The Attention Revolution: Our Obligation is to Establish a Deeper Respect for Consumer’s Time & Attention



When defined as a crucial investment, attention becomes the world’s, and every individual’s most valuable resource.


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Marketing is about telling stories that meet people where they are and solve real-world problems for consumers. Having a deep and profound respect for our audience’s time and attention is, therefore, one of the greatest obligations of our industry.

A decade ago the formula for increasing traffic and leads was simple: publish more content. In today’s digital landscape, this approach simply no longer holds.

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Where we spend our time and our attention impacts much more than what we buy and how much we spend on it. The narratives we share as marketers have the power to influence our audience’s mental and physical health, as well as interpersonal relationships. When defined as a crucial investment, attention becomes the world’s, and every individual’s most valuable resource.

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” – Herbert A. Simon

We face an important inflection point where there is increasing trust in curation, metrics advertisers emphasize are being challenged and reevaluated, and there is a concrete opportunity to impact the role emerging technologies play in our lives. We call this The Attention Revolution.

Trust in curation

Content curation extends beyond merely researching, organizing, and sharing content on a social platform. There is an inherent trust that a curator will provide context to the story that will convey intrinsic value to an audience.

In the current attention crisis, these individuals will shape the future of culture and commerce differentiating brands, retailers, and media companies that matter — and those that are simply part of a social platform’s profit margin. Indeed, we will see a new generation of media technologies and a holding company that helps us optimize our “attention diets.”

The online publishing platform Medium, as an example, offers an open forum for contributed articles, but in parallel has built up a strong editorial network of subject matter experts designed to lead specific niche topics. This gives the Medium community the freedom to post and explore the content with the knowledge that a trusted authority is curated content in specific sections of the website.

Measured metrics

The current metrics our industry emphasizes, including “views” or “impressions,” are vaguely defined and intentionally propped up in order to keep advertising prices low. In turn, we have facilitated a trend in which our content and campaigns are less correlated to what people want to actually pay attention to, combined with cases of ad-fraud being rampantly on the rise.

Brands who achieve quality attention are undervalued and others are losing value by chasing meaningless metrics that favor the fake, the sensational and the negative for no other reason than this content is quick and cheap to produce and have a higher tendency to spread.

With an understanding of what the possible solutions look like, we have an opportunity to shift the focus towards stories that are meaningful, trustworthy and conducive to a healthier and more productive way of engaging consumers.

Our industry has seen a number of important existing and proposed changes across major platforms designed to address the issues, including Instagram’s testing of removing likes in seven key global markets, YouTube abbreviating its subscriber counts for channels with 1,000 or more subscribers, and LinkedIn expanding its catalog of reactions that offer a more specific and emotive way of engaging with content.

VSCO is yet another platform that has done the same, giving people an opportunity to share artistic visual content without the drive toward likes. You can follow other VSCO users and see their photos, but that’s it.

VSCO CEO Joel Flory shared with Business Insider that the initial premise behind Grid, “was that the social currency wasn’t likes or comments or popularity, but curation, quality content, and people being inspired by others.”

Good AI

In marketing, artificial intelligence is celebrated for its ability to optimize engagement and drive advertising margins. The best margins for advertising are on the lowest cost content - typically favoring content that is fake, negative or sensational. These forms of AI are not inherently all “bad”, however. AI can also be utilized to surface new ideas and inspire.

Platforms like Pinterest achieve this through unlocking new areas of creativity as opposed to regurgitating the same kind of content that users have already engaged with. Outside of social, tools like Duolingo use AI to help people improve themselves - in this case by learning a new language. Thus, the AI supports a positive use of attention that makes us more human, not less.

As marketers, we can create incredible experiences without ceding control to the machines and giving in to our worst tendencies. It’s not only what consumers want, but it is also our moral responsibility. We have the ability to shift the role AI plays from that of an “enabler,” incentivizing us with any means to stay engaged for a few seconds longer (regardless if it’s “true” or “good” for us), to that of a “trainer” that helps us practice good behavior online.

Learn more about The Attention Revolution, Privacy Matters, and Empathy Economics, as part of our 2020 global theme: HUMAN.X and help us establish a human-first, experience-driven approach to digital marketing. Read the official announcement here and secure your early-bird discount today to save 10% on your full-conference pass to #SMWNYC (May 5-7, 2020).

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