Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

“That’s what everyone thinks,” the speaker stated with authority. “I know there’s support for this initiative because everyone in the community agrees.”  Really? But just suppose that everyone doesn’t agree and that they just aren’t speaking up?  That’s not effective communication.

Obviously, not everyone thinks the same thing about anything. That’s why it’s so important to truly understand your target audiences before you can effectively connect and engage with them.  But what about those sneaky echo chambers that keep popping up?

I’ve had this on my mind since returning from vacation. I realized, by reading local news, surfing social media and checking in with my traditional local sites to get caught up, that I’m living in a geographic echo chamber.

I’ve written about echo chambers in the past, advising people to be careful about echo chambers that may exist within their business or organization. In fact, this topic has generated some of the most feedback that I’ve received from readers in the past. It is an area that I find myself assisting clients with more and more as landscapes change and reaching audiences becomes more and more strategic. However, I hadn’t really given enough thought to geographic echo chambers.

Echo chambers exist when we find ourselves surrounded by people, ideas, traditions or cultures that are inclined to only see things from one perspective. Rather than seeking differing opinions, those who are comfortable in echo chambers find themselves validated by their own opinions and information. Those who agree will flock to those individuals and organizations. Those that don’t agree most often remain silent and/or seek out other business or organizational relationships. That’s dangerous when you are trying to create positive influence through messaging.

This tendency will create chaos in the workplace where strategic decisions are made concerning communication, engagement and other areas that have the potential to positively or negatively impact the bottom line. Not recognizing geographic echo chambers is likely to have the same result.

Some businesses and organizations create echo chambers that actually work for them. Think businesses that are founded and/or are focused around niche ideas, products or services. These audiences are often smaller and more easily targeted.

But most businesses and organizations must remain constantly aware of echo chambers that may exist. Failure to recognize the silent damage that occurs to reputations, credibility and loyalty when geographic echo chambers exist, but aren’t recognized, can’t help but have a negative impact on your mission and goals. Remember, silence isn’t always golden.

Strategic communication requires that we understand the context in which all messaging takes place. When communities or geographical locales themselves become echo chambers, it is important to recognize this and plan your communication around this manifestation. Not doing so will result in communication that is echo-centric, thus leaving out many different target audiences who may feel alienated by your messaging.  It’s also less likely to be inspirational, thought-provoking or action oriented if it just bangs the same drum.

So, how do you combat geographical echo chambers? First, be aware that they exist. Second, solicit feedback from as many people as possible about your services, products and/or plans. Don’t assume because you haven’t heard anything negative that people don’t hold those opinions.

Visit other communities and learn what issues are impacting them and how they deal with them. Review materials concerning businesses or organizations similar to yours that operate in different places to learn how do they engage with their communities. Don’t assume that the loudest voices represent your target audiences. Make sure that you know them better than anyone else. Never stop evaluating all of the environments that you operate within.

Lastly, never believe someone when they say, “Everyone”.

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