Our Attention is Very Tiny and Very Competitive

Oh ... just look at those adorable puppies!

Hey - welcome to the Attention Economy, and like all economies, our attention is extremely scarce, extremely competitive. It's very, very tiny. It's real tiny. It's wee-minuscule. Why?

Well, we're human beings. We're not always plugged in. Sometimes we're eating, sleeping, traveling - interacting with and being limited by the physical world and the requirements of our bodies - and that prevents us from consuming information.

Further, even when we are consuming, we can consume only so much information. Our tiny brains and sensory mechanisms only allow for this wacky analog input through our eyes. 

And when we're not consuming information, we may be out doing what humans enjoy doing like hiking, camping, water-skiing, or reenacting medieval army battles, whatever. We can actually choose not to be consuming information. Crazy, I know.

But the point is our attention is scarce. A great example of this is Twitter. There's a ton of noise in Twitter. A zillion people are saying a zillion things all at once. It's like a crowded square with wall-to-wall people armed with bullhorns, screaming into your face: we can only take in so much information at a time and we can only listen to one or two speakers at a time.

That sliver of time where you actually read one tweet for that one moment is our attention.  It is a small thing, a tremendously tiny thing, as compared to the vastness - the surplus - of information out there that's demanding it. Think of it: every second, on average, around 6,000 tweets are tweeted on Twitter which corresponds to over 350,000 tweets sent per minute or 500 million tweets per day. If every tweet was an inch, in just one day, your tweet would just ONE INCH in 7,891 MILES of crap. Seriously. That's a small, tiny, insignificant sliver of zilch. And THAT's just on Twitter. Now take into consideration Facebook, Pinterest, and every other place we might spend our online time.

If you're a small business and you're attempting to use social media as a medium for conducting guerrilla marketing, I want you to see what you're up against. It's a fun, rosy picture ("Oh, I'll just market myself on Facebook!") until you start looking at the reality. You're that fraction-of-an-angry-inch in nearly eight thousand miles of possibility every day. Wee tiny. Facebook - or any other social networking marketplace attempting to get you to spend your precious attention - isn't a good strategy. The odds are way against you. You've got to ask yourself: how will this ever work? How will you ever get the attention of your customers, or potential customers? How will you out compete others with larger staff and budget and attention-hogging techniques? How will you get past all of the filters people have put in place to block you? How will you connect with others?

Unless you're very good at creating noisy, distracting content that captures eyeballs, or spend money on relevance and advertising, it's not going to be a strategy that works for you. Yet on the off-chance that you do get somebody's attention online, you must get really good at converting online attention into offline conversation. In the real world, there are fewer distractions, less noise, greater rapport, and more direct, meaningful conversations. The electronic space is an opportunity to drive someone into the real world, to engage in a real conversation, to create a real relationship.

Want to think strategically about IT spending in the Attention Economy? Look closely at your website. Your Twitter profile. Your Facebook page. How does it immediately try to convert the electronic visitor into a real-world relationship? How does it foster or encourage real human connection? Or, how much is it just more, needless distraction? Like ... puppies?