Cures for David Murray’s attention crash2009-08-19
A few weeks back, my friend David Murray singled me out in a post to his “Writing Boots” blog in which he complained about the stress that social media is causing him. David and I go way back and he’s hoping I have answers for him to ease his frustrations:
I’m over-friggin’ whelmed with the stuff, constantly scrambling from Twitter to Facebook to LinkedIn, round and round, at once amused to have so many going projects but never satisfied that I’m doing enough to promote myself or my projects, via all these online contraptions.
In more colloquial terms, David addresses the “Attention Crash” Steve Rubel insists is headed everyone’s way. I continue to disagree. Attention crash is headed to a lot of communicators, technologists and early adopters who feel compelled to try everything, keep up with everything and take advantage of everything. The average consumer does not mirror these behaviors. If you don’t believe me, pay attention to how these tools are used by someone you know who isn’t a communicator, technologist or early adopter. How many social sites do they scramble to keep up with? For my 20-year-old daughter, Facebook and mobile phone text messaging is the extent of her involvement. She is not overwhelmed.
She is also not alone.
But even among those of us who have a good reason to have a lot of irons in the fire, it becomes incumbent upon us to find ways to manage these activities so they’re not overwhelming. I don’t bounce from service to service all day long for several reasons:
- I receive email notifications from the likes of LinkedIn and Facebook when something is posted related to my interests
- I use third-party desktop apps for FriendFeed, Twitter and the like to stay current, so I’m always connected and don’t need to make special trips to “visit” anything
- FriendFeed is one of those tools that aggregates everything from everybody I’m interested in in one place. Again, it reduces my need to keep stopping into various sites
- I do a lot of networking on my mobile phone during what would otherwise be down time. I can’t remember the last time I was flat-out bored waiting for a meeting or a plane
- I take advantage of services that automatically get my messages into multiple venues. Posting to Posterous, for example, automatically updates Twitter and Facebook with the same item
But the more I read David’s post, the more I began to realize there were other issues in play:
...to have to cold-call all the potential readers to get them to subscribe and then pick each missive up at the printing plant and throw them on people’s porches .... That’s what I feel like I’m having to do for each and every project I’m involved with these days.
The fundamental problem, then, is that David is trying to use these channels for content distribution. Some time ago, my podcast co-host, Neville Hobson, and I reported on the ongoing effort of a PR professional to track the uptake of a press release distributed through social channels. He concluded that social media didn’t work because his release didn’t get any traction. Of course, using social networks to distribute a press release is like using a dead fish to evaluate a doctoral dissertation.
By engaging in communities, becoming a resource, earning respect and trust, you can attract a lot of interest to your work. Engaging in social media is mostly not a project-based activity.
Measurement is another of David’s problems:
You might say I’ve got too many irons in the fire. I say you’ve got too many social media outlets whose effectiveness is hard to measure. (Sometimes I feel like I’m Tweeting down a well!)
Personally, I don’t have much trouble measuring any of the channels I use—assuming I need to know the results of my efforts. But Google Analytics lets me see how many visits my blog gets from Twitter and other social sources. I can count the comments I get to posts on Facebook. I know how many referrals I get from LinkedIn (largely because I ask).
Ultimately, though, measurement starts with knowing what you want to measure. So, I would need to ask David if he has a goal and a baseline against which to measure progress to that goal? Measuring anything anywhere can be a monstrous headache if you don’t know what it is you’re trying to achieve.
But David’s not done:
With everybody being their own self-advertiser, trying to fit their message through a million little pinholes, it makes it harder to get heard, thus requiring anyone who’s serious about wanting to promote a thing to focus on promoting it the exclusion of all else.
Very few people are trying to be heard by everybody. Despite the way, way overdone phrase, “join the conversation,” there’s not one conversation taking place. There are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of conversations.
Recently, Pear Analytics got a ton of media and online coverage for its Twitter study that showed most tweets are “pointless babble,” which the company defined like this: “These are the ‘I am eating a sandwich now’ tweets.” If I see these in the public timeline, yes, they are pointless babble. When I see Neville tweet, “My wife just brought me a glass of red wine,” it’s far from pointless. I know Neville. I know his wife, Laura. I can picture her bringing him the wine. If it’s meaningful to me, it’s not pointless, even if it is pointless to you.
If you’re part of a community that is interested in your topic and you have something interesting to say, you will earn their attention. Even newcomers find this to be true.
Incidentally, knowing how to pull this off is the point of “Trust Agents,” the new book by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith I’ve been mentioning over the last couple days. When I’m done reading my copy, I’m sending it to David. In the meantime, my best advice is this:
David, stop trying to push content through social channels and start becoming a useful member of the communities in which you participate. Your content will be the beneficiary.