Trump, Tribes and Echo Chambers: How the Polarising of Social Media Affects Your Small Business (Part 1)


Trump, Tribes and Echo Chambers: How the Polarising of Social Media Affects Your Small Business (Part 1)

Trump, a man well-known for his insults and not known for his political experience, has just been elected President of the United States of America. This week will go down in history as a big one. In the future, people will ask ‘where were you on the 9th of November 2016’ when you heard that Donald J Trump secured his place in the White House as leader of arguably the most powerful nation on earth.

Social media has gone insane: there is mud-slinging and posturing, satire and debate. Everyone has an opinion, and most think the other side is crazy. Blame, shame, fear, shock, depression, entitlement and vitriol. Left vs. right, blue vs. red, and polarising of people from one another.  Some are clinging to their views like bulldogs; others are fleeing social media for some peace and quiet.

Now here’s the thing. Without realising, we have all been fed material that has strengthened our views, entrenching our original beliefs. Very early in the campaign we were seeing mostly our own opinions on social media, whether we knew it or not. There were a scant few who saw a cross-section of information in their feeds, because they engage actively online. The rest of us, who often like, comment and share, offered information to the algorithms, so that information we were likely to agree with showed up in our feeds.

Why does this happen?

Social media platforms are good at understanding what we want to see. They know how irritating it is for us to scroll through social media, and become tense and angry. They note the posts we don’t like or skip and the posts we engage with. They then feed us more of what we like. This creates what is now widely known as the ‘echo chamber’: an online place where we hear echoes of ourselves and are surrounded by opinions close to our own.

Over time we become polarised from one another, living in a comfortable bubble of similar opinions. Our version of the truth is based on what we see, and not on the information that escapes us. A cool tool called Blue Feed, Red Feed illustrates this brilliantly. Play with it, and see how strong this ‘echo chamber’ can be.

Why is this important information for business people?

In recent times, most business people have learnt that a key to drawing business is building a powerful tribe of people who want to do business with you. That tribe will often be made up of people who have similar views. We engage with the tribe, and grow to understand their challenges, needs and opinions. We get to know what our potential clients think.

We create a bubble that pushes those who are different from ourselves away. Unknowingly, we are part of the polarising of society.

I would like to invite you to think a bit more about how the ‘echo chamber’ plays out for you, for your tribe, and for the world. And also how this impacts your business.

You: are you looking for information or affirmation

Francis Liu, a widely-read and savvy analyst of online behaviour, pointed out to me that people often think they are gaining information from the internet when they are actually gaining affirmation of their views. Think about it and work out what you want from your online engagement – information, or affirmation.

Your Tribe: are they your ‘echo chamber’

Recognise that if you have a loyal tribe, you are probably drawing people towards you who see the world in a very similar way to you, and pushing others away. Recognise that your tribe is probably your ‘echo chamber’.

The World: consider what you can do to reduce polarisation

Think about how you can decrease polarisation and make a positive impact on the world. We are not all going to agree with one another, but knowing the concerns and problems of a wider group of people than your ‘echo chamber’ could build bridges across divides. It might also benefit your business. If you want to be the wisdom you want to see in the world you need to consider your options and decide how you want to engage online in the future.

I’d love to hear what you have decided to do.

If you want to move beyond your comfy ‘echo chamber’, and consider how this can impact positively on your business, my next Smallville post will offer seven business-friendly tips to build your Tribe while expanding your exposure to other opinions. And how to stay sane while doing it.

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