It’s the Attention, Stupid

One of the mistakes we often make in our quest for economic reductionism is to assume that all value can be monentized. But this model often breaks down in the context of online communities. As Manila Austin, a psychologist who heads up research at Communispace, put it, “People want the validation that they are being heard.”

In a BusinessWeek article entitled “Will Work for Praise: The Web’s Free-Labor Economy“, Stephen Baker tells some stories about the unpaid volunteers who invest their energy in helping others online, and the companies who try to monetize their efforts. Of course, the volunteers are only unpaid in financial terms; they are very much incented by one thing money can’t always buy: attention.

These days, there’s a lot of concern about what business models will sustain social media–particularly blogs and Twitter. It’s clear from stories like Baker’s that many participants in online communities are sufficiently motivated to invest their own time–and possibly even their own money–in order to reap the non-financial reward of attention.

As it is, most bloggers and tweeters are unpaid for their efforts. Perhaps this model will ultimately sustain the blogosphere, and attention will trump money as the currency of communication.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

4 replies on “It’s the Attention, Stupid”

Won’t the attention often lead to more traditional remuneration? I can’t think of the number of times I’ve hired people for a marcomm or web project or recommended them for a fulltime role because they reminded me of their presence with content: their quality insights (by email, blog post, Tweet) got my attention. Conversely, the rote “any work yet?” emails from freelancers routinely fall to the bottom of the pile.


Reputation is different from attention. Are we in a reputation market? You bet we are!

Attention? You can get a lot of attention just by collecting friends on Facebook. Or posting a nude picture of yourself.

I agree that many people out there just want attention, but surely, you do not blog so that we pay attention to you? You want to build a brand, build a reputation…

The difference between reputation and attention is important. The former can boost your career, for example.

Reputation is about trust, reliability, transparency…

And I think that we get the difference between a corporate blog and your private blog. A corporate blog is not about building reputation, it is about merely grabbing attention. It is raw advertizing. A personal blog is different from raw advertizing. It is brand-building.

Can you build a “reputation” through twitter, for example? Maybe. But the follower’s count is a poor measure of your reputation. So is “my readers’ count” (which I display on my blog). What is a better indication of your reputation is who cites you, who comments on your blog, what they say, and so on. These tell us something about your social network and how reputable you are.


Not sure how much traffic a nude picture of myself would attract, but I won’t try to find out empirically. Point taken: as I commented on your blog, I wholeheartedly agree: attention-getting is a tactic, but the larger strategic goal should be reputation building if the goal is to create lasting value.

And yes, reputation can be monetized, which is certainly a good reason to build it.

But, all that said, a lot of people may be satisfied with attention that does not lead to lasting value. Much of our popular culture seems to be designed around people’s desire for 15 minutes of fame. Perhaps it’s not so much that people don’t value a lasting reputation as that they are too lazy to make the requisite investment.


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