Filter bubble is a term that has been used frequently over the last few years, usually in relation to political events. Read more here.

How could filter bubbles be affecting your business and what should you do about them?

What is a Filter Bubble?

A filter bubble is created when you are only exposed to information that fits your own ideas, opinions and biases. Although it has always been the case that people talk to friends with similar ideas or read newspapers that match their view of the world, the internet has enabled people to create stronger bubbles that block out other voices.

Filter bubbles are created because the algorithms used to determine what we see online are based on our past behaviour. Google’s personalised search results will prioritise the sources we’ve used before while Facebook’s news stream gives priority to the friends and businesses you like. This means that people can be living in completely separate bubbles, viewing different content and never coming across a contrasting viewpoint. Filter bubbles can enable misinformation to spread and extreme views to become stronger because they are never contradicted.

Typically these occur when elections are taking place – you’re shown posts and ads that you can directly relate to, whether they are true or not.

How to Tell If You’re in a Filter Bubble

So much of online experience is personalised and targeted to us that we’re all living in filter bubbles to a certain extent. For example, if you’re using a service like Netflix then the recommendations you see only represent a tiny fraction of what they have to offer. You could miss out on some amazing content because you’re only picking the options that are presented to you. The same limitations can occur with the news stories you see or the opinions you’re hearing about your business.

You can determine the extent of your filter bubble by considering the following points:

  • Do you only see opinions that mirror your own?
  • Are the same sources always at the top of your news stream or search rankings?
  • Do you only visit a limited number of sites or listen to a small number of voices?
  • How much do you rely on sponsored links, recommendations or targeted ads?
  • Are you surprised by what you see if you sign out of your account or use someone else’s devices?

Do Filter Bubbles Matter for Your Business?

Filter bubbles can limit your perspective. One of the most common ways in which this affects businesses is by blocking out criticism that could help them to improve. Many businesses decide to mute criticism or avoid negative stories, which an create a filter bubble that blocks these voices out. This could result in missed opportunities to address criticism, repair relationships with unhappy customers, and identify changes that could improve the business.

As well as limiting your perspective on your own business, your filter bubble could also be blocking out important stories affecting your sector or the customers you’re trying to attract. You might find it harder to understand your customers if you’re not seeing the same content that they are viewing.

It’s actually fairly simple to break out of a filter bubble once you realise you’re in one:

  • Make an effort to search for the voices you don’t usually hear by visiting other reputable news sources or following new people online
  • Try turning off customisation features, cookies and targeted ads
  • Sign out of your accounts so that your results won’t be tailored to your history

Filter bubbles also matter for businesses because the customers who you are targeting are also likely to be insulated by their own filter bubbles. The ads that they see will be determined by the online stores they’ve visited and the specific products they’ve viewed there. The messages they hear about your brand will depend on which voices are allowed into their bubble.

The filter bubbles your customers are sitting in can sometimes make it easier for you to reach them. If they’ve already shopped with you then they might be getting targeted ads showcasing your products. Customers who’ve posted good things about you or who follow you on social media might be seeing more positive messages about you too.

However, filter bubbles can also cause problems. It can be harder to reach potential customers if they aren’t already aware of you. They might only see ads from competitors where they’ve shopped before or they might be missing out on the best products you have to offer because they’ve always bought another option. You could also be failing to reach people outside your usual audience if your marketing strategies are shaped by your own bubble.

Breaking out of your own bubble can help you to develop new strategies for reaching these audiences. It’s also important to think about how bubbles shape what people see online. Instead of focusing on the captive audience in your own bubble, you also need to go beyond it to the people you wouldn’t usually reach. This could mean changing the phrasing in your ads to target new groups or building relationships with new kinds of influencers outside your usual brand bubble.