The NY Times got me again. To say that this is a great read for any marketer is an understatement and it may be worth reading more than once.
At the risk of violating one of the premises of the article, the section that really struck me from a communications standpoint was a concept the article attributes to Cass Sunstein called “cyberbalkanization.” Essentially this is the ability for anyone to easily use online and social tools (as well as traditional ones) to surround themselves with news, opinions and ideas that are in-line with their own existing ideas, perceptions and beliefs. This eliminates the need to listen or learn from anyone that has an opinion outside of your own – this part is towards the end of the story.
While I believe much of this has been around for years via traditional media catering to specific consumer, business and political interests, the future is certainly accelerating the opportunity and dropping the barriers to entry while increasing the gap between opposing views. Instead of paying for subscriptions or content, I can now get almost whatever I want, free and delivered to virtually any screen I want while mashing it up with any other content I wish. I’m able to create my own happy little news world – surrounding myself with my preferred bloggers and authors (thanks to my RSS feeds, readers) and my own social networks (that , naturally, consist of likeminded “friends”). It is easy to see how small my world can become and how easy it is to block out the culture, ideas, thoughts and perspectives of those outside of it.
From a technology standpoint, some research groups are working on ways to try and intesect this trend. Take a look at the Dispute Finder project developed by Intel (Disclosure: Intel is a client) and UC Berkeley – here is a good video of the project as well. Through a Firefox extension, I’m able to read all the news and views I want, as normal. But when the Dispute Finder picks up a keyword phrase, I’m presented with the option to hear two perspectives of the story one supporting it and one opposing.
Until this type of technology is available for broad use, we’re faced with the challenge of determining how we speak with people and communicate with them if they’re not even listening or tuning in. Certainly we need to understand the habits of our target audiences (both online and offline) as well as the technology they use to gather their information – but we also need to be willing to listen to opposing views, learn from them and find ways to apply that knowledge to reaching our audience. Some of this may be engaging with them in discussion (online or offline) and that it is the beauty and fear of social media. I also think this is part of the reason we all jump to read the cyclical “PR is Dead” story or the debate about the death of embargoes (search Twitter for #newscartel) or how the media industry is dead (or dying – @themediaisdying).
We should be paying attention, and more importantly, we should be listening and learning.