Search Engines and Social Media: Combatting the echo chamber

Published on May 23, 2024 by Alex Eade

Do social media platforms contribute to an echo chamber effect of limiting the diversity of perspectives, visible brands and information available to users? 

Can businesses do anything to combat this? 

Welcome to the second part of our panelist event ‘Search Engines and Social Media’, this time focusing on whether social media contributes to an Echo Chamber Effect. Social media is often criticised for creating echo chambers—environments where users are only exposed to information and perspectives that reinforce their own views, but does this significantly impact user behaviour and beliefs? Interestingly, research suggests that while echo chambers exist, their influence may not be as pervasive as assumed, with people often consuming a diverse range of media sources. For businesses, this raises the question: How can they navigate and mitigate the echo chamber effect? Join our panelists Alex Jeater, Kate Webster, Tom Walker and Mick Scanlon as they explore strategies for brands to foster diversity in their content, engage with broader audiences, and participate in meaningful conversations across social media platforms.

Kate: This is one of the big criticisms of social media, that it creates an echochamber. The research does bear this out, Eli Pariser coined the term ‘filter bubble’ in 2010, referencing how the algorithms filter things out and lead to a kind of intellectual isolation due to personalised searches. 

There is a bit of an echo chamber on social  media, but what’s interesting is the second part of that question – does this matter? Interestingly, the research shows that generally speaking it’s not having that much of an effect on people’s behaviours and beliefs. 

So it’s happening, but it’s not massively impacting people. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, in most countries people’s consumption of media is quite diverse. Not a lot of people are single sourced when it comes to their perspective on things. When you look at it, people’s own self selection into groups is having a bigger effect on the echochamber than algorithms do. 

There was a study done with young people asking them some of the reasons why they choose to use social versus a traditional search engine and their reason was because of the diversity of opinions on subject matter on social media, so it’s exactly the opposite of what we might think. 

 

Alex: Social media does get a bit of a bad rep in terms of creating an echo chamber, what I would say is that twenty years ago, pre social media, people would go and choose a right wing or a left wing newspaper and just read that news. At least with social media you can search for a diversity of opinions if you want to. If you go to the comments section under posts you’ll also get a huge range of opinions and debates which you simply didn’t get with physical newspapers twenty years ago. 

The key thing for brands if you want to reach out, especially B2C brands, you need to be inspiring, educating, entertaining people. You need to be trying to align yourself to cultural moments and become part of conversations. 

 

Kate: Also, make sure that your content is diverse, and that it is appealing to a greater audience. If your audience is not a single segment, why would your brand be a single voice? How can you speak to different people? Make sure that you’re telling different sides of the story to engage with different segments and different perspectives or points in the user journey. 

 

Mick: The echo chamber effect might be something that impacts different generations. I’m Gen X and apparently people my age don’t interact with social media content enough, and that’s what triggers the echo chamber effect, whereas Gen Z and millennials do engage and therefore they’re at less risk of this isolation of opinion. I think that’s quite interesting because we’re talking about three or four types of demographic that now have access to this new content and new technology, and each one of them seems to be doing something slightly different. So from a marketing perspective it’s about trying to recognise that. 

I do think there is a risk for the echo chamber effect in lots of different cultural areas online, for example would someone who is listening to the latest Drake album find Nick Drake because of what they’re listening to? Probably not, so they’re missing out there in my opinion! 

What businesses can do to deal with that situation is to diversify your content, think outside of the box on which conversations you can get involved in, especially when you’re B2B because content for some B2B companies can be quite dry and uninspiring when actually there are so many opportunities out there to engage. 

Tom: Just stay relevant I think. We’ve got a brand that initially looked at a platform like TikTok and thought ‘that’s not a segment for us because we sell washing machines and fridges’. But their marketing team ran with it and created educational content and within a space of six months they got close to 100,000 followers just because the footage is entertaining but also really informative and useful. It’s not about doing a hard sell through that channel, it’s educating and helping people with their products.