The social network timeline is, in
effect, a personal newspaper. Our friends' posts on facebook,
twitter or google+ tell us what's happening in their worlds. But
like every great newspaper, the timeline also links us to other
information, news and entertainment that we might like.
It is often said that our timeline is,
in fact, a filter. We see only what our community of selected
friends post. If someone posts things on social networks that we
are not interested in, we will "unfollow" or "uncircle" him or her
sooner or later - depending on our mood, on the strength of our
relationship and the "netiquette", the rules of courtesy in social
media that everyone has to obey to remain an accepted member.
Advertising, in particular, seems to
be content that only very rarely passes through this filter, if at
all. Just as we would in our "meatspace" communities, we try to
avoid people pushing unwarranted business towards us. Thus, the
timeline might be the toughest spam-filter there is.
This phenomenon of a highly
sophisticated algorithm combined with a social prediction engine
has been named "the filter bubble" by author and entrepreneur Eli
Pariser. The word bubble in this case has a thoroughly ambivalent
meaning: a bubble that surrounds us, in which we are somehow
trapped, because we no longer see the reality outside clearly; the
second meaning of course is that of a soap bubble that will burst
sooner or later like any other piece of online hype. There is
concern that this bubble could not only diminish the quality of
serendipity inherent in networks such as the internet, but also the
ability of advertisers to reach new audiences.
The Rise Of Social Media And
The Changes For Mass Media
The rise of social media has been
accompanied by the decline of mass media. Although it is undisputed
that the 30'' TV spot is still the most effective means of
advertising and is likely to remain that way for a long time, it is
becoming harder and hearder to reach some audiences through the
classic communication channels.
Advertising is perhaps more sensitive
to this development than any other form of communication. However,
it also becomes increasingly difficult to reach out to audiences,
be it for advertising, political announcements or any other kind of
communication. This filter bubble process will add a new dimension
to the rising complexity of communications planning that we have to
take into consideration.
Social media platforms provide
multiple technological means to make this filterprocess even more
seamless, effective and invisible to their users. By organising our
contacts into groups, lists or circles, users are encouraged to
(re)create hierarchies of relevance ("inner circle", "extended
circle", "nuisance circle", "spam"). Thus content posted by someone
from the "buddies" circle might get a totally different amount of
attention compared to content from someone in the "business
partners" or "opinion leaders" circle.
My Internet Does Not Look The
Same Way Yours Does
A third layer - after the timeline and
the circles - between the user and "outside reality" is created by
Google and other search engines that use the selections made by
users in their social media profiles (timeline, circles) as input
for their algorithms to provide the most relevant results for our
queries. These technologies take content posted by our friends to
predict what would be relevant for us.
We can no longer expect to be shown
any kind of objective search ranking, instead we will get our very
own list of results that might be completely different from that of
our colleagues or neighbours. Google translates this into what it
thinks we would find relevant. This will heavily impact Search
Engine Optimisation (SEO). How will searchmarketing specialists in
the future be able to guarantee that you'll get a top-10 search
ranking? For SEO purposes it will thus also become important to see
the URLs of websites we want to promote recommended as often as
possible by being posted or tweeted.
The targeting of display ads can be
improved in the same way. This is, of course, a good thing at
first, since campaigns will perform more efficiently and the user
will experience more relevant advertising. But, at the same time,
the inventory that addresses a broad audience, maximising reach - a
prerequisite in building brand awareness - becomes more
Thus social media works as a filter,
induced by the user, but also selects what the user gets
recommended by search engines and display advertising. Very few
platforms allow users to access and edit the predicted preferences
of these algorithms in the way that Google, for example, does on
http://www.google. com/ads/preferences. This might become more
common following the EU Privacy Directive that became effective in
May this year and will be implemented in national legislation
Finally, the media consumption of the
classic channels is also affected by the filter bubble. Studies
have shown that nothing influences a consumer's choice more heavily
than the recommendation they get through their timeline, which
thereby becomes a screen that might preselect what someone would
watch or read. It's not only media consumption - our brand
preferences also start to be affected by the posts from our
community to our circles, friends and our timeline.
One side effect is that the meaning of
brands in people's lives changes. With mass media advertising, the
most valuable brands would have been those that gave their buyers a
sense of prestige. Conspicuous consumption is based on mass
communication. It requires that others easily recognise what brands
When the process of building brand
preferences gets somehow atomised, as we experience when enclosed
within our filter bubbles, others may no longer notice the
significance of our brand-choices. At the same time, it becomes
increasingly important to show affiliation to your community, to
get acceptance and to be welcomed as a member.
Brands that contribute something of
value to a community, something that not only the buyer but the
whole community can benefit from, will be the brands that succeed.
They will be more likely to show up in their buyers' posts, telling
their friends, "look, I care about all of you".
So far we have been mostly looking at
what gets filtered out. But what about the content that does make
it inside our filter? Since most users follow more people than they
know in person, there must be something that gets through.
Umair Haque, a writer for the Harvard
Business Review, has coined the term 'meaningful brands' in
opposition to the more conventional 'aspirational brands' that we
previously bought into.
With the 'meaningful brands' we have a
first hint of how advertising within the filter-bubble might still
work. Apart from that, and in addition to the obvious - the
personal statements, the thoughts, and emotions that people share
with their followers - there is a specific type of content that
gets propagated from one personal circle to the next, that is
repeatedly shared, retweeted, liked or whatever 4form of handling a
certain platform might provide.
You probably know what I am talking
about when I mention these viral ideas: LOLCats, dramatic chipmunk,
Nyan Cat, Sad Keanu, Goatse and Pedobar. Viral ideas and images
like this can be described as 'memes'. But more often, memes
consist of more mundane images, such as pictures of food or birds
that spread across the web.
'Meme' is an artificial word. It was
created in behavioural biology to describe the way cultural ideas,
symbols and practices get passed from one generation to the next.
These ideas can self-replicate and adapt to a changing environment
in the same way that genes do through the standard model of
biological evolution. The meme is hence seen to be the cultural
equivalent of the gene.
There are different types of memes,
depending on their way they propagate. Some get spread very
rapidly, globally and evenly. Others are shared only in their own
community - which needs not to have been defined otherwise; these
images just tend to stop at some invisible border. Some images seem
to virtually infect one community and then, after some time, jump
over to the next, creating bubble-like structures in the social
web, while others fade away proportionally to the distance of their
point of origin.
Before joining MediaCom, I did
research with my long-time associate Benedikt Koehler, now COO of
Ethority, to find out why some images and ideas had the power to
become memetic. Even more interesting, we aimed to work out a way
to brief creative people how to shape an image for a certain
memetic task. So we set about hacking the meme code.
The results will soon be published.
And of course we will deploy our findings to create campaigns that
are seen to be valuable and meaningful, or at least entertaining
for our clients' target audiences.
BIO Joerg Blumtritt (*1970) is
managing director at MediaCom Germany. After his graduation in
statistics and political sciences he started working as a
researcher in behavioural sciences, focused on nonverbal
communication. Projects were funded by EU Commission, German
federal government and the Max- Planck-Society. Subsequently he ran
marketing and research teams for TV-channels ProSiebenSat.1, RTL II
and magazine publisher Hubert Burda Media, introducing new
qualitative methods like Netnography (< interNET ethNOGRAPHY)
into media research. As European Operations Officer at Tremor
Media, Joerg was in charge of building the New York-based video
ad-network's European Enterprises. He is founder and chairman of
the German Social Media Association (AG Social Media) and is
co-author of the Slow Media Manifesto.
THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS
EXPRESSED IN THIS DOCUMENT ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR.