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Emerging Media Psychology: Algorithms and Branding


“A brand is – in a larger sense – a network of human relationships mediated by a digital infrastructure

that orchestrates action, generates data, and shapes flows of attention through time and space” (Carah, 2015). This is a solid illustration of modern digital branding.

Carah (2015) explains the shift from “traditional” branding strategies, like using “culture primarily as a symbolic resource to using culture as a platform to leverage consumer participation.” The technological affordances of modern digital media has created individualized advertising that has become so ingrained in our daily lives.

Not only are people receiving highly individualized content, but in many cases the consumer is doing a lot of the branding work for the company. Consumers are giving a certain level of data away just by participating on social media. For example, the seeming simple acts of “checking-in,” using hashtags, and clicks on certain ads or news stories. The algorithms used by companies like Facebook, Google, and most big technology companies, is another way for these companies to enhance branding and advertising for higher individualization for their users. This provides information to cater specific calls to action for their consumers as well as give information on what to weed out for that consumer.

The “Filter Bubble” comes to mind. Eli Pariser created this term and describes this concept very well in his 2011 TED talk. He goes on to describe the issues behind “the internet of one.”

The implications go further and deeper than most social media users realize. The CEO of Facebook, Zuckerberg, says “you might be more interested in a squirrel dying in your front yard than the people dying in Africa.”

Internet users have nearly unknowingly become accustomed to a media system that is providing them with what they think they want. This can lead toward uninformed citizens, further polarization in politics and government, and a lack of civic responsibility from big tech business and consumers. The development of the modern news feed makes it easier for the algorithms to learn from the user and withhold information based on what they think they need.

With algorithmic social media has become the norm, brands are able to blend into the everyday lives of consumers. Brands fall into users’ news feed just as their friends and family do, blurring the lines between advertising and true connection.

The personal echo chambers in users’ news feeds, the opinions stemming from these conversations are difficult to decipher for common users. With all these other factors that are contributing to polarization of online opinions, these brands cater to the idea of “audience homophily.” I think the idea of online media homophily makes sense—in reality, people naturally find other people with common ideals. When brands and news outlets cater to this, users don’t even get the option to make decisions for themselves.

Polarization online stems from many different issues. But its important to remember that social networking sites and social media are just tools. I believe if this were a larger part of common thinking, less pressure would be placed on issues around social media. Educating the public around the inner-workings of agenda’s behind the algorithms that are widely used that people are already exposed to, I users’ could be more aware of their perceptions and behaviors.

References:

Carah, N. (2017). Algorithmic brands: A decade of brand experiments with mobile and social media. New Media & Society, 19(3), 384–400.

https://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles?language=en#t-525329

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