I often wonder if we in the social media punditry business are all just talking in one giant echo chamber. We tweet at each other all day and publish blog posts just like this one, hoping to get some accolades (in the form of tweets, Facebook posts or comments) from our co-pundits. Most of us read voraciously, though often only within our own ecosystem, rarely venturing out into other spheres. I know I often fall party to this behavior, removing people from my Twitter stream when they venture too far afield (no, I really don’t want to know about your new yoga obsession), and ruthlessly slashing the titles in my blog reader from time-to-time so that I don’t waste a precious minute reading about something that’s not in my daily purview, like that silly stuff, economics, or some such.

I think of myself as pretty enlightened because besides my daily social media reads, I read dozens of parenting blogs, tweet with a bunch of parent bloggers, and attend their conferences, too; not just BlogWorld Expo and social media-specific events. I like to think that I have a sub-specialty to my social media knowledge, which is working with “mom bloggers” (much as I, and they, hate that term, it is evocative of the category). But even then, I’m still talking to bloggers, mainly about blogging and social media, though we do occasionally tweet or Facebook about toilet training, traveling with kids and birthday parties too.

But what are we all missing when we’re up to our noses in social media minutiae? There’s a whole huge world out there, and they are using social too. They’re just not using it for the business of social media. And the problem seems particularly exacerbated on Twitter.

Case in point: Blacktags. Raise your hands – how many of you know what “blacktags” are? This may not be a surprise to those of you in the know, but I only recently learned, from the New York Times, that blacktags are the term given to hashtags (on Twitter, mainly) that originate in the black community and which often top the trending charts. I’ve been aware for some time that African-Americans are overrepresented in Twitter; former Social Media Explorer blogger Tom Webster recently did some excellent research that showed that in 2010, 25% of Twitter users were African-American, which is double the percentage of African-Americans in the U.S. population. And it’s easy to see by clicking on Twitter trending topics that there are some mighty strange hashtags out there, most of whom are used by people who don’t sound like me. I’d just never put this info together to fully understand the impact that the black community is having on Twitter – and that I’m therefore missing a great deal of the Twitter conversation.

tagdef: twitter trending topics

What would happen if I paid more attention to some of these, and other off-my-beaten-path, tweets? Would I be able to glean something that could be of use to me in my life – like maybe some insight into pop culture that could help me plan a client’s promotion? Or maybe catch mention of a book or show that I wouldn’t have thought to watch myself? If I just stepped out of my comfort zone once in a while I might be enlightened.

And here’s a case where my own closed circle feels way too insular: Twitter parties. I will admit, I’ve been a big supporter of Twitter parties for brands – the ones where brands promote themselves, though often lightly, to a group of interested people using Twitter via a sponsorship and often through a third-party Twitter party provider. [I'm not talking aboutTwitter chats; those are usually unbranded and often wholly, and expectedly, within the echo chamber, as they're often people talking about social media purposely (though there are chats about running, and gardening, and a whole host of other topics too).] Twitter parties are supposed to be an opportunity for brands to reach online influentials, and they’re often judged based on how many impressions they yield, a metric that feels unnervingly like old-school PR measurement (like taking a magazine’s circulation and adding a multiplier for pass-along readers. Yeah, right.). But the reality is, that these parties are often the same people talking to each other (mostly highly-Twitter-involved moms, actually), and I seriously question whether the brands really get the outreach and impact they are expecting, beyond the brief exposure in a few people’s Twitter streams. This is a case where the audience is, in most instances, a closed ecosystem.

So what can brands learn from these two examples: the first being a whole ecosystem that’s not the norm for most marketers, and the second being an vortex of sameness?

Be Your Customer

It’s important to think like your customer and be your customer as much as you can be. I have little doubt (though I’m not 100% sure, to be honest) that savvy brands with broad marketing goals are listening to the tweets of black America, and diving in as much as they can. Maybe some of you know of examples of marketers capturing the African-American demographic on Twitter and can share in the comments. I’d really love to learn how to truly engage with 25% of the Twitter populace in a way that’s authentic to them. But if you’re only talking to people who are already your customers, you may not be getting the new awareness you’re after.

Question Your Social Marketing Demographics and Reach

If you’re a big brand looking to reach a diverse audience, check in occasionally on your social audience profile, and do so for each promotion or campaign, when you can. If you throw online events, like Twitter parties, figure out who’s actively engaging and see how those users match your desired target customer. Or see if the same people show up again and again; maybe you’ve outstripped the usefulness of that particular venue or format.

Broaden Your Horizons

It may be time to rethink the platforms and places you engage online. You might be putting a lot of resources into Twitter; companies who “do Twitter” successfully often put many more hours into it than they do Facebook, and certainly more than YouTube. Twitter is, after all, primarily a human resource issue; you can make a big impact with just time, vs. money (for Facebook promotions or ads) and creativity (for YouTube). But maybe Twitter for your brand is a pretty closed environment, and you could be reaching a whole different audience if you created some cool videos or spent some money reaching a different demographic.

There could be a whole new world out there and you might never know if you don’t get out there and live it. Get out of the echo chamber and live a little!

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About Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab is the Principal of Crackerjack Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media planning and execution. Stephanie is also the founder of the Digital Family Summit, the first-of-its-kind conference for tween bloggers and content creators and their families. Throughout her 20-year career, she has developed and led marketing and social media programs for top brands and has presented on social media and e-commerce topics at numerous conferences and corporate events. Stephanie writes about social media at CrackerjackMarketing.com, sometimes hangs out at Google+, and tweets @stephanies.

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Anonymous

    I can not figure out how’s my social media abilities until I found your post, Stephanie. And as I read your post, I imagine myself that I’ve been in echo chamber and only focused in same social site. Thanks for the ideas and the topic is really helpful.

    Regards,
    Anne Patrick
    http://netvani.com

  • Anonymous

    I’m guilty of unfollowing people who go off track. I’ve gone off track plenty of times myself. I don’t do it now, that is unfollowing people who do it. I tend to just add people to lists now, not just the fact that I’ve hit twitter’s first limit of me following 2k people.

    • http://www.stephanieschwab.com Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Great idea, Twitter lists are a great way to broaden your horizons without adding a lot of people to your stream.  

    • http://www.stephanieschwab.com Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Great idea, Twitter lists are a great way to broaden your horizons without adding a lot of people to your stream.  

  • http://buyresearchpaper.org/ research papers

    Thanks for useful information!

  • http://twitter.com/Collectual Collective Intellect

    Stephanie,

    This is a really thought-provoking post. We are also thinking about how personalized and tailored search results are narrowing the type of content people are exposed to. Our CIO, found a TED talk fairly recently about this topic, which you may find interesting.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/view/lang/eng//id/1091

    Thanks again for posting!

    @Collectual:twitter

    • http://www.stephanieschwab.com Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Thanks for the link, I will check it out. Agreed that personalization makes it even more likely that you’ll stay in the echo chamber – in fact, there was a great interview this morning on WNYC (NPR) with Eli Pariser who just wrote the book “The Filter Bubble.” If you’re into this topic, it’s well worth a listen: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/2011/jun/02/what-internet-hiding-you/

      • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

        And we will have a full review of The Filter Bubble next week!

        • http://www.stephanieschwab.com Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

          Ooh! Cool, Jason – can’t wait to read the review (and the book).

  • Imissedya

    yeaaa! new post! finally!

  • http://twitter.com/jasonarican Jason Arican

    I agree that there is a problem with the echo chamber in the the social space. Though I guess my real issue with that is the parroting and the absence of unique thoughts that we see at times.

    I also agree that Twitter is very insular… it’s basically inherent to the platform. You can only follow a finite number of people and actually pay attention to even fewer. It’s easy to get trapped into a Twitter bubble and I agree that it’s important to break free from that sometimes (although there is something to be said for having a focus).

    Where I disagree with this post is in how to step outside the echo chamber from a personal and a brand perspective.

    From a personal perspective, I don’t think that I need to launch myself into something as foreign as “blacktags” are for you (let’s forget for a moment how much I loathe that term). I primarily use Twitter for social media business as well… so why not just use it for some of my other interests? That list of Twitter chats above is pretty handy and covers a wide-range of topics. I’m a diehard Buffalo Bills fan (I know… I know), so maybe I could start following some of those guys for a change of pace.

    Looking at it from a marketing perspective- I think there are plenty of ways to market to your target audience before there comes a point for you to step outside of it. I actually think that Twitter chats are really effective ways to get great brand recognition and contribute thoughtful ideas to a captive community. I agree that, over time, you tend to see the same people in those chats… but most brands don’t even participate yet so they haven’t reached the point of saturation.

    And I think it is especially a stretch to try and authentically engage with the 25% of Twitter users alluded to above. I mean, by definition it wouldn’t even be authentic to begin with and would most likely be called out as such.  

    Overall, I get (and mostly agree with) the premise here. I just think there is something missing in the execution and especially the examples given.

    Jason

    • http://www.stephanieschwab.com Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Jason, I’m so glad you commented here since I saw your Twitter stream about this too late to effectively jump in.  

      It was the NYT article that sparked this post for me, so to not mention blacktags (and my surprise that they have a name) and the impact that the African-American community is having on Twitter would have been inauthentic. There is a huge swath of the Twitter population that is completely foreign to me, and I do wonder what would happen if I dipped my toes in from time-to-time. That’s not to say that I’m going to adopt those hashtags for marketing, or even my everyday conversations, but it could be useful in many ways to know what a full quarter of the Twitterstream is talking about.

      As I said, I don’t personally know of good examples of brands reaching the black community on Twitter. I’d love to see some, if they exist.  And if they don’t, I have to think that it’s a missed opportunity – for those brands (and probably only those brands), that have specific African-American marketing objectives (as do many major brands who create other forms of media targeting that demographic).

      I really appreciate your insight!

  • http://efanpage.com Sebastian

    Thanks Stephanie for the post. 

    I think you hit on a lot of issues in this post including social media brain drain, influence of popular culture into business, and creating and maintaining a brand that is unique.  I could write a whole book as a response about what I agree or disagree with about the post but will opt to just say that I think there has to be consistency in branding on Twitter.  Moreover, I also encourage variety in content curation as to not BORE followers. 

    It’s a fine balance of being relevant and being  tangential.  You HAVE to know why people are following you.  Most cases if it’s a business they seek information without being lectured.  Thoughts?

  • http://paulgailey.com Paul Gailey

    there is a tendency to inhabit an echo chamber, i confess to being guilty of it also, although there was that recent study that showed 50% of twitter’s output to be produced by less than 0.5% of it’s universe, or put another way, there’s really only some 20,000 active twitter users out there. There’s still a reluctant majority who don’t want to dive in and let’s face it Twitter’s growth is hardly a hockey stick anymore. As much as many in the chamber have a voracious appetite for ‘new’ many others just plod on outside of it. I just wish people in companies spent less time on email and more open communications like Twitter.

  • http://ariherzog.com Ari Herzog

    Blacktags? Really? What’s next? Whitetags, redtags, yellowtags, and greentags?

    I’m facetious… or am I? Social media comes more and more alive for me every day as I think back to all of the sociology courses I took in my undergraduate major, wondering when I’d be able to draw upon my collegiate discussions and papers on social class, elitism, and race and ethnicity.

    The presence of a cultural (or ethnic, if you will) specific terminology within Twitter by itself is hardly surprising but is its presence a factor that you’re missing a segment of society? Hardly. Keep doing whatever you do and if something is meant to be shown to you, a la social proof, then it will.

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