How to break your content out of the social media echo chamber

Social media algorithms and a wariness of opposing opinions make it harder to get content out to new audiences – but the benefits of doing so are clear

When Michael Gove declared in the run up to the UK’s European Union membership referendum, “people in this country have had enough of experts”, he faced a storm of derision.

It was billed in many corners as the ultimate example of a nonsensical Leave campaign that was destined to fall flat. But following the shock result of 23 June, the quote began to be considered more carefully.

It wasn’t so much that people didn’t want to rely on expert opinion for specialist tasks, it was more that they wanted to be in charge of which voices they heard. And in an age where it’s more possible than ever to control what content you consume, that sentiment trickled through into a wider, more politicised context.

A programme recently broadcast on BBC Radio 4 looked at how we are inclined to more readily accept the things we already think. Is this a dangerous trend, or a natural one? Moreover, as content marketers, how can we provide effective content for an audience that seems increasingly divided across broadening fault lines?

Content in the echo chamber

One common by-product of social media is rarely encountering information that you don’t already agree with – known as an echo chamber. Like the myth of Echo and Narcissus, we only hear versions of what we have said, and we fall in love with reflections of ourselves.

People curate what news they receive via the people and organisations they follow. As such, you can happily float through your day without ever seeing contradictory opinions.

This fact is made all the more extreme by newsfeed algorithms, designed to give us ‘more of the same’ – related articles and similar search results.

Producing content for an audience that only consumes what it wants to consume is a difficult task. If people are increasingly stuck in their ways when it comes to what they choose to read, watch or listen to, as content marketers we must work extra hard to break through the algorithms and reach a wider audience.

Stick to the narrative

Over the course of the 45-minute BBC Radio 4 programme, host Jo Fidgen presents a pretend news story about a jewellery theft. She offers the information in different ways. The first being that the jewels have been stolen, and police say the gardener has been cleared of the crime. As a result of this description, people’s suspicions remain high. The second option is to add that someone else (the butler) has now been charged. That extra information makes the story all the more convincing.

The reason? There is cohesion of narrative.

Being in possession of all the facts presents a fuller, more convincing picture. Along with that, if you can tell a compelling, coherent story, people will find the story – and therefore the content – very hard to resist.

Or, as Jo Fidgen puts it, “Cold facts are not enough. They’re much more convincing when they’re part of a story.”

Polarising content: effective or damaging?

If there’s one thing the last 12 months of global events has taught us, it’s that polarising, narrative-led opinions are more effective at breaking through to the mainstream than measured, even-handed facts.

Content marketing is, of course, about building relationships. But it’s also about reaching as many people as possible.

Creating polarising content naturally splits an audience, as well as stirring up controversy and helping it to stand out. A well-chosen phrase or unusual angle invites interaction and so aids visibility.

You might contemplate the strategy of entering such polarising echo chambers – would the loyalty of those who support a view make up for the loss of those who are against it? This, however, is clearly a dangerous game.

But it is worth considering how echo chambers affect content marketing. Is your content only being thrown out to people in the same echo chamber? Is there a way of expanding reach in a more natural way – through a change of tone or platform, for example?

In the end, the idea that “people have had enough of experts” is a reductive one. In the same way that experts will always be needed, producing intelligent, well-argued content remains the best way of amplifying your content far beyond the echo chamber.

And if you can broaden your content’s audience, you can avoid the pitfalls of staring too deeply at your own reflection.

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