The Crash of the “Attention Economy”: Did The PR Industry “Break” Social Media?

This clever blog post about the crash of the “Attention Economy” raises important questions about the mindless flurry of “Likes”, “Shares”, “Tweets”, “Retweets”, “Reblogs”, “Follows” and other coinages of the Digital Age. The author also advances a thesis that I would summarize in two parts:

  1. Consultants such as PR/marketing firms ruined social media by convincing companies “to take up arms on Twitter and Facebook”; the consultants then “came under pressure to deliver results quickly”.
  2. “Let’s get back to the original vision of what social can be. Forget fitting it into old, stagnant corporate cultures and B.S. marketing metrics. Let’s start changing business itself for the better, making it more open, more accountable, and more valuable to its consumers.”

I’m not writing to agree or disagree with this author, but I do thank him for raising the questions that prompted the following thoughts:

  • Any participant in social media or in any medium should answer at least these two categories of questions: 1) What do I want? Who am I trying to reach? Why? 2) How can I communicate in this medium in a way that honors its unique character? Most savvy corporate communicators and marketers feel comfortable with the language of goal-setting and audience segmentation, but they often fail to honor the character of both the medium and the audience. That’s a path to failure.
  • Consultants shouldn’t blame themselves for luring corporations to social media. Neither should corporate employees (aka human beings) blame themselves for their complicity in the perversion of social media. We’re all guilty, and we can all get better at using our new tools to express ourselves and hear each other.
  • As a veteran practitioner of corporate PR, I understand why corporations feel so challenged by the idea of “authenticity”, surely a good idea turned into a meaningless slogan. But corporate culture is not immune to change. It is changing precisely because of the glaring failures stemming from attempts at continued pretense and lip-service. We are already seeing early signs of the inevitable collapse of corporate caricatures of authenticity. The corporation of the future will either be authentic, or it will not exist.

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