Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Directing Attention

I read a fantastic article by Josh Klein earlier this week. The post in question emphasized that quality has become a commodity, and that in order to adequately differentiate one's product offerings it has become necessary to win attention. Klein's comments concerning the commoditization of quality were fascinating, and I would recommend the article to those keen to glean an insight into how quality is slowly becoming a minimal entry requirement. Whilst the comments concerning attention are somewhat less revolutionary, they highlight an important consideration which must not be overlooked. As the online environment becomes increasingly conducive to content creation, achieving recognition becomes a significant organisational challenge. How it is achieved will invariably depend upon the source from which it is sought.

Attention Please
As suggested by Klein, demand for attention has increased as the content available online has become ever more voluminous. As this demand rises, those able to direct attention have become 'gatekeepers' of sorts, able to drive traffic to those sites deemed most valuable. Admittedly, financial incentives represent one of the more common factors influencing the direction of attention; indeed, trade in attention is nothing new. Google has offered advertisers attention through the sale of sponsored links for years, and affiliate marketing has essentially grown from a desire to draw the attention of highly targeted traffic. Whilst financial gain represents but one incentive for directing attention, recent digital developments are redefining how and why attention is directed.

Developing Insight
Earlier this week, I made the suggestion on Robert Scoble's FriendFeed feed that the social media platform Twitter has slowly become little more than a service for directing attention. Whilst the platform may originally have been positioned as conversation facilitator, this has arguably been superseded as the platform's users have taken advantage of it's capacity to direct attention. The headline based nature of the Twitter service has resulted in a significant proportion of the messages conveyed directing attention to third party sites and services; the motivation behind which being arguably the development of community level insight.

Louis Gray recently wrote a piece detailing Robert Scoble's recent attempts to incorporate Amazon affiliate links into his FF feed. He probably would have gotten away with it to, if it wasn't for that pesky Gray! Link monetization along the lines demonstrated here is likely to represent one of the more viable methods for introducing revenue from one's social media efforts. Whilst the event did incur mild debate concerning transparency, the results are invariably win-win from both the retailer and the affiliate's perspectives. Whether this will damage the individual's integrity however is another matter; but that is a conversation for another day.

Achieving Attention
As I see it, there are two main reasons for directing attention. Firstly, attention may be directed for reasons of personal financial gain. Secondly, attention may be directed for the overall benefit of the 'conversation'. Whilst both strategies are likely to achieve results, the obvious costs incurred through Strategy A should be carefully scrutinized prior to any significant action being taken. On the other hand, Strategy B requires a more long term approach to content generation. By ensuring that your content remains interesting, informative and relevant, the chances of the community naturally linking to the content increase dramatically. As I see it, this is precisely the goal organisations should be reaching for.

What are your thoughts on directing attention? How should organisations ensure that links to their content are achieved, and what strategies do you feel are likely to represent the most viable means of achieving said links? As always, would love to hear your thoughts.

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  1. You're definitely right to emphasize that your content should be interesting, informative, and relevant -- and that your chances of the community linking to it increases because of that -- but I just don't think it's enough.

    It's so tempting. It would be so wonderful if that were the way these things worked out; the best things got the most attention, the second best things got the second most attention, and so on. I hope we get there some day.

    For now, there's still that part where the people working hard at gaining attention are the ones who get the attention.

    Luckily, there has been a huge change in that it's no longer possible to have something really crappy gain that attention... well, at the very least it's harder than it used to be.

    Now, high quality is a requisite but not a guarantee. Being awesome is necessary but not sufficient.

    Returning to your "reasons for direction attention" -- at this point, I think it can be a defensive strategy. You need to gain the attention so your competitors. It's that old political adage: control the message, control the story.

    OK, I totally made that up, but I'm sure some political people somewhere said it at some point. And "control" is probably the wrong word... let's go with "politely influence."

    Financial gain doesn't have to be a part of it. This applies to the green energy movement, religion, political campaigns, non-profits ... whatever.

    Thanks for the reference, Chris.

  2. No problem, Josh.
    You are absolutely right; unfortunately, it isn't quite as simple as producing high quality content. Whilst the production of outstanding content has become somewhat of a minimum entry requirement for consideration of late, alone it is unlikely to get you very far. This is unfortunate. Hard work in drumming up interest remains the most viable means of drawing attention to outstanding content.

    I find your comments concerning attention direction as a defensive strategy interesting. Drawing attention to content whilst diverting it away from that of the competitor is a fantastic method for 'politely influencing' the direction of the conversation; provided that these efforts are incorporated with consideration.

    I feel that there is a very fine line between being perceived to be gently encouraging attention and being perceived to be shamelessly forcing its focus. This dilemma is becoming increasingly obvious through Twitter, which is slowly becoming a platform for pushing one's produce into the online sphere.

    As you suggest, as time goes by it would be great to see quality content naturally achieving the attention it deserves. For now though, it remains a case of intelligently directing attention towards the content that deserves recognition.

    Thanks for commenting, Josh.


  3. Good points. I share the concern about Twitter, but I think the good news is that everybody else does too. It's not too hard to see who the "real" people are versus the marketing hacks.