’t be that if we take everything they say at face value.

        Dig deeper, probe, make them uncomfortable – and then the good stuff will happen.

        • I love what you’re putting down and this is all stuff we should be thinking about–especially the idea of leadership within PR & marketing. I know I’ve been asked by my company to make them a “thought leader” in the industry, but I wonder sometimes how we can show true leadership instead of just smarts or expertise.

          On a totally unrelated aside, I snorted at the word “probe.” That’s just one of those silly words that makes me giggle even when used properly. My coworker has a problem with the word “moist” in a similar way. (Apparently I can’t talk about how moist my cupcakes are when I bring in trial batches anymore…)

          • Ah, the good old “thought leader” term – man, how I loathe that! (just ask @ginidietrich:disqus !)

            The best way to be seen as leaders? Do good stuff, solve core problems, don’t pretend to know what you don’t, and always be pushing. That will win the hearts and minds of customers long after the buzz word of thought leadership has gone.

            Back in the UK, I had a friend whose surname was Moist. You can imagine the fun we had with him.. 🙂

    • I enjoy reading most different views. However, I rarely comment because of the nasty people out there. I did a grammar correction on Twitter during the Charlottesville mess because I wanted it to reach a wider audience and this liberal jumped on me personally. I reported her but they didn’t feel it was worth deactivating her account (probably the right decision but that chick was nasty and full of herself). Hence,this incident supports my preference to not comment on divisive issues in public spaces.

      • I hear you. And the push back we receive can be off-putting, and make us not want to get involved/say anything.

        But then the danger is in the strength our silence gives to others (especially with the current mindset of enablers). On the flip side, we need more people to stand up and protect those who come under fire when they say something that doesn’t sit with the recipient.

        Until then, we’ll have the same silos, closed thinking, and dangerous potentials that not asking or challenging can result in.

        • I responded once and she pounced again so that was it for me b/c it wasn’t a big issue to me. Plenty of other coverage going on. It was an attack not a discussion.

          • See, that’s where we need others to stand up, as opposed to being vocally silent.

  • I’m going to tweet out your article, with the final sentence as the tweet copy. Now, just here, I’d like to point out P.T. Barnum and how he desired dumb audiences (audiences he probably had disdain for, to boot!) . . .
    When we think about outreach designed for eyeballs, we should also remember: Desiring a dumb audience IS part of outreach designed for eyeballs, in many cases. I’m sure there are a few exceptions. Foul but true, imho.

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