Perspective: The Attention Economy

There’s no doubt about it: we are living in the Attention Economy – where human attention is a scarce commodity that brands and individuals compete for. 

As Matthew Crawford, author of The World Beyond Your Head puts it, “attention is a resource – a person has only so much of it.” As we are exposed to more and more content and conversations every day, our attention becomes limited and we must choose what to “consume”.

Patricia McDonald wrote in the Guardian, “Eyeballs are everything. We exist in a race for clicks which rewards the extreme at the expense of the erudite, the controversial over the considered.”

In fact, we are so accustomed to racing for attention that many brands and Instagram users are willing to pay for likes and followers if it means people will think others are paying attention to them!

Everyone is battling for our limited attention, and while the Attention Economy may at times seem scary or inauthentic, it’s only when we understand, respect, and work with it that we can find success in business.

Here are 5 things you must do to succeed in the Attention Economy (while sticking to your values):

Pay Attention to People. People are seeking attention, so be kind and pay attention to them. If someone leaves a nice comment on one of your social accounts, or takes a photo of themselves enjoying your product, show your appreciation. Thank them. Let them know how happy it makes you to know they care! Not only is it polite, but it will give you the opportunity to connect with your customers and learn more about what they want.

Give. Ask yourself what you offer your clients, customers, followers, and subscribers that is of value. It doesn’t have to be of monetary value (like a voucher or discount code) – it can be your time, your most coveted recipe, or a glimpse behind the scenes at your organization. Why should someone want to give you their attention – whether it’s on Twitter or your email newsletter?

Get Permission.  Permission to contact someone is so important in an age where nothing seems to be off limits – we get cold calls to our offices, our homes, text messages with promotions to our phones, and emails from companies we’ve never heard of. It means something when someone trusts your brand enough to let you contact them. Respect peoples’ boundaries. When you have permission (when someone subscribes to your newsletter or likes your Facebook page, or follows you on Twitter), that’s when the magic begins!

Engage. Connect with the people who are paying attention to you! Listen to them. Respond to them. Engagement is important for the attention economy because people pay attention to conversations (by contrast, what we’ve learned NOT to pay attention to are meticulously-crafted campaigns and soapbox speeches).

Build Trust. Unmistakably, trust comes from authenticity, transparency, and sharing your culture. Trust is what keeps people coming back to you, rather than the next guy with a better price. Without trust it’s hard to make the sale, but remember that the goal with establishing trust is to gain a long-time customer.

As business-owners in the Attention Economy, we have the responsibility to respect our customers, to pay attention to them, and to build relationships. As consumers, it means we can vote with our voices, our social media shares, and our values. When we work together with the Attention Economy, it opens up the space for dialogue, change, and connection too.