Chris Brogan wrote about Attention as a Currency about a month back in the backdrop of how he never liked FriendFeed and how Google Buzz is noisy. While Brogan focused on how one should focus on budgeting one’s own attention, I want to take the concept forward in the context of social media sharing.
Attention as Currency
Key points from Brogan’s post:
- Attention is the baseline currency and it is finite
- Reputation and Trust are higher-level instruments of the baseline attention currency
- You should set up an Attention Budget
- You should not get sucked into Buzz/Twitter/Facebook
(It is heartening to see a social media celebrity cautioning against getting sucked into the most popular social media tools out there, but how many social media enthusiasts are paying attention?)
The ‘You Scratch My Back & I’ll Scratch Yours’ Formula
When I once thanked an online friend for sharing one of my posts, the response took me by surprise: “It’s alright. You’ve shared some of my stuff before”.
Yes, I was a newcomer to social media.
Social Media today is largely driven by numbers and continues to play the followers game. An entire crop of millions of social media marketers has been harvested using the “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” fertilizer. What this means is, if you share my post, I’ll share yours. The principle is that you need to give in order to get in return. All this ‘give and take’ is partly what has caused the noise in social media.
Because of this formula, the situation has now devolved to:
- Digging stories blindly just because your friend ‘subbed’ them on Digg
- Retweeting those who retweet you, irrespective of what is being tweeted
- And so on, in various other networks in various other forms
Essentially, social media networks have become places where sharing is more about sucking up to people and their social circle, rather than truly endorsing content. And as networks, social circles and sharing grows on the one hand, quality of content being shared deteriorates more and more on the other.
Sharing is Asking for Attention
When you share something on any network, you are telling your social circle – “Look at this, this is something I think you will find interesting.” In essence, you are asking for attention from your followers. Your followers distribute whatever attention currency they have budgeted for you among the things you share.
The attention each item receives depends on the total number of items you share. If you overdo it, you are reducing the value of each shared item. If you don’t share much, you aren’t really participating in the social network, reducing your baseline value.
The Flaw in the Formula
What the formula doesn’t take into account is that by blindly and indiscriminately increasing one’s ‘give and take’ in social media, one is decreasing the relevance of one’s shares to one’s followers. By ‘giving back’ to certain people, you’re at the same time ‘taking away’ from your other followers.
When the relevancy of your shares decrease, your reputation and trust declines. Social media tools might indicate you have a large number of followers, your ‘influence’ is ranked highly in terms of numbers, and you become popular as a friendly person. But your followers may not be clicking on the links you tweet or buying the products or services you recommend.
Curation Increases Reputation
Curation is such a buzzword these days, that some have gone so far as to dub every act of social media sharing as ‘curation’ – from Foursquare check-ins to Blippy purchases, to Yelp reviews. I consider some of these examples as annotations or adding meta data to a crowdsourced database. Considering each act of social media sharing as an act of curation is like considering all sex to be an act of love.
The one way I’ve seen true reputation and influence increase on the social web is when one’s shares are relevant to followers. This necessitates a brutal and ruthless evaluation. Is this content relevant to my followers? Irrespective of which influencer wrote it, irrespective of which ‘guru’ endorsed it, the relevance question is of prime consideration in deciding whether I endorse, share and propagate it to my followers.
Curation is budgeting the attention of your followers.
By reviewing the content and evaluating its relevance to your followers in any network, you are valuing the attention of your network. Personally, I prefer valuing this currency of my followers than playing the numbers game.