Sorry, Have to Pop Your Bubble

Breaking Down Echo Chambers with Paid Social

If there is one lasting lesson from the rollercoaster ride that was 2016, it’s that we ALL live in bubbles.  Call it perhaps a wall of our own making. In today’s political and cultural climate, more consumers are crafting insular lives in “chambers” that only serve to echo our initial or habitual sentiments and experiences. And media has been quick to follow suit with specialized channels, networks, social groups, hashtags and even dating apps for every whim and fancy. With the swift maneuvering of Big Data, advertisers and publishers alike have been able to leverage and match our natural tendency to curate our lives with algorithms that only display ads and content we’d like right at the moment when we’re likely to enjoy it the most.

And it’s good - right? Isn’t it great that if we so desire, our News and Twitter feeds will automatically filter out the baby photos and student loan repayment ads for the memes and Buzzfeed listicles that we prefer? Consumers understand the convenience and value that advertising content can have, but only insofar as it fits their current lifestyle and beliefs. So what if you’re a brand that’s trying to break through? Echo chambers then represent the advertising equivalent of preaching to the choir – sure, you’re getting impressions, but only by those people who were already interested anyway. So what is a brand to do? How do you break down the echo chamber, pop the bubble and reach a new audience?

How Can Social Help?

As consumers’ online and offline lives merge, engagement takes on more than just an indication of interest, but also an indication of status. Not to jump to Orwellian conclusions, but social behavior is not too unlike the dramatic representations that we see in pop culture such as The Circle and television shows like Black Mirror. Oftentimes social engagement is really just a counter action of digital FOMO to feel as though one has contributed with or without complementary offline action.

While an interesting thought experiment for sociologists, this is “Bad News Bears” for brands. It seems then like every form of marketing is under attack: Television advertising is threatened by cord-cutters, TiVo, and the third screen, banner ads are being devalued by fraud and ad blockers, and radio ads are losing out to subscription models. Luckily, as advertisers are increasingly beginning to realize, while in isolation these media channels are victims of erosion, within the context of a larger marketing mix there are opportunities for success – particularly within paid social.

Despite recent public scrutiny of “fake news,” people continue to trust the opinions and content they read on social media as genuine, more so than traditional advertising. Having a dedicated and thoughtful social media strategy humanizes a brand and allows a consumer to connect on a one-to-one level which can impact all types of funnel interactions from general awareness to direct sale traffic, both online and brick and mortar. Echo chambers (EC) effect may then provide another incentive to step into the ring for brands struggling to make an impact in a cluttered landscape.

Reach and Audience Segmenting Goals

Whereas a solid organic presence limits advertisers’ voices to their social audiences and friends (and sometimes not even that), paid social opens new doors, specifically new audiences and new newsfeeds. We’ve all heard why audience personas are so important, but in a world where ECs are harder to puncture than ever, it’s important for brands to recognize how and when to loosen the reigns on the precious target persona. It’s not about going back to the drawing board, but instead about identifying logical extensions of your target persona for audience targeting.

Paris Presents Inc. brand Real Techniques uniquely discovered five extensions of their millennial makeup enthusiast target for their late summer Miracles Sponge Collection launch last year by pulling back the lens and digging into their target values.
 
 
Real Techniques
 

By segmenting their target into five behavioral categories, they were able to efficiently reach five separate, related, but still distinctly different audiences (some previously exposed to the brand, some not) with uniquely relevant content that was able to disrupt and break through echo clutter and also provide the brand with consumption insights for future activations. An additional 10% lift in estimated ad recall was just a bonus!

Teaching New Ad Formats Old Tricks

Video innovations may present another golden opportunity to break down self-imposed interest walls. While Facebook video view numbers were revealed to be inflated (and since corrected), they weren’t the only video giants in town. Long-standing channels like YouTube and breakout stars like Snapchat elevated the game and pushed new formats (e.g., vertical video), but also expanded our notion of reality with live video. With so many video options, it’s easy to standardize success metrics with a simple video view, but to do so devalues the true brand-to-consumer experience that videos provide.
Watching or viewing a piece of content is passive. How many times have we watched a quick clip from Snapchat or seen a video pre-roll ad, chuckled to ourselves, and went about our daily lives with no further thought about the video’s objectives or even the brand behind it? Where videos truly redeem their value is when consumers engage with the content and start a dialogue. We were able to tap into this ethos with Northwestern Medicine’s social video content. 

Northwestern MedicineWhile the algorithm was set to drive engagement, we internally optimized towards efficient shares to prioritize content that not only had high viewership, but also that consumers felt passionately enough about sharing to their communities to extend the viral reach of the videos. This accomplished a few objectives:
 
  • It opened new doors. Combining a social video programmatic option with viral optimization ensured a diverse array of viewers and conversation that took NM beyond “health-interested circles.” 
 
  • It squashed the debate. While there’s lots of conversation about just how valuable a video view is for accomplishing lower funnel brand objectives, by redirecting the strategy towards social sharing and conversation, we could clearly identify shifts in sentiment and preference in consumer action to predict future involvement with the brand.
 
Online silos are not only restrictive for information-sharing, they’re bad for brand content strategy. It’s time to leave the exclusivity at the lunch table of your high school cafeteria. Advertisers are in a unique position to be vehicles of discovery in our otherwise overly filtered and curated world. Trends indicate that consumers are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content that exists and are actively seeking disruptive measures to synthesize, determine accuracy and discover new interesting content. Who will they call? Your brand.

 
 

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