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How to Increase Your Perceived Value In This Attention Economy

by David · 0 comments

We can learn a great deal by going back to our roots.

In 2007 and 2008, when blogging and social media were beginning to creep into the mainstream, bloggers started to realise they were competiting for readers. Gone were the days when you could build a blog, and readers would magically appear.

Bloggers were forced to wrestle with how to grow their readership.

In some ways, things have changed massively. Back then, the buzz was around MySpace, Digg, del.ici.us and StumbleUpon. Today, the talk of the town is Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

But in other ways, nothing’s different. The tools have changed, but the difficulties confronting us are the same, if not stronger.

We’re competiting for attention, and the competition gets tougher every single day. There are billions of voices out there, and shouting through a megaphone is no longer enough to get heard. Sparkling new websites built with classy design, launched with fireworks and promoted with neon lights no longer draw in customers. If anything, they evoke a nonchalent yawn from passers by.

As Julien Smith and Chris Brogan put it in Trust Economics:

“What happened to the early days? You built a baseball stadium, a store, a web app, and people flocked to it… now what? We are suspicious of marketing. We don’t trust strangers as willingly. Buzz is suspect. It can be bought.”

What’s changed? We now live in an attention economy and a trust economy.

Online, you’re competiting with billions of other voices for the attention of your readers. And the way you can get and hold that attention is through trust.

The Attention Economy

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.” ~ Herbert Simon, 1971

No matter how discerning you are with selecting your Facebook friends, the people you follow on Twitter, and the blogs and email lists you subscribe to, it’s impossible for you to read every news article, blog post or Wikipedia entry that’s relevant to you.

There’s too much information out there, vying for attention. So we’re forced to make choices.

How do we make these choices? How do we decide where to direct our attention?

We decide based on perceived value. When you perceive that something has value for you, it gets your attention.

Perceived Value

What gives information perceived value?

  • It’s ranking in Google Search Results. When an article or video ranks highly in Google, people give it a high perceived value.
  • A great headline. Typically, eighty percent of readers won’t get beyond your headline. Write magnetic headlines to boost the perceived value of your content and draw readers in.
  • Images. Pictures attract the eye, give personality to your content, and increase perceived value. There’s a reason social networks are becoming more image-based (think Pinterest, Facebook Timelines), and it’s because pictures are what readers want.
  • A solid structure. This includes clear headings and short paragraphs. Readers skim read online. They want to squeeze the juice from your content as quickly as possible. Structure gives them a helping hand.
  • Social proof. Including the number of comments and retweets on a post, as well as the types of people who are sharing your content. If Brian Clark or Mari Smith share your content, that gives it higher perceived value than if it’s shared by John Smith.

There’s one important exception to the final point. That’s John Smith’s network of friends, family and co-workers. When John Smith shares a link, that increases the link’s perceived value to his friends and acquaintances.

John Smith is an example of the trust economy.

The Trust Economy

“None of us remember the era when all commerce was localized – meaning, anyone you did business with lived in your immediate community. There was no such thing as advertising, marketing channels and brands. You did business with people you knew. It was not an “information economy” and nothing was mass produced. It was a Trust Economy.” ~ George Benckenstein

People are jaded with marketing. Buzz and sparkle have lost their magic touch. And that’s for a reason. It’s because people are bombarded with information, and they only have limited attention to give. They’re forced to be cynical and jaded to protect themselves from the tsunami of blog posts, videos and podcasts.

We’re cynical and jaded about marketing. But not about our friends.

We trust our friends to help us make good decisions on how we use our limited attention.

As Brogan and Smith put it:

“We want our friends to tell us it’s good. We want someone we know to say we should look into it.”

We have, as Skelliewag explains,

“A desire for social media to take the burden of choice away from us by allowing a crowd of (somewhat) like-minded people to choose on our behalf, or at least, provide a short-list of choices.”

The solution for entrepreneurs is returning to the trust economy. Your market is your community, your tribe, your 1,000 true followers. The people who trust you.

Brogan and Smith again:

“In marketplaces where a simple sale is no longer simple, building trust today, through establishing and cultivating relationships, is at the core of the experience. This isn’t “trust so you can make a sale.” Rather, build trust and establish a relationship, period—for the sake of that trust and relationship alone. The sale is neither here nor there until the relationship is established.”

The solution is building real, human, messy relationships.

What makes relationships work is injecting them with soul. Soul relationships build trust.

There’s no fast buck in the soul economy. Pull a fast one, and you’ll be caught with your pants down. To earn respect, you gotta give respect.

Why Soul Creates Trust

We live in an age where information is free. Music, ideas, videos, advice, all these can be copied in an instant.

To stand out from the crowd, you need something more.

Kevin Kelly, founding editor of WIRED magazine, claims it is become vital to

“cultivate and nurture qualities that can’t be replicated with a click of the mouse.”

What is it then, about soul, that makes you special, attracts readers, and builds trust?

  • Soul gives you a unique voice. With soul you stand out from the crowd.
  • Soul draws people to you. You make people feel good, and they want what you’ve got. As Tim Sanders writes:

“Emotionally attractive people win the popularity contests that make up your life. Yes, you have experience, work ethic, and talent. But you still lose the business and see it floating to a competitor, and you know you are better than that competitor. Why? The emotional brain is two dozen times more powerful than the logical brain. The customer wants a great experience, not just good consulting or an effective process.”

  • Soul makes you open up. When you let yourself be vulnerable, and tell real stories from your life and career – including your mistakes – that helps people trust you. It also gives you a unique perspective, something your readers can get nowhere else. Leo Babauta puts it well when he says:

” With millions of blog posts [and Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages] out there, yours is not likely to be very unique — unless you put in your post the one thing that you know is unique — yourself. There is no other like you out there.”

  • Soul cares for and listens to people. If you listen to people, they’re more likely to listen in return
  • Soul makes you generous. You’re willing to give away real value, genuinely useful tips and tools, to help improve the lives of your readers. In return, they give your their time and attention.

Our Soul Promise

At Social Caffeine, we’ve made it our mission to teach you how to build a social media strategy with soul.

What we’re here to offer you:

  • Timeless marketing advice you can apply to any social networking campaign
  • Links to some of the web’s top content and advice on social media
  • A place where you can ask searching questions and expect honest answers

We look forward to deepening the conversation.

David is Social Caffeine’s acting editor. He’s British, but we don’t hold that against him.

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