THE PEER-TO-PEER ECHO CHAMBER: BLINDSIDED BY YOUR OWN OPINIONS

 In Branding

There is no such thing as truth, only your perception.

What one person believes to be true, to be real, is another person’s illusion. An opinion or perception that to us is clearly Black is someone else’s White. Today we celebrate social and cultural diversity in many forms, but there is something fascinating happening on social media.

We are all products of our environment. As humans and indeed as animals, we have a natural instinct called Herding. That is to stay with the herd, to act like the herd, to follow. This is hard wired into our subconscious to ensure our survival. The safest place to be is surrounded by the herd. The lioness targets the lone gazelle, not the herd. As humans, this manifests itself in our sense of tribal belonging. We are not loners. We are a social animal that thrives in groups. C&A in Brazil famously used this Herding concept when they enabled the hangers in-store to show the number of Facebook LIKES any given garment had on their website, the result being a young impressionable customer could see what her peers most liked, and thus follow the herd

Similarly Herding was used in the famous Fruit & Vegetable experiments by Colin Payne in the state of New Mexico, nudging shoppers to buy more items from the produce department by suggesting to them that most OTHER shoppers buy five pieces. Nudging the shopper to behave with the herd.

 

Recently, a somewhat invisible force has come into play for consumers. Without realising it, most of us have built a Social Media Echo Chamber, a space where all we hear are our own views and truths reflected back at us.  It is natural to associate with those of like minds and like circumstance. Again, it is simple social herding at work, to surround yourself with people you understand and have something in common with. But it is also very dangerous. It can breed closed-minded discussion and a belief that you are right.

 

You Built the Network

Social Media is a curated network. Your Pinterest and Snapchat, your Instagram, your Linked In. You have built these networks yourself. You have chosen to follow certain people on Twitter. You ‘like’ certain businesses and brands on Facebook, brands you have some affiliation or connection with.   These networks do not come preformed. YOU have built them, and perhaps unbeknown to yourself, have at the same time curated an Echo Chamber. You ‘follow’ and surround yourself with ‘friends’ with who you already share something. It is rare that we invite those with opposing views to our own into our social networks. Those who do generally are looking for a fight, to troll, as opposed to engage in any form of social debate.

The danger of an Echo Chamber is you begin to believe that your opinions are right, are real, are the only ones that matter. Everything you read and share is validated by the network. But then that is not surprising, after all you built the network. The issue arises now due to the immense importance we place on social media for our view of what is real, what is happening in the world, and who we are. For most of us, our social media ‘feeds’ are our window to the world, where we get our news, updates and sense of what is real. We spend less time exploring other possible truths, other realities. The screen of your smartphone has become your social looking glass.

 

I have published content here before on the peer-to-peer network and how important it is for brands and businesses to use P2P. To empower consumers to tell your story for you, to build brand communities, to leverage P2P as a strategic asset. Similarly, the world of consumerism has shifted to be a P2P led environment where many of us count the ‘stars’ any product or service has before we buy. We rely on our peer networks more than we imagine, often sub-consciously. It is how we make many of our purchase decisions today.

I Didn’t See That Coming

But it is also how we sense check our sense of right and wrong, our sense of what might be true or false. And hopefully at this point you can see how dangerous it is to live inside an Echo Chamber that you have built for yourself.  Those who were against Donald Trump’s candidacy for the US Presidency were certain he would lose, as their social media feeds were full of the same opinion. When the result came in, the disbelief was partly due to this Echo Chamber phenomenon. How could I have got it so wrong? Everyone agreed he was a poor candidate? Well clearly not everyone, only inside their Echo Chamber. The same with Brexit – the Echo Chamber of the average liberal white collar worker was not a fair representation of the majority. The result was that those using their social media feeds as their main window to the world were blind-sided by the NO vote.

We have seen this in extremes also. The entire world witnessed the absolute evil of the Nazi Echo Chamber in the last century. Any individual Nazi soldier or sympathiser possibly found it difficult to see the innate evil they were perpetuating, as they had surrounded themselves with those of similar opinion. When we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals, we auto-curate our own truths. It is therefore not unsurprising that much of what we see on our social media feeds, we agree with. We are simply seeing our own curated opinions, beliefs and perceptions echoed back to us.

So, what can we learn from this? Well it is simple really. Just be aware of that Echo Chamber. Be aware that the truth you read every day is one you have already had a hand in forming. Never believe that you are right, that what you know is the truth, that your opinion is the one that makes most sense. Just because your followers agree with you or validate your opinion, that doesn’t make it right. Remember you chose your followers. You have surrounded yourselves with YES ‘men’.

 

For brands this means that utilising the peer-to-peer network to promote your brand is a double-edged sword. Get it right and you can stimulate a tribal sense of belonging, the entire network becoming empowered to sell and promote your brand. Apple fans are a great example of this. They promote the brand within their peer network, eagerly await any new product launch and if you take this as ‘truth’ you would believe that the Apple brand can do no wrong. But of course, outside this particular opinion you will find a contrasting view. A view from those that are not Apple fans, that the brand remains too aloof, too restrictive and not consumer centric. The recent deletion of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 is a case in point. For a brand, get it wrong and those same tribes can turn and alienate your brand just as fast.

Open Your Mind

There is a quote I like to use with senior management when they adopt a position of authority during a keynote or workshop. You can see it in their body language or sometimes even by the way they talk, that they think they know it all. They don’t, no one does.

“If you think you are the smartest person in the room, it probably just means you are in the wrong room”. Sometimes it is better to realise that perhaps those that don’t agree with you might be right? Steve Jobs once famously quipped that “Consumers don’t know what they want”. Well it turns out he was wrong. They did know what they wanted. They wanted a larger screen and a Samsung. Android dominates the smartphone market with an 88% share.

Echo Chambers. They can be dangerous things.

 


 

Ken Hughes is one of the worlds leading Shopper and Consumer Behaviouralists, blending his vast expertise in consumer psychology, social & digital anthropology, behavioural economics and neuromarketing to answer the question to which he has dedicated most of his career: Why do shoppers buy and how can we make them buy more? Click here to read more

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