Beware the “echo chamber” — here’s how to get out

Beware the “echo chamber” — here’s how to get out

Echo chambers. They’re everywhere. In news media, in politics, in various communities online.

Back when I had much more of a presence online in the nascent world of “social media marketing” I was very cognizant of that echo chamber, as were many others. What’s funny is that even back then, those inside the echo chamber echoed each other’s bitching about the echo chamber. (Echo chambers are extremely meta like that.)

In this post, I touched upon how I recently came back to the same online haunts I used to frequent and noticed how it was the same people, talking about the same stuff, all over again. Nothing had changed except the tools in the seven or so years I had been absent.

Wikipedia has some in-depth information about the nature of echo chambers online but here’s an excerpt:

The echo chamber effect occurs online due to a harmonious group of people amalgamating and developing tunnel vision. Participants in online discussions may find their opinions constantly echoed back to them, which reinforces their individual belief systems. However, individuals who participate in echo chambers often do so because they feel more confident that their opinions will be more readily accepted by others in the echo chamber.

The echo chamber I was immersed in was about marketing, and depending on platform, it was worse. When I first joined Twitter (2006) and especially a couple years after, somewhere around 90% of Twitter was marketers marketing to other marketers about marketing. It evolved, however, and now is much more segmented, though it appears more about politics these days. Continues Wikipedia:

Online social communities become fragmented when like-minded people group together and members hear arguments in one specific direction. In certain online platforms, such as Twitter, echo chambers are more likely to be found when the topic is more political in nature compared to topics that are seen as more neutral. Social networking communities are powerful reinforcers of rumors because people trust evidence supplied by their own social group, more than they do the news media.

But it’s not just marketing online, and it’s not just politics. It’s whatever one finds themselves immersed in. I’ve done a lot of work in the automotive sector online, and have noticed that even in automotive, it’s car blog talking about cars to other car blogs, reviewing the same cars. The same media companies, using different tools (blogs and YouTube seem to be the main ones), reviewing cars. Some are car news sites, covering the latest automotive news on the same brands about the same auto show or new model or whatever.

Many people within echo chambers bitch about the echo chamber, but nobody does anything about it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When you get out of the echo chamber, everything changes. You reach new audiences and unexpected markets, hence more potential business. Likewise, when you expose yourself to new ideas and different perspectives, it broadens your horizons and expands your creativity.

I was taught to never complain about something unless you’ve got a solution. 

So how do you get out of an echo chamber?

Think of it like a bouncy ball. If you’ve ever thrown a bouncy ball around a stairwell, that thing is going to bounce every which way and keep on going. If you don’t get out of the way, you’ve got a good chance of a bouncy ball at high velocity hitting you right in the eye.

There’s really only one way out. You open the door and walk out. You can either leave the bouncy ball behind to continue bouncing off the walls of the echo chamber stairwell, at which time nothing will change, or you can take that bouncy ball idea with you and throw it at other people. Hitting unsuspecting people with your bouncy ball that had only been bouncing within one echo chamber is going to make an impact. You might hurt people, you might piss people off, but you’ll also be bringing something new to a new environment and introducing new people to new things.

Take auto reviews. Instead of posting them on YouTube and blogs, targeting them to the usual car people present your ideas to a different segment who may not have previously been interested in that particular car. Women make up 78.3% of the users on Pinterest. Though that platform is predominantly about recipes and fashion, guess what? Women buy cars, too. Obviously there are many other topics on Pinterest, including automobiles, but try appealing to that audience in a different way. For example, say you have Chevrolet dealership. You could feature a recipe for tailgating with this new Chevy Silverado truck, and you can get the recipe . . . on your auto blog, where you also reviewed that truck.

Here’s another example:

I am an avid fan of mixed martial arts (MMA). (It’s wonderful catharsis to watch other people kick the crap out of each other.) For the longest time, I only knew Joe Rogan as a color commentator for UFC. I knew he had a popular podcast, but I never listened to it. Once I finally did, I could see why it was so wildly successful — he’s not just a UFC commentator, he’s a comedian and heck of an interviewer of many diverse people on many diverse topics. But I had no idea the breadth of his résumé, nor his talent, since my only exposure to him was because I immersed myself solely in the echo chamber of UFC/MMA. Rogan, however, obviously understands the importance of expanding one’s interests and appeal to a broader, more diverse audience than those die-hard MMA fans like myself. That is why his podcast alone just signed a contract with Spotify for over $100 million.

So cross boundaries. Get out of your comfort zone. Open the doorway of your stairwell, let yourself and the bouncy ball out. You’ll be surprised at the results.

Have you found yourself immersed the cacophony of your own field’s echo chamber? Have you been able to get out, and if so, what were the results? I’d love to hear your stories.

Stacy Lukasavitz Steele, Principal of Text on Fire Communications™

Stacy Lukasavitz Steele is the multi-disciplined writer behind Text on Fire Communications™. Formerly known online as “that damned redhead,” this seasoned digital strategist and analyst has been setting fire to the interwebs for over 20 years in one capacity or another. She takes the English language much more seriously than she takes herself, but must warn you that the stereotypes about redheads are true. She is passionate about helping brands find their voice and delivering the right messages to the right people. If you’re a cool company looking for some hot copy, you’re in the right place. Drop her a line via the contact form

Wear a mask and don’t be a douche bag.

Wear a mask and don’t be a douche bag.

There’s no argument that the world we live in now with the COVID-19 pandemic has completely shaken up everyone’s day-to-day lives. Schools have been canceled. Sports have been canceled. Concerts have been canceled. Work, for most people, has either been canceled or those who aren’t used to working remotely are now being forced to adopt a life like those of us who have been “working from home” as “mobile offices” or “digital nomads” for years. It hasn’t been easy for most people. Even Walt Disney World is shut down until further notice, which has never happened in the history of Disney.

It’s safe to say that none of us can ever remember anything like this “new normal.” Even Y2K, for as weird as it was, was only a false perception that come 1999 turning to 2000, “the robots would take over.”

Well, the good news is that at the turn of the century, we woke up on 1 January 2000 and nothing changed.

No, the robots did not take over in Y2K.

Fast forward twenty years.

Oddly enough, in many (most?) ways, the robots have taken over. And somehow, we as a society have learned to not only adapt and accept, but downright welcome our robot overlords. We talk to Siri and Alexa all the time. We let Amazon, Google, Bixby, and other AI listen in on just about everything we do.

I’m not sure if George Orwell would be proud or ashamed that his prophecy came true, albeit 36 years later than predicted.

However, it is the year 2020 and we have much bigger problems than dealing with “robot overlords.” People are dying by the hundred-thousands worldwide (at the time of this publishing), from a mysterious illness that humanity has never seen before. It’s horrifying, difficult to deal with on a personal level, and difficult to control from a governmental standpoint. Entire countries (such as Italy) have put themselves in quarantine, with mixed results. Here in the United States, there are daily reports of those infected and those who’ve passed — by state, by county, by city. Our governments, from local to federal, are sending mixed messages to the citizens not by their own fault, but because information changes by the second.

Everyone can only do so much. And everyone is doing what they can to get by, to survive this surrealistic reality we are now living in.

Strangely, the government is feeling the need to tell us to do things like “wash your hands,” keep your place clean, especially your bathroom, “don’t share eating utensils with others,” “sneeze and/or cough into your armpit if you need to,” etc. . . which are things that honestly? People should know and do anyway.


That said, there is now the issue of wearing masks.

The CDC encourages (but as of this publishing, does not technically require, although certain places do) everyone to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here’s their stance:

Okay. Got it.

Yet, there are still people who do not wear masks. Either they refuse to, they think they’re an exception to the rule, they think COVID-19 is “not as big of a deal as the media portrays,” or whatever. People have their reasons.

And yet, I continuously see people post things like this on Facebook and other social media platforms:

I got news for you:

While yes, it’s important to wear a mask for multiple reasons (and there is no doubt), the fact is that people who don’t wear one simply won’t. No matter what you say.


Because there’s this thing called “confirmation bias.”

It’s Psychology 101: The more you tell someone something that conflicts with their beliefs, the stronger they’ll hold onto their beliefs.

Nobody (and I mean nobody) is going to change their mind because of a meme they saw you post on Facebook.

Sucks, but that’s just how our human, convoluted minds work.

Social media, in and of itself, has for years functioned as a “sounding board” and “echo chamber” of people’s thoughts and feelings. Regardless of platform, that will never change. (This is why I must reiterate that Text on Fire does not “do” social media.)

I see too much energy being expended on various platforms of people wanting to be heard, whether it’s about wearing a mask, about a political stance, etc. . . but the fact is something I’ve always contended:

Opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one. Some are full of shit, others aren’t. But NOBODY CARES about anyone’s but their own.

I basically feel the same way about religion: I don’t care what you believe, so long as you don’t shove it down my (or anyone else’s) throat, and so long as you don’t hurt anyone. Whatever works for you, man. Just respect other people’s beliefs (or non beliefs.)

That said, I do digress.


They’re a good thing, indubitably.

However, some folks don’t wear them.

Please, just understand that no matter how many memes you post on Facebook that express your beliefs about them, those who don’t wear them, are NOT going to just because they saw something anyone posted on the internet. (“If it’s on the internet, it MUST BE TRUE!!” mentality.)

So, what’s a person to do?

Simply accept that some people are douche bags, and LOOK THE OTHER WAY. Both literally and figuratively.

There’s nothing more one can do.

if you wear a mask, congratulations for being socially conscious and looking out for everyone else. But seriously . . . you can’t change the minds of those whose minds don’t (or won’t) be changed. That’s just the way things are, that’s just the way it is.

Look the other way.

Keep your 6′ distance.

“Pity da fools” who don’t listen to common sense.

And keep on keepin’ on.

“They” say (and who are “they,” anyway?) “we’re all in this together,” and I kind of disagree. But . . . that’s just my asshole opinion talking and an entirely different blog post for another time.

But the bottom line is this: Do what you gotta. Feel your feels. But accept that some folks are just assholes, and save your energy for something much more worthy of it.

A couple of new places to find my byline

A couple of new places to find my byline

Alice in Chains feature on Shutter 16

No, I haven’t updated this blog in a while. But unlike my past couple-few (that’s a word where I come from) blogs, I’m not going to make apologies about that kind of thing. In fact, I’ve got something in the works that addresses just that — blogs, blogging, whether it’s still relevant, and whether the old/conventional blogging wisdom still rings true. But that’s in the hopper, to come whenever I finish it and feel like posting it. 

This is a post to make a couple of announcements. Most of the writing I do is without a byline because it’s content for companies or other people to use. But I’m writing with a byline in a couple of places again, so I thought I’d let you know where to look for me. (There will be more in the future.)

‘Zines are back, baby!

First, I’m honored to say that I was approached by the fabulous Kiki L’Italien and asked to be a contributing columnist to the new Association Chat ‘zine, which will be making its debut in the next month. It will be in good old-fashioned print and also have an online component to it. My background is more in chambers of commerce than associations, per se, but that apparently doesn’t matter. Still member organizations. But even if I didn’t have that background, it’s not a prerequisite for being a writer for the ‘zine. Kiki seems to think I have some words worth contributing, so I’m more than happy to be a part of such an exciting new project.

Dusting off the old music journalist hat

Screenshot of Cowboy Junkies show feature

What seems like a million years ago, I was a music journalist. I wrote a lot about music before the internet really took off, then when the internet as we know it was still rather nascent, and then off and on since then. I never had Rolling Stone aspirations or anything, it was just something I enjoyed doing. 

Writing about music is something I have always loved, and I missed it terribly. Recently I had the opportunity to join the staff of Shutter 16 Magazine, which is (as they state on their site) a “. . . collaboration of many enthusiastic and dedicated music journalists with a passion for the lens or written word.”  My first two stories have already been featured — the most recent being a review of the recent Alice in Chains concert at the Eagles Ballroom here in Milwaukee, and my first being a review of the Cowboy Junkies show at Turner Hall, complete with an on-the-fly video interview of vocalist Margo Timmins.  

I am a writer, not a photographer, but thankfully I have two other members of the Milwaukee team who are photographers and their amazing work is featured along with my writing in these articles. Brooke Billick was my photographer for Cowboy Junkies, and Lee Ann Flynn took the shots for Alice in Chains. I look forward to covering more shows with them in the future. 

That said, I know there’s no way I can find all of the music-related things I wrote from way back in the day, but I was able to find a few things I had saved in .xml files from old blogs and elsewhere I contributed, so I threw them up on a music archives subdomain, just for posterity’s sake. Peruse at your leisure, but know that there are a ton of broken/outdated links, missing photos, etc. that I’m not even going to bother fixing because that takes more time and effort than I care to put in. 

More updates to come in the near future. Life happens, death happens, you reel it in, you take a breath, and you keep on keepin’ on. 

Thinking about using emojis in your marketing? Ask yourself these questions first.

Thinking about using emojis in your marketing? Ask yourself these questions first.

Emojis. You know, those little pictures that have taken over the internet, and are prevalent in communication between millennials. There’s practically one for everything, and the official emojipedia (yes, that’s a thing) continues to grow. There’s even an official Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, which is responsible for compiling and approving the standardized code for these little doodads across all platforms.

There are positions on both ends of the spectrum on whether emojis are actually improving language or are actually a sign of the decline of written language. (I personally lean toward agreement with this rather scathing editorial in The Guardian that they’re dragging us back to the dark ages. In fact, research has shown that using emojis makes people think you are incompetent. But I digress.)

Whether you love them, loathe them, or are somewhere in between depending on context, reality is that emoji is literally the fastest growing language.

Naturally, when something starts to catch on among the masses, brands start to take notice, embracing popular trends and inserting themselves into the pop culture zeitgeist. They start incorporating the latest trends into their marketing, whether anybody actually wanted them to or not.

Some major brands have had success with using emoji, such as World Wildlife Fund, who made a set of their own emojis of endangered animals and donated money each time one of them was retweeted. Taco Bell claims to have had a hand in creating a demand for a taco emoji and continues to successfully incorporate it into their marketing. (Frankly, as fast as emojis were being created at the time, a taco was likely inevitable, anyway. If I were in charge of Taco Bell’s marketing, I’d be putting heavy emphasis on a chihuahua emoji for nostalgic reasons.)

I only put this picture here because I’ve always loved the chihuahua.

Some big brands have totally missed the mark, like Chevrolet and Juicy Fruit.

The world is still trying to figure this one out.

Of course, since there seem to be more successes than fails from the big name brands, now there’s no shortage of agencies online offering guides on how to use emojis in your brand’s marketing. Just do a simple search and you’ll find plenty (that I won’t be linking to here).

But before you jump on the emoji train ?, there are some important things you need to consider.

Questions to ask yourself before hopping on the emoji bandwagon ?? in your marketing 

(I couldn’t resist.)

Who is my audience, and will they “get it”?

I mentioned above that millennials, by far, use emoji the most. While that’s true, the age range of the “millennial” generation is murky in and of itself, and even going by the most widely-accepted numbers, the term is a very wide swath that does not take into consideration other demographic information such as gender, socioeconomic status, cultural identity, and so on.

This billboard is a widely-cited example of brilliant marketing using emojis:

It’s advertising the movie Deadpool.

When I first saw it, I thought to myself, “Skull crapple? What does that even mean?” Many people who were the target audience for the movie “got it,” but many didn’t. I certainly didn’t. (But am I the target demo for the movie? Though my age and other factors might point to yes, I had no interest in seeing it. Yet it was forced on me like broccoli on a little kid and I hated it. But that’s another story for another time.)

Will my audience understand what I’m trying to convey?

Along similar lines as the above, if you don’t know which emojis mean what or how to say what you’re trying to say, chances are your audience will be confused too. Don’t try to use them if you’re not 100% sure what they actually construe. While emoji is generally regarded as a language without borders, certain pictures are interpreted differently to different cultures, and many are easily misunderstood. For example, this ? allegedly means “dizzy” and not “shooting star;” this ? is apparently a Japanese ogre and not intended to indicate anger. (I once heard that the ever-popular ? was supposed to mean chocolate ice cream, but who are we kidding?)

What is my brand’s voice really like?

A common argument that is used to encourage businesses to use emoji in their marketing is that it will “loosen up” the brand voice and make them seem more fun and personable. But depending on who you are and what you do, that might not be the best idea. A funeral director would hardly want to come across as fun and jovial when marketing their services, even if there is a coffin emoji ⚰️. Nor would a law firm who specializes in criminal defense, even though there are emojis like this: ☠️??‍♂️??⚖️

Do I want to use them because other brands are, or because it actually reflects my brand?

Not only can they make your brand seem unprofessional, they can also imply that you’re simply trying too hard. Personally, I think any company using them actively in their marketing looks unprofessional and it’s a real turnoff for me.

Can this possibly backfire?

Practically anything can. Just ask Hillary Clinton’s social media team:

The bottom line

While some companies are successfully using emojis in their marketing, it may not be the right thing for you. Emoji may be the “fastest growing language” and a hot trend in digital marketing right now, but you know what else was a popular trend? Popup ads. Sure, they still exist, but nobody likes them and you probably have a browser option to block them altogether.  

To be clear, I’m not anti-emoji—they’re cute and fun in small doses. But so are puppies and children. If you don’t watch them carefully, they’ll make a mess.  And you should never rely on them to speak for you. 

Substituting a cartoon picture for a word or implied sentiment is no excuse for not being able to convey your brand’s message accurately. Never underestimate the power of the written word. That’s why you hire a professional writer.

Stacy Lukasavitz Steele, Principal of Text on Fire Communications™

Stacy Lukasavitz Steele is the multi-disciplined writer behind Text on Fire Communications™. Formerly known online as “that damned redhead,” this seasoned digital strategist and analyst has been setting fire to the interwebs for over 20 years in one capacity or another. She takes the English language much more seriously than she takes herself, but must warn you that the stereotypes about redheads are true. She is passionate about helping brands find their voice and delivering the right messages to the right people. If you’re a cool company looking for some hot copy, you’re in the right place. Drop her a line via the contact form

Nothing is too boring to create engaging content.

Nothing is too boring to create engaging content.

Many companies will concede to the fact that their product or service is, well . . . it’s just not that exciting. They can’t imagine how on earth they’d be able to make their product interesting enough that people would want to engage with their business. That’s a fallacy. Literally, anything can be exciting.

On Wednesday, January 30th, in the middle of the Great Polar Vortex of 2019, the temperature here in Milwaukee was a “high” of -13 F, with wind chills between -50 and -40 F.  These were record low temperatures and practically everybody was staying home because it was simply too cold to go outside. Not only were schools canceled for days all over the midwest, the post office literally suspended mail.

You could say it was a slow news day.

So, since everybody was cooped up at home, naturally they were messing around on Facebook. (Even those of us who work from home and really should not have had any excuse for being distracted.)  The skeleton team at my favorite local news station, TMJ4 was completely bored. They say no news is good news, but the news team had to do something. So they decided to put a can of Diet Coke and a can of Mountain Dew outside, just to see how long it would take before they exploded, and which one would go first. They pointed a camera at it, and broadcast it on Facebook Live. 

Seriously. The video was just two cans of soda sitting next to a thermometer to show how cold it was outside. 

Here’s a screenshot:

I don’t think they were expecting it to get as popular as it did. Next thing you know, the homebound folks in Milwaukee area were sharing it to their timelines, and people from all over the world were watching something that was akin to watching paint dry. At one point “Soda Cam” had over 2,000 viewers. 

We were having a blast in the comments, making jokes like, “this is still more interesting than anything Kardashian-related” and “Thoughts and prayers go out to these cans” . . . I honestly didn’t expect myself to be having so much fun chatting with a group of strangers about something so boring and absurd, but that’s exactly what happened. 

Seeing how popular this was getting, the staff decided to send a guy out there to do some silly dancing, and he was getting cheers from the commenters. 

So then TMJ4 decided to kick it up a notch. They put an NBC peacock out there and a Bob Uecker bobblehead, which were nice conversation pieces.

Then came a T-Rex. 

The Diet Coke can blew about an hour and a half in. But the can of Mountain Dew took much, much longer. WTMJ, their radio counterpart, posted an article with clips of the excitement. (If you’d like to see the Coke Can explode, it’s about 1:42 into the video on the bottom.)

This was the most fun I’ve had on Facebook in a long time, and it all started with boredom on a boring day and a “let’s see what would happen if . . . ” experiment. When it picked up, they started getting more and more creative. In fact, TMJ4 Soda Cam was so popular, they even did it the next day during the Super Bowl, with team-themed cans.

Nothing is too boring to create engaging content. Nothing is too dumb to get people excited about what you sell or what you do. I’m actually a much bigger fan of TMJ4 after this experiment. I thought it was great to watch them engage with us on such a slow news day and have some poor schmuck in a t-rex costume dance around in temperatures that were colder than Antarctica. It brought the community together, and we had fun commiserating together in what were the coldest temperatures of our lifetimes.

If bored newsroom folks can make some great engaging, entertaining content out of a live video of two soda cans on a cold day, you can make your product or service interesting, too. All it takes is a “stupid” idea, putting it into action, and watching that idea pick up steam. Once it catches on, the creativity will follow.

Stacy Lukasavitz Steele, Principal of Text on Fire Communications™

Stacy Lukasavitz Steele is the multi-disciplined writer behind Text on Fire Communications™. Formerly known online as “that damned redhead,” this seasoned digital strategist and analyst has been setting fire to the interwebs for over 20 years in one capacity or another. She takes the English language much more seriously than she takes herself, but must warn you that the stereotypes about redheads are true. She is passionate about helping brands find their voice and delivering the right messages to the right people. If you’re a cool company looking for some hot copy, you’re in the right place. Drop her a line via the contact form