Artem Welker
February 3, 2015

Why People do not Choose What Content They Consume

 The Illusion of Choice

People believe that it is purely their choice, when they determine what to do, where to go, what kind of information to consume. Is it? Not really. It started thousands of years ago and continues to this day, – most of people’s actions are under the influence of their reference groups. In sociology, this phenomenon is called “secondary socialization”. It does not matter where, in kindergarten, school, college or at work, but we are strongly influenced by the environment, which determines much of what we do.

3 Levels of Illusion

Nothing has changed so far when we live in an era of Digital, omnichannel and other cool things. We are still caged by social groups. Below – some reasons for it, and why marketers should take it into account.

Sharing. Social Tyranny

In the world where so many people are creating so much poor content, finding something valuable is disruptive. It is a nice feeling. Is it not? The main result is an increasing cost of searching content which would be relevant and valuable.

So we have a growing number of… social Mommies and Daddies! They are our friends, colleagues, opinion leaders. We follow them and use them as curators, because we trust them. But there are 2 more good reasons why we do so:

–       We are too lazy to search for something by our own efforts;

–       We have a human habit to follow our social group (as I have already mentioned, it has a thousand-year history, and it is based on the ideas of social efficiency and security).

sharing_bullhorn is why we have a simple fact. More than 60% of users consume content on social networks. So most of decisions we make about content consuming are dictated by reference groups. Therefore I swear that people will read this article, because they will find it in their friends’ Facebook feeds.

Yes, you can equip yourself with content curation services. But, to be honest, it is more a prerogative of professionals and geeks than of a bulk of users. I tried to popularize curation tools, for example, among my students, but no significant effects were obtained. They are more focused on dating and youthful experiments, rather than efficient use of information. And I think it is normal.

Social Reactions = SEO. Search Tyranny

Starting in 2013, the main indicator of Google ranking have been social reactions (likes, shares, plusses, retweets). Shared content is deemed the most valuable by Google. And you are likely to find it so too. Because society approved it. Logical like Descartes’ rule of signs.

Thus we have a sad picture:

–       Relevance is not the main factor anymore;

–       Popularity and social approval are everything.

I do not mean to be rude, but I do not want to be a sheep in a flock. Where is the choice?

Recommendation Services. Tyranny everywhere!

It would seem like there is a solution – personalization! From Facebook and Google, to NY Times and Huffington Post. Almost everywhere, we see the rise of different types of personalization, which help us to get content based on our interests or interests of people like us. It sounds great like a time machine!

But those who are somehow familiar with personalization algorithms know that it is always at least 50% based on the interests of people similar to users. I have been developing solutions based on collaborative filtering for several years so I know the weaknesses of these methods.

For example, I’m pissed off when it comes to Facebook recommendations. It just spams my feed with irrelevant clutter.

Thus, again we do not consume what we want. We are again caged by reference groups.

Why is it important for marketers?

Do not get me wrong. Actually I do not think that this situation is a big problem. We have lived with it for ages and it does not bother us. But it is a really crucial factor for marketers, who want to reach a specific target audience. Of course it is also true for politicians. But this article is not about it. 🙂

Group leaders still matter

It is like sales. There are always decision makers. It is a waste of time to sell to everybody. It is much more decision-making-cartooneffective to sell to opinion leaders. Because they are a marketing channel and a simple way to reach and influence group members (followers, subscribers, readers).

Be social as much as you can

If you are a big brand, it is ok to talk about omnichannel, difficult strategy and other things. But if you are a startup or small business, just focus on social media and good content! I strongly agree that content is an oil, but at the same time I’m sure that social media is a bottle through which the oil flows. Because today social distribution is the key to Audience Reach and SEO success.

Social proof is everything

Yeah. People are suspicious beings. They do not buy if they do not trust. If your friends like something you will buy it with higher probability. Do not try to go against the flow. Just use social proofs everywhere like me adding web-referrals in this article.


I guess, marketers will be more pragmatic and efficiency-focused this year. Social media and content marketing are mature industries. There is no time for strange experiments. It is time to clearly understand why people consume something, why people like something, and why people buy something. It is crucial in order to succeed for now and then.


Image attribution: (Stock photo)


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Artem Welker

Artem is a serial entrepreneur focused on Digital Marketing, Media and IT. He launched his first media project Hardwaretech in youth, and it was successfully sold. He was a contributor for a number of IT magazines and sites. In recent years Artem has been involved in 2 own companies - LikeHack Inc. and IdeaParcel. At the same time he provides advisory services, helping startups and companies to succeed in digital landscape. He is a constant speaker at Marketing and IT-conferences, business-incubators and universities.

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