Tech Bound #44: What filter bubbles mean for Marketing

5 min read

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This week’s episode is all about filter bubbles and Marketing. Seems unrelated at first but there is a Growth angle to it.

Let me know what you think about the topic!

Filter bubbles and Marketing

You might have read this article in the NYT: “Facebook Fueled Anti-Refugee Attacks in Germany, New Research Suggests”.

The article is about a study that claims:

Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz, researchers at the University of Warwick, scrutinized every anti-refugee attack in Germany, 3,335 in all, over a two-year span. In each, they analyzed the local community by any variable that seemed relevant. Wealth. Demographics. Support for far-right politics. Newspaper sales. Number of refugees. History of hate crime. Number of protests.One thing stuck out. Towns where Facebook use was higher than average, like Altena, reliably experienced more attacks on refugees. That held true in virtually any sort of community — big city or small town; affluent or struggling; liberal haven or far-right stronghold — suggesting that the link applies universally.Their reams of data converged on a breathtaking statistic: Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.

Those are harsh accusations. They basically say Facebook fuels – maybe even causes – violence (against refugees). Filter bubbles play a big role in this discussion, meaning people who systematically are exposed to only material that confirms their views and opinions.

This is an interesting discussion from both, a political and a Growth perspective. 

Social Networks and filter bubbles

In the book “Everybody lies”, author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz mentions a study by Eytan Bakshy et. al that makes the point that social networks do not expose us to filter bubbles. It found that people are exposed to more diverse content because they have more friends online than in real life. “In other words, Facebook exposes us to weak social connections – the high school acquaintance, the crazy third cousin, the friend of the friend of the friend you might never go bowling with or to a barbecue with.

bakshy et. al - Ideology and Facebook

Now, I strongly wonder whether that still holds true when you can mute/unfollow people you’re connected with on Facebook. The filter bubble(s) exposed in the study mentioned in the NYT certainly supports that point.

However, the Müller-Schwarz study already received public criticism. Ben Thompson exposed some mistakes made in the study and Tyler Cowen wrote together a couple of good words on this as well, in which he remarks some confusing points made in the study. The question, whether posting anti-refugee material on Facebook led to violent behavior or whether coverage of violent behavior led to more anti-refugee posts on Facebook, remains unanswered. There is also the point to be made that people with strong political views tend to use social media more and be “louder” (as shown in the Bakshy et. al study). It comes back to causality vs. correlation, but this is not where I want to take this.

Tribal Marketing

The two studies raise one common point: we resonate strongly with our beliefs. In an extreme form, it’s a cognitive bias to look for only evidence that supports one’s own opinion(s). No surprise there, but it’s a heuristic we can use in our Marketing and branding. I’m not talking about exploiting human psychology. I’m talking about “marketing with people, instead of at them”, as Seth Godin says.

Brands must think about how they can a community for a tribe. The way people in the tribe talk, dress, think… all this must flow into messaging, design, targeting, and brand identity #tribalmarketing. That’s why most often startups are successful who’s founders are or have been part of the core target audience (tribe).

The idea of “tribal marketing” isn’t a new. There’s a paper (another one) from 2002 by Bernard Cova, of which the abstract makes exactly my point:

In this Latin view, the effective marketing of 2002 and beyond is not to accept and exploit consumers in their contemporary individualization  as Northern approaches might. Rather the future of marketing is in offering and supporting a renewed sense of community. Marketing becomes tribal marketing.

To become a platform for a tribe, it’s not enough to adopt the habits and slang of a tribe. A tribe has leaders and those are the ones you need to pull on your site side. It’s not so much influencer marketing, even though that should be part of it, but more so making influencers and thought leaders accessible on your platform. I tried to convey this idea in my article The underrated power of online communities for growth. In the article I provide many examples of brands who successfully built communities and integrated into their tribe.

Your weekly dose of awesome content

Bloomberg: “Why Can’t Europe Do Tech?”
Europe is still lacking behind in terms of successful startups. Why? Part of the problems is the high density of different languages and cultures, mixed with beaurocratic hurdles. I didn’t know that Berlin has the highest density of startups in Europe.

I agree with lots of that, especially: – relevance often hinges on a single fact/thing – 50x errors are the horror – Google evolves #authorship – Be skeptical of Google cache, weird links in search console, and CDNs – Definitely don’t wait until things get really bad to work on SEO

Dejan: “How I recorded user behaviour on my competitor’s websites”
A mean but smart hack from Dan Petrovic to spy on your competitors. Super blackhat and super unethical, but an interesting thought experiment.

Dealroom: “Germany’s venture capital and corporate investment climate” Germany, the UK, and France are spearheading the European startup movement. Germany VC deals in 2018 trump 2017 significantly, mainly driven by mega rounds. Germany has seven potential $bn companies.

Zyppy: “15 Site Architecture Tips for Performance SEO: Master Guide” Amazing guide on SEO site architecture with lots of great tips.

“Driving Marketplace Growth Via Buyer/Seller Overlap” – Brian Rothenberg, Eventbrite