Social Media: The Cult of Attention?

social media cult of attentionAttention, whether we are seeking, giving or observing others, lurks around us.  It is present from the minute we rise to the time we shut down for the night.  The kids, pets, commercials and grabbing that cup of coffee, we start our day being bombarded with varying degrees of attention.  In areas that we seek, we have an expectation those we are seeking attention from will be responsive. When we go to the local coffee shop or convenience store, we expect that we will be greeted by an employee who is focused on us and who is not chewing gum vigorously, talking on the phone or picking their nails immediately before they reach out to grab money from our hands.  While we are focused on the attention we expect, there is another scenario being played out with other people who are seeking our attention or are a part of our attention seeking though watching and being aware of their surroundings. Attention is everywhere at all times.  Our attention moves around us, independent of our gaze direction keeping us constantly stimulated but yet allows us to select what we hone in on.

Social media marketing is no stranger to attention.  We engage to build relationships with people to get to know them before we sell them.  As we first start to familiarize ourselves with the community around us, we focus our attention on how to use the tools, how the community interacts with one another to determine where we will fit in.  In face to face gatherings, it is no secret that we can be across a room but yet we hear our name despite the perception our attention is focused to our immediate surroundings,  we allow ourselves to wander around the room. This phenomenon called cocktail party effect has certainly caused some  hurt feelings when were were believed to be paying attention to another.  In social media, instead of having immediate recognition of hearing our name, we utilize tools to monitor mentions to find where we are being mentioned.

Social media affords us the opportunity to communicate with people that we never have been able to previously.  We share ideas, interests, articles, help one another become friends or friendly and conduct business. As we seek to grow our community there is an expectation that we will be available, receptive and responsive – but on whose timeline?  Theirs or yours?  They would say theirs and of course you say your own. Relationships are a two way street and it has to be beneficial to both parties.  What happens when we start reaching out to new groups of people and there is more demand on our attention? Is it still on our timeline or is there a shift to be on ours and theirs? What about industry leaders?

The demand for their attention online as well offline at events is hitting new levels. People want to scratch the surface of getting to know them, be a part of them, pick their brain for information all the while forgetting that they have other demands for their attention. This perceived attitude of when they should be available, for how long,what they should focus on and whom they should pay attention to is the social media cult of attention.  This perception challenges our own judgment as industry leaders are placed on a celebrity like pedestal creating a widespread need to be connected to them as if a friending/following or a mention will define us or our business.  This need/desire to be defined through associating with those who are “social media famous” so we can achieve a self-identified acceptance level or fame ignores the basics of relationship building. Think about this, how many times do we see a social media leader update their status with being overwhelmed with work and the responses back are “Good to see you are  human” or “in the same boat, man.”  Is that what we say to people we are trying to get to know better? Comparing ourselves to them is supposed to make them like us and really see how a friendship with us is so valuable to them? Really? How about a “What can I do to help?”  Fake? Not one bit if you mean it.  The emphasis and importance to “be like them” has fogged our social skills of being true and real.

Social media cult of attention is still in its beginning stages.  As new faces emerge and the tools increase or change, the need to be connected to feel close to the social media famous will only increase.  Think of Google Wave or Google Buzz, the flock of followers who signed up so that they could connect with leaders in another manner to try and get close to them, as if they will be given a magic pill that is based on 5-10 years of hard work that after ingesting, will make you an overnight success.  I ask – do you know them well enough to know if you really want to be their friend or is that not a question here?  Do we think in terms of being friends or does social media bring on entirely new subset of relationships?

Agree? Is there an entirely new subset of relationships in social media?

Photo credit: The Dream Seeker

  • I feel that relationships are relationships regardless of the medium. Social media is an emerging medium and as a result is immature. As it continues to mature I believe that we will witness a 'back to basics' sort of transition – back to the basics of relationship building. In order for relationships to work there has to be mutual benefit, it cannot be one-sided. This holds true for industry experts as well as social media as a medium.

  • John

    Yes that is what relationships are about but the need to be popular has people forgetting this. It is not about how many people are following us or who we can brag to our friends/stream about. The desire to be an a-lister is where we are at with social media right now. People see the a-listers as nothing more than a source to promote themselves as opposed to taking a minute to see if there is even a relationship to be had. The instantness that is desired to be noticed and fame brings people to you and you not having to go and build relationships with them.

    I hope that we will see the back to basics. The community needs it to remain a legitimate place.

    Thanks for dropping in.


  • Hi Suzanne – Thanks for your response! I completely agree, many people are forgetting the basics of relationship building with social media. There's a saying in design – “less is more” which I believe equally applies to relationships. I've read a couple of blogs lately which mention that individuals which fewer, stronger connections are gaining more influence than those with large numbers of diluted connections. I guess only time will tell.

  • John

    It is true in SM that less is more as having a few loyal readers or friends that are loyal and engaging is always more advantageous than an entire group that is more lurkers and not necessarily people that you would even build a deeper relationship with. As people start to gain some traction they need to be on top or have more and more friends just to stroke the ego and creating the cult of attention will continue as we feel close to people who are industry leaders and the push to be a part of them will grow. As social media changes with technology, the access we have to people and the expectations thereof will change.

  • Not sure if you've read this yet, but I thought of your Cult of Attention article when reading the Twitter section of this article – Social Media: Moving Towards A Brave New World?:


  • John

    Ah great article. I tweeted it as it was a good one. Thanks so much for the link!