Self-Reinforcing, Self-Promotional Bias

A large part of making business successful is leveraging your authority and using nepotism to extend your sphere of influence. If things look a bit circular in nature that is because they are. Nearly everything you consume has a self promotional bias, but is that any reason to complain? Wouldn't be even scarier if the things you enjoyed and associated with were self destructing?

Examples of Self Promotional Bias in the Media:

If a politician pushes bogus laws (that they know will never be passed) for self promotion and news coverage then why wouldn't the media companies that grant that exposure also grant themselves some leeway? Do you think a news company owned by GE is going to publish a cover story about pollution by GE? Do you think Fox News will stand up against their big advertisers (even when their advertisers are responsible for causing cancer)? Of course not.

The bigger something gets the more hidden stakeholders it has to appeal to. Very rarely do owners get the opportunity to speak honestly about large companies. In many cases they are obligated not to in order to maximize shareholder value. I have had VCs offer to invest in me multiple times but have refused time and time again because I don't want hidden stakeholders controlling my actions.

People discouraging institutional analysis may say Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent is a conspiracy theory, but why would it be? What business isn't biased toward their own self interests? Self preservation is a core goal of any institution.

Broken Egos:

Many junk products exist with demand driven by hype, spam, and scammy multi-level marketing, but many
business models exists because we as consumers have holes in our egos and want to lie to ourselves to justify our own flaws and actions.

As technology replaces the roles of many workers while making communication cheaper and easier, people have to do more to earn a living and it is harder to create new ideas, so we have to do more cause driven things to feel purpose and meaning in life.

We want to believe that ethanol
is providing cleaner fuel
even if creating it takes more energy than it creates.

As for the environmental impact, well, where do we begin? As an oxygenate, ethanol increases the level of nitrous oxides in the atmosphere and thus causes smog. The scientific literature is also divided about whether the energy inputs required to produce ethanol actually exceed its energy output. It takes fertilizer to grow the corn, and fuel to ship and process it, and so forth. Even the most optimistic estimate says ethanol's net energy output is a marginal improvement of only 1.3 to one. For purposes of comparison, energy outputs from gasoline exceed inputs by an estimated 10 to one.

Bias in Consumption:

Why is Fox News so profitable? Because it isn't really news. It is biased entertainment sold as news:

A new study based on a series of seven US polls conducted from January through September of this year reveals that before and after the Iraq war, a majority of Americans have had significant misperceptions and these are highly related to support for the war in Iraq.

The polling, conducted by the Program on International Policy (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and Knowledge Networks, also reveals that the frequency of these misperceptions varies significantly according to individuals' primary source of news. Those who primarily watch Fox News are significantly more likely to have misperceptions, while those who primarily listen to NPR or watch PBS are significantly less likely.

Just like how we want to believe certain lies to make ourselves feel good, we also consume things
that reinforce our identities and worldviews.

How many decidedly centrist political blogs are successful compared to the number of strong democrat and strong republican blogs? It is easier to trust things that are easy to relate to, and trust has more value than objectivity.

I probably read just about every blog post that links to my site because I want to know why people are
talking about me. Is that a self serving bias? Absolutely. But why wouldn't I have that bias?

Changing Someone Else's Worldview:

It is much easier to sell someone something they want than to try to change their worldview.

An SEO thought they were going to change the image of SEOs on Digg by writing a letter about SEO. After getting many votes it was promptly removed from the homepage.

It is even easy for a well rounded guy like Scott Karp to view SEO in a negative light after seeing so much negative coverage of the topic. Scott was more receptive to feedback than Digg because he only needs to change his opinion, he doesn't have to go against the group think consensus on Digg to change his content.

It is easy to be popular as a politician in the US by hating terrorists, gays, and gay terrorists. It is easy to be popular on Digg by hating SEOs. Neither of those mean that the blind hate is correct or has any value (other than realizing it creates a market that is easy to exploit - because as a market they are targeted and already letting others exploit them).

Many business owners create business models that explicitly are designed to take advantage of the blind faith, bigotry, ignorance, and hypocrisy core to many popular religions, or other large self-serving authority structures.

Fighting Noise:

As markets mature, market leaders have less time to learn (because they are so overwhelmed with things to do). Given that publishing costs have dropped to zero and web business models are so scalable, is it any wonder that market leaders tend to read less and do more testing on their own (especially if they became a market leader as a side effect of learning)?

Aaron Pratt has recently whined about the circular linking patterns of SEO elites, even having a guest post by Michael Goldberg, but a comment on that post by Ahmed Bilal was spot on:

In any such environment the good will rise and then naturally protect themselves by strengthening their following (herd). If you want to get to the top (topple them, beat them, match them, whatever), you have to build your own following, your own herd.

What are we doing about this right now? Are you actively finding, reading and linking to one new SEO blog a day?

If you want to be read, then you have to be interesting and you have to attract attention. That's the way it works best - asking for attention or saying that you deserve it won't help.

And yet on my recent blog post about the recent Google (update algo tweak refresh whatever) Aaron Pratt said this:

I am not seeing any loss/gain of earnings in Adsense which leads me to believe their is nothing going on.

Being a good SEO is about noticing patterns beyond your own experiences and surrounding yourself with others who can do the same.

Notice that I didn't outright call the latest Google Update an update, because Google heavily controls that language and wants to obfuscate examination of their changes (wait for the official word from Google on the data push / update / refresh / etc). Just how Google controls their update language, their self promotional bias and control of search related language is largely responsible for the public perception of SEO.

My Experiences With Authority:

Less than 5 years ago I got kicked out of the military. Since then:

  • I have been flown to a college and asked if I want to become a professor, but I think I wanted far more money than they wanted to pay. Since then I have created numerous passive income streams that far exceed what they would have paid.

  • I have had multiple VCs want to by a stake in my businesses, but turned them down.
  • I have been offered to get published by a major publishing house, but turned it down because it would have screwed up my business model. There is no business model in getting published unless you are publishing a thinly disguised advertisement or need the publisher for credibility.
  • I have been mentioned in the mainstream media numerous times. Not typically for the stuff I know best, but more for getting sued and for being the person who spent $8 registering I have had done some long interviews that have never seen the light of day because I was far too honest.

Those were all opportunities at traditional forms of authority, and generally I turned them down because they were not worth the cost. The point here is that generally I am not a fan of most authorities.

Becoming an Authority:

If you are new to the market you do have biases against you: capital, market knowledge, relationships and attention. But you also have the advantage of being able to take the time to create really cool stuff and do lots of tests because people are not expecting you to do lots of things every day, and you can learn from mistakes of those who entered the market before you.

To get market recognition in a saturated market you have to come up with new, interesting, or innovative things. And if you can't do those you have to at least cause human things that appeal to people and make people feel love or hate. Look how new SEOMoz is and they are already on the 1st page of Google for SEO and got a ton of media coverage.

If bias toward known authorities is something that is a common flaw with humans and all social structures there is little value in complaining about it. Instead accept it for what it is and let it feed into your marketing. Sure the Good Old Boy's club sucks, but if you don't offer solutions, then complaints about flaws in human nature are void of meaning.

Via (RCJordan (WMW))

"Resource" is an encomium bestowed only by users; "authority" is bestowed only by previously recognized authorities. Anyone who calls himself either one, is just an ego with vocal chords.

Published: February 25, 2007 by Aaron Wall in marketing publishing & media


February 26, 2007 - 4:20am

Very good Aaron, makes a lot of since, which I don't think quietly every one would understand what your saying, depends on a person perception of what you had to say, and since, but I do completely see where your coming from on that.

LOL! Don't make things to complexed for people!

February 26, 2007 - 6:10am

You could at least link to my "whining" with a nofollow tag to give me a chance to have a voice.

Here is a comment I made in Michael Goldberg's blog (note the date, the 23rd) and note what I said about "whining".

The link:

You make good sense up to the point of considering what myself and others do as "whining".

You also missed that what I said about Adsense what meant to be a joke. Ahmed Bilal and I were chatting yesterday and he said to me, "Man you shouldn't have said that even if it was a joke" knowing that I was giving you ammo to crush any further reply.

I see this as two people who do not know each other because one chooses to not expand his associations and welcome in newbies.

Again, I predicted the use of the word "whining" two days ago before you made this post. You want to be my friend great, you want to delete my comments and occasional challenges that is entirely your choice. You want to delete this respose all together go for it.

February 26, 2007 - 7:00am

If your jokes make you sound stupid and/or add noise to other's site without adding value then maybe you are better off not posting them. And if you do post them then there is little point whining when others learn to ignore is what you are teaching them to do.

February 26, 2007 - 1:07pm

I like the topic (while I may not have been shed in the best light on it :) I still respect what you are saying.

While that post was a reflective stance on my observations and patterns I have seen many times, it also reminds me of something that you stated a while back.

"Controversy can help build or destroy your brand, but either way it can also help build your linkage profile ;)"

Sometimes people need to take a step out of their comfort zone even if it means not everyone will like what they do.

With that said, I know what I wrote was going to be "whining or controversial" to some. Who knows, maybe I hit the self destruct button. However it really was not intended to be that way at all. Because I was the person responsible for writing it, I will tell you what it meaning was.

Every person is entitled to their own opinion and I respect that. If it was about whining, I think I would have said things like "I never get links, or hey look at me." In the original post I had regarding this, I made mention that not all people were like this and I even said that you were not that way by any stretch as I know you respond all the time.

It was more so intended to let people know that everyone has a starting point and while everyone deserves to climb the ladder of success, it's just as important to remember that we all have a starting point and in cases when a person has reached success to any level, not to forget that they started the same exact way.

I enjoy your blog and what you have to say and I will continue to be a regular reader, even though you thought I was "whining" :P.

February 26, 2007 - 2:54pm

Michael - I did not see any sign of "whining" in your great article you wrote up on SEO Buzz Box, glad to have you back to contribute any time.

My article on "circular linking of the seo elites" was pointed at those who link to each other to protect an industry they are looking to build. Elites saw it as whining, regular people agreed as was predicted. My intent was to make both points evident via responses like you see here.

I am looking to breath some life into a dead industry because without things like debate and humor it is of little value to anyone. Michael's article was dead on and his link to the movie clip extremely related.

If I read Aaron Wall correctly, he is saying that good ol' boy networks are just part of doing business. I can not disagree more but thanks for allowing me to disagree without deleting my comments.

February 26, 2007 - 3:24pm

"Many business owners create business models that explicitly are designed to take advantage of the blind faith, bigotry, ignorance, and hypocrisy core to many popular religions, or other large self-serving authority structures."

That's because it's easy to cash in on other people's prejudice. It's harder be creative and deliver a product, service, or message that is different, no matter how good it is. But once you have something that is good, and useful, and makes people's lives a little better in some way, then you can have that "objective bias" that comes with touting a product, service, or idea that is unique--because you are being honest.

Great article, Aaron. Just thought I'd chip in my two cents.

February 26, 2007 - 7:22pm

The problem is, sometimes people are so used to getting what they want from spammers,scammers and opportunists, that they can no longer tell a good thing when they see it. Try asking a kid whether he'd prefer a happy meal or a salad. The marketing industry is geared towards making things that are not good for you look attractive and the result is that good things often look unappealing at first glance. People who are more savvy can spot a fake and appreciate something of value, but what about the masses?

February 26, 2007 - 9:15pm

Hi Michael
I never said you were whining...I stated that you made a guest post.

But I do not agree with "everyone deserves to climb the ladder of success" that line of thinking is a bit naive or presumptuous. Probably 90% of everything is poorly done. The key it to get others to perceive you as being in the other 10%.

Everyone can not be equal. And if they were the world would suck. Read Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut.

February 26, 2007 - 10:27pm

If you beleive that "everyone should climb the ladder of success" I reccommend you join the Navy. In the Navy if you wait around long enough and you'll be put in charge.

February 26, 2007 - 11:41pm

I think everyone deserves that chance. What a person does from that point is their own destiny. ;)

February 28, 2007 - 5:47pm

Pretty cool. Contraversy, honesty, authority and marketing put them all togather properly and I guess you are climbing that ladder of success. Success has been given to far to many people who dont deserve it or have gotten there with immoral business plans. There are those moral successes though and I think you are right about 10% or even a little less. The little less comes in in times of pressure when we lie to ourselves to make immoral decisions to continue that climb.

I guess you can apply all that to your personal relationships and see what you attract because carma finds everyone worth finding.

I am some what new to SEO and am beginning to see the difference of right and wrong among SEO theories. I agree with truth, creativity and nonmanipulated "facts" and so far so good. Work has been long and hard but I think it will last.

In the end all those little lies we tell ourselves really end up being about one thing money or honey.

March 3, 2007 - 2:40pm

The best post I read in a long time. SEO is marketing nothing more nothing less.

Whether it is offline or online, the principles are the same.

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