In business and statistics, there’s a concept called “long tail.” While it generally refers to a strategy of selling large numbers of niche products in small quantities each (the distribution curve looks like a long tail), it’s also a term that we’re seeing more of in the marketing world.
Long-tail marketing techniques rely on technology that can target very specific audiences. Naturally, that includes new media marketing (especially blogs and podcasts), viral marketing, and keywords/search engine optimization. The more you can target certain behaviors and beliefs, the more likely your niche product/service will resonate with your target audience. More advanced techniques include generating more content across more channels, looking at the distribution of retweets/shares on social media, a link building strategy, and so on.
Outside of that world, we can apply long tail theory in a number of other ways. What if you had a unique idea or belief? We hear about the polarization of messaging, the radicalization of religion/politics, is the Internet conducive to the proliferation of niche messaging? In a word, yes. ‘
Whether giving rise to many small groups of niche beliefs as opposed to mainstreaming them into populist ones is a good idea or not is up for debate. However, a much more fascinating concept in a world of long tails: are our beliefs and the ideas that we subscribe to the head or part of a long tail? The more that algorithms dictate how we see the world, the more filter bubbles skew our perception of people and values unlike our own (whether we are conscious of that or not!).
Eli Pariser shared a wonderful TED talk about this called “Beware the Filter Bubbles” and Nicholas Carr wrote this great book on what the Internet is doing to our brains (you should definitely get it now), but is awareness enough? We’ve known about many self-destructive forces like excessive drinking, overeating, and the lack of exercise, yet those things still create great physical harm to millions around the world. So it isn’t just knowing about the problem.
Like most physical ailments, the solution is action: preventative steps to address detrimental habits. If we want to solve intellectual, spiritual, and political issues, then it takes awareness and action: changing up the consumption of long tail marketing that exploits our values (i.e, information sources that confirms our biases), allowing room for with those who subscribe to different niche ideas in our lives, and making a deliberate effort to go from long tails to expanding our sense of community.