Are You In The Social Media Echo Chamber?

by Stephanie Schwab |
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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 the Author

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.