Competing for Attention is about Connection

you are the avalancheJust as turmoil and transition in the news business is a quest to garner attention impacting media relations, the avalanche of information on the Web is a challenge for communications and marketing professionals in the quest to garner attention.  Whether trying to communicate a business’ story by whatever means or through a brand’s action as publisher, generating its’ own content (and in that sense becoming a contributor to that avalanche of information), now more than ever, communications efforts must be focused on not just pushing out information but ensuring it connects with the people you want and need to reach.

Competing for Attention in the World of Everything: In the social, mobile and Web connected era, the people you want and need to reach are no longer just a demographic, or a specific psychographic group that are quantified through mass media viewerships, subscriptions, postal codes and your CRM email data base.  They are people with @names on Twitter and other individual social profiles.  They surf across this Web of information in various formats – where they collect and share information, while interacting and learning from others.  People have infinite choices about where to get information and how to spend their time.  As Jeff Bezos recently noted about books, but is about more than just books:

“The most important thing to observe is that books don’t just compete against books. Books compete against people reading blogs and news articles and playing video games and watching TV and going to see movies.  Books are the competitive set for leisure time. It takes many hours to read a book. It’s a big commitment. If you narrow your field of view and only think about books competing against books, you make really bad decisions. What we really have to do, if we want a healthy culture of long-form reading, is to make books more accessible.”  Read more:

Unconstrained Formats: Like books, public relations and marketing efforts compete for attention.  The information we once thought belonged in a News release, company announcement at a conference or product review can now come in many different forms.  Communications and marketing efforts are no longer constrained by the formats of traditional media, events, announcements or sponsorships or even internal company emails. We are obliged to think creatively about communities, and apps, and innovative new programs that garner attention and drive connection and “engagement” with the stakeholders — who are people, individuals who are important to our business. As Om Malik has noted, “media” might better be defined as anything that has our attention:

“…the post-internet media landscape. It is a hypercharged race for increasingly fractionalized attention. In the recent past, I wrote:  Media companies are those companies that have our attention — they can be social networks (Twitter), games (Farmville/Zynga or Candy Crush/ or photo-sharing services (Instagram) or a listicle-powered flywheel of social attention (BuzzFeed). Like I have said before, they all are basically trying to get us to spend many fractions of our attention on their offerings.”

Public relations and marketing programs will continually need to innovate and adjust to garner attention – and that equation is no longer one that can rely on the sum total of mass reach.  Rather the equation is about garnering time and attention – a focused connection.  Just as the newspaper has unbundled stories, PR and marketing efforts may need to rethink formats and unbundle programs that we have traditionally used in our approach to business communications (a topic for a future blog post).

TimeonitssideClicks are Not Attention or Connection: In addition to the formats of how we communicate, we also need to understand that a click on a link we publish or on our websites is not equal to attention or connection. Sure, it is an important first step but only that, a first step — worth about 15 seconds of time.  Even sharing can be a misnomer because not everyone reads what they share.

Increasingly there are those arguing that time to read or the amount of time one spends on a particular story or video is the best measure of whether the information you are trying to share is actually garnering any kind of attention.  In this post, Upworthy shares its formula for measuring the time people spend reading before they share something with their friends.  In this compelling post, last week by @Ev (one of the founders of Twitter and now Medium) advocates for the “time to read” metric they use at Medium ( Related: see the last post here with some thought on what Medium may be up to and why that could be a very interesting and focused model for business).  Also, this post on Digiday for some additional context and commentary.

Look to move from success based on eyeballs and clicks to time spent + shares.  The latter is the path to ongoing attention and real connections (engagement) between your business and key stakeholders.

Forget Spray and Pray. Find Your Stakeholders Online and Connect: It takes work, but focusing on niche communities, the stakeholders that matter to you, is likely to be a more effective programmatic effort that the traditional mass reach model.  Build your connected and attentive audience over time versus looking for the quick one hit wonder of the content that went viral.  Use a tools like GetLittleBird to identify and start to connect with the people that matter to your business.  Share their content too.  Afterall, stakeholder relationships are two way streets.  It’s not just about what you have to say. And by the way, don’t forget the people who already share and connect with you on Twitter – give them a shout out.

spraypray2As noted in the report about the New York Times innovation and technology challenges (and recently reposted implications for brands by Scott Monty):

Connection: The Times has identified its single most underutilized resource: its audience. This could likely be said of many brands as well.  Nor is it an easy task:
Of all of the tasks we discuss in this report, the challenge of connecting with and engaging readers – which extends from online comments to conferences – has been the most difficult.”  As the Times struggles to grapple with this, they’ve come to realize that transparency may play a role in making a deeper connection with their audience: “pulling back the curtain and providing readers a bit more insight into how we do our work.”

Looking Ahead…Go For It: Moving forward, successful marketing and communications efforts will continue to depend on using technology to be more personal and focused, where success is less about mass reach and more about focused attention.  That means better identification of who your key stakeholders are and more targeted efforts to actually connect and garner their attention.  If you are interested in the challenges this presents, you too may want to keep an eye out for Ben Parr’s new book, Capitivology.  In the meantime, whether it is content marketing per se or other communications and marketing efforts, the words of Jeff Bezos may have some more insight for us:

 “My main job today: I work hard at helping to maintain the culture. A culture of high standards of operational excellence, of inventiveness, of willingness to fail, willingness to make bold experiments. I’m the counterbalance to the institutional “no” who can say “yes.” ….companies that don’t continue to experiment, companies that don’t embrace failure, they eventually get in a desperate position where the only thing they can do is a Hail Mary bet at the very end of their corporate existence. Whereas companies that are making bets all along, even big bets, but not bet-the-company bets, prevail. I don’t believe in bet-the-company bets. That’s when you’re desperate. That’s the last thing you can do.”

The time to experiment in communications and marketing is upon us. Those experiments need to look at new and engaging formats, focus on niche groups and individual stakeholders rather than mass reach; and in those focused efforts the drive is towards real connectivity and attention, that is shared and equal.  At the same time, it is incumbent upon us to explore the metrics that help us constantly evaluate and fine tune efforts to be better.


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