Life & Work

How social media affects perception of businesses


The digital age mandates digital savviness, with staying abreast of changes in social media algorithms forming a crucial aspect of this requirement. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Navigating the tumultuous waters of social media often resembles a trek through a labyrinth, fraught with uncertainty.

New research uncovers a new layer to this puzzle involving Twitter’s recommendation algorithm.

Authored by Smitha Milli, Micah Carroll, Sashrika Pandey, Yike Wang, and Anca Dragan, the research reveals that Twitter’s algorithm amplifies emotional content, specifically anger, and out-group hostility.

As the algorithm distils a user’s feed, it does not serve tweets put in front of viewers’ eyes impartially but instead steers users towards content that stokes negative emotions.

Such a bias does not just colour the user’s Twitter experience but also influences their perception of their political in-group and out-group.

Inasmuch, those platform users with political biases favouring the United Democratic Alliance, Orange Democratic Movement, Liberal Democrats, Republicans, etc, see their issues important to those groups shown over and over again without any diversity of content.

While users do indeed seem to prefer algorithm-curated content in general, they exhibit a less favourable stance towards algorithm-selected political tweets.

These findings expose an uncomfortable reality about the digital spaces we inhabit daily and hold vital implications for businesses on multiple fronts.

From a business perspective, consumers occupy the central stage. Given the role of Twitter as a platform for brand-customer interaction, the algorithm’s bias could shape consumer perception of a brand.

As an example, if the algorithm prioritises content that elicits anger, businesses risk having their negative reviews or customer complaints amplified.

The algorithm’s bias could exacerbate a single negative experience, inflating it to define the brand in the eyes of the consumer.

Hence, companies need a dynamic approach to managing their online reputation, one that accounts for the emotional tone of their posts and engages constructively with negative feedback.

Turning our attention to the realm of employees, the algorithm’s propensity for negative emotions could influence workplace culture and communication.

Employees who actively use Twitter could unknowingly internalise the amplified negative sentiments and therefore affect their workplace interactions with their colleagues, managers, and customers.

They could become more critical or less cooperative, hindering teamwork and decreasing overall productivity.

Businesses need to foster an open dialogue about the potential impacts of social media consumption on workplace behaviour, encouraging a culture of empathy and understanding over hostility and division.

Lastly, in terms of recruitment, the implications of the algorithm’s bias are multi-faceted. Twitter often serves as a platform for job postings and employer branding.

However, the algorithm’s slant could affect a company’s ability to attract diverse talent. If the algorithm amplifies out-group animosity, it could inadvertently create an echo chamber that deters potential candidates who belong to these out-groups.

To combat such an effect, businesses should ensure that their social media recruitment strategies prove inclusive and cognisant of these potential algorithmic biases.

In conclusion, while social media platforms like Twitter offer businesses a potent tool for connecting with their consumers, employees, and potential recruits, understanding the underlying algorithms remains crucial.

The recent research underscores the need for businesses to adapt their strategies in response to the algorithmic amplification of anger and out-group hostility.

If every user could ignore the recommended tweets on their feed, that could be a step in the right direction but is unlike to occur in reality.

So, how do we make combatting the platform’s bias real? As we continue to delve deeper into the digital age, staying abreast of such developments and fostering digital literacy will become increasingly vital for businesses and individuals alike.

First, to foster an environment conducive to growth in the digital age, businesses should make regular training sessions a mandatory investment.

Such sessions should aim to educate employees about the functioning of social media algorithms and the implications of their use.

Topics of focus could include understanding the basics of algorithms, recognising the emotionally charged nature of online content, and adopting responsible practices for information consumption and dissemination online.

Second, in an attempt to counterbalance the effects of the bias inherent to any single platform, businesses should consider the distribution of content across multiple social media channels.

The unique algorithms employed by each platform result in varied user experiences. By spreading content across a diverse range of platforms, companies can not only tap into different audience demographics but also minimize the impact of any single algorithm's bias.

Third, as part of a firm’s organizational culture, businesses should strive to cultivate a sense of critical thinking and promote an attitude of healthy scepticism among their employees.

All individuals in the organization should question the content they come across online, consider its source, and think carefully before deciding to share it within their networks.

Fourth and moreover, to stay updated with the ever-changing trends of the digital landscape, companies could find it beneficial to establish collaborations with digital literacy experts or consultants.

These specialists can offer up-to-date insights into the latest trends in social media, and changes in algorithms, and help businesses in formulating comprehensive strategies for effective and responsible social media usage.

Fifth, adaptability in the face of rapid evolution defines the digital age. Therefore, businesses should adopt an approach of continuous learning, taking feedback from experiences, and making necessary adjustments to their strategies accordingly.

Conducting regular audits of social media performance can aid in identifying trends, understanding the impact of algorithms on reach and engagement, and tweaking strategies for improved outcomes.

Sixth and lastly, businesses should also work towards creating forums or spaces that encourage open dialogue among employees about their experiences with social media algorithms.

Such collective sharing of experiences can pave the way for better understanding and collective learning.

Implementing these strategies can assist businesses in navigating the labyrinth of social media algorithms, encouraging a culture of informed and responsible content consumption and sharing.

The digital age mandates digital savviness, with staying abreast of changes in social media algorithms forming a crucial aspect of this requirement.

The more informed we become, the better equipped we will be to tackle the challenges and seize the opportunities that lie ahead.