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'Serendipitous' content connects with consumers

News, 01 May 2017
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LONDON: Almost two-thirds (63%) of UK consumers enjoy coming across useful or interesting content when browsing online, but most are unaware that their online experiences are often limited by social media and search preference algorithms.

That is according to a poll of 1,000 adults conducted by media agency the7stars and Newsworks, the marketing body for UK national newspapers, which sought to understand how brands should best navigate a digital environment where algorithms create "artificial information filter bubbles around individuals".

A filter bubble is an algorithm that selects information a user might want to see based on their online activity, such as search history, yet the survey found that 82% of UK consumers have never heard of the term.

What's more, around two-thirds (64%) are unaware that Google search results are personalised, while a similar proportion (65%) disagree that the news they see on Facebook is matched to their personal profiles.

"This study reveals there is a huge opportunity for brands and media owners if they pop people's filter bubbles in a way that is sophisticated," said Helen Rose, Head of Insights at the7stars.

"It shows just how complex the digital world shaped by preferences, ad blocking and algorithms has become – consumers do not mind a curated information experience so long as that is done with some thought; they simply want a better balance between targeted advertising and serendipity," she explained.

And the survey confirmed that consumers are open to such "serendipitous" content when it comes to viewing ads that are relevant but unexpected.

In these circumstances, more consumers choose positive words such as "curious" (33%), "surprised" (27%) and "intrigued" (25%) rather than negative words such as "irritated" (18%) or "annoyed" (17%).

By contrast, when asked to choose words they associate with expected advertising based on recent searches or expressed interests, the majority of consumers choose words such as "targeted" (37%), "intrusive" (30%) and "annoying" (26%).

The survey also examined UK consumers' attitudes to news consumption with the country just five weeks away from a general election.

While 44% said they consume news offered by Facebook, 63% use TV news programmes and 77% consume print or digital newspaper brands.

When asked their preferred source of news, a third (32%) opt for print or digital newspaper brands, 25% watch TV news programmes and 9% choose Facebook.

"As we go into a general election we've found that almost half of news consumers would prefer not to have a news service filtered by an algorithm and most would prefer to discover new information and ideas,” said Denise Turner, Insight Director at Newsworks.

"It also shows that while social media is an important part in people's news diets, newsbrands are more likely to be people's first choice for news information."

Data sourced from Newsworks; additional content by WARC staff

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