What If No One Pays Attention Anymore?

Attention drives the social web, particularly now that it is maturing and there is an ongoing dogfight for precious seconds from the billions of people on social networks. Algorithms determine what does and doesn’t get people’s attention in feeds on many sites. But what happens when people stop caring?

The loss of attention is why social media marketers are freaking out about Facebook’s algorithm changes. These evolutions promise only 1-2% reach for business page updates. Now marketers can’t earn attention on Facebook brand pages by posting cute puppy pics. Instead, they have to pay for it. Like schemes are falling to the wayside.

Brands are really starting to learn a painful lesson right now. People hate branded social media updates.

The movement towards “dark” or private social media isn’t just about avoiding awkward conversations with family and co-workers. People want to escape the considerably intrusive shilling of chatty products and services trying to be cool in that oh so social way.

User Experience Matters More


In considering today’s media environment, here’s a mission that most traditional publishers would agree with: “User experience matters more than branded approaches to owned and earned social media.” After all, if you chase everyone away in the name of helping corporate partners out, there won’t be anything worth advertising on.

Social media marketers cries of greed or rationalizing Facebook’s moves as profiteering for Wall Street are misguided. Let’s say all of the conjecture about Facebook’s forthcoming decline is true (data shows it’s not, but…) Perhaps Facebook fears that engagement rates will drop and knows it has lost younger audiences. Facebook can’t stop grandparents from joining, but they can control brand interactions while increasing visual and mobile functionality for individuals.

Maybe, just maybe retention and user experience trumps brand use.

Perhaps user experience causes Twitter to consider dropping hashtags as a primary conversation tool. Afterall, which demographic really cares about and tracks hashtag use? Marketers, of course.

Think about it. If there was a better method to track hot topics like The Walking Dead, would people really miss the consistent barrage of brand inspired hashtags?

See, I believe that for the most part people are tuning out brands on social networks anyway. Only the die hard brand loyalists and fans care now. They are the ones who opt in and follow organically.

Pretty Breakfast Waffles

To reach more people, brands and individuals can’t resort to the same old cheap social tricks. Buy a like or follower? No, now they have to advertise. And brands better deliver contextual value in some form or people tune out.

How many Taco Bell ads have you seen across diverse media featuring their breakfast campaign? Don’t get me wrong, I admire Taco Bell’s marketing prowess. The Ronald McDonald TV spot was great, and some of the social media updates have been technically brilliant. But as a consumer I think I am going to puke if I see another sponsored breakfast Taco Bell pic.

There is no contextual value for me. I won’t eat fast food. So I am asking not to see the sponsored ads anymore. I am sure many people have similar brand experiences on social networks every single day.

I think it’s the same for personalities who sustain themselves on social followings. Star power is attention, but if there is no return on time given, most people get bored with petty “selfie” antics and move on.

Attention is an opportunity to give value and meet commitments to customers and community alike. It should not be used as an opportunity to celebrate one’s self. Even when milestones are achieved — from sales to followers — these are things to be grateful for, and that gratitude needs to be expressed.

Brands and entrepreneurs who have this ethos — an experience ethos that values each moment a customer spends with them — stand a better chance of winning the game of marketing. They stand out from the crowd of noisemakers who always want to take the easiest path to ROI.

What do you think?


  • Well said, Geoff. You have nailed it for me as both a consumer and digital marketer. Early social media adopters always worried about when marketers would “ruin” social media. Sincerity always wins. It can’t be just another broadcasting/advertising platform.

    • And here we are, adapting to the ruination. No surprise, unfortunately. Thanks for coming by.

  • Keep up the good fight, Geoff! I’ve been saying this for years, and it’s one of the reasons why we moved from SMC to DD. Times are changing, and the half-ass tactics won’t work much longer.

    • Funny, that’s the exact same reason we moved the BlogPotomac name to xPotomac. So much more than tactics to talk about.

  • Social media types have always advocated listening. The FB update will increase that mandate even further. If you have to spend to reach people, and if fewer are going to engage, you’ll have to listen harder and do more to make sense of the data you’re getting. You’ll have to do a better job with your material, and with your interactions, or your “consumers” will no longer be customers.

    • I agree, and the rumored about to happen elimination of hashtags on Twitter would require marketers to pay better attention to their stakeholders, too. In the end, a well-tuned strategist who loses a tactic should be able to adapt.

  • All good points @Geoffliving This is a great move from a UX perspective because you know at the end of the day, we are all products. The decry from the social media pundit world makes me laugh, a lot. And it is not because I disagree with them 100%, sure it sucks but isn’t adapt or die another rattling cry for this group?

    The real reason is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. PR and Marketing folks (and to some extent customer support people) saw social as a free medium to get eyeballs that they could equate to actions. These same folks who cry about Facebook’s greed or Twitter’s lack of focus on what made them, forget that Google does the same thing… so does email marketing. Eyeballs are going away from shitty content and to what matters, Just because a user opted to like your page or follow you on Twitter does not mean that they need to see everything that you put out there.

    I think the problem is that because FB and Twitter were young and presumed “for the user” that they should remain free. But hey alternatives like Google+ and LinkedIn don’t do anything for the money or have any algorithms.

    To your point of user experience, I think that getting that human connection is a big thing as is the whole loyalty and real world usage. I could see brands going the route of Brains on Fire or a bzzAgent.

    • It reminds a lot of what Scott Baradell use to say about big business coming in and snuffing out the revolution. It’s business, and play time is over. The cries of the socal media guerilla marketer be damned. Those of us who are really hard core will adapt, those who are one trick ponies will have to wait for the next easy wave.

      The ironic thing is the lack of focus on human connectivity. It’s the same lesson, over and over and over. Thanks for driving by!

  • Preach!

  • “Social media” had so much more promise – do you remember when when everyone was talking about the end of “Interruption advertising”? Sadly, the best business model that any of the geniuses running Facebook and Twitter could come up with was more interruption. I’m pretty sure that people in general want that even less than most (admittedly lame) “social media marketing” programs.

    As for marketers being the only people complaining about the latest in Facebook’s seemingly vacuous strategy and endless tinkering – I think they have the right. Social media has never been free. Building community engagement and reach required a great deal of resources invested in Facebook. Now marketers are realizing they’ve been led down the garden path.

    One final note: “Brands” doesn’t just include massive multi-national consumer brands – and fans of brands that did it right and did it well actually do care to be part of the experience the brands they ‘Liked’ are providing.

    • It’s hard feeling compassion for the complainers. I don’t think Facebook ever committed to keeping universal service alive for brands. Free is free, and the reality is unless a contract is agreed upon, there is no real breach beyond trust. And Facebook repeatedly has shown that it doesn’t care about that. Shame on those who put all their eggs in Zuck’s basket thinking the free service would continue. I think the writing has been on the wall on this one for at least 18 months.

  • This is brilliant, @geofflivingston:disqus. Brands (and a lot of marketers) are upset that it’s getting harder to just wave and grab your attention, but I don’t see a lot of consumers complaining that they’re seeing fewer Taco Bell ads in their news stream. Oh, that’s right, we’re still seeing them — they’re just “sponsored.” And we’re tuning them out even more.

    The issue we’re not talking about is that the move to more “pay to play” is once again giving an edge to big brands. And that’s problematic for smaller companies. That said, the smart folks will always figure out how to be part of the conversation and not just another lazy logo waving its arms.

    • Well, that’s always been the problem for big/small business comparisons since I can remember. Resources are hard for small cos. The Facebook page was an equalizer, but no longer. Other grassroots tools will have to do!

    • And thank you, too! #Natitude

      • Shame on you. Isn’t that a hashtag? :(

        • Yes, for the Nationals. Context: Both Daria and I are marketers who are also season ticket holders and chat at least a couple times a week about the Nats in a Google group. It was tongue in cheek. Cheers.

  • Love this. It is exactly what I’ve been telling my clients and colleagues. My thoughts on this here if you are interested:


  • The nugget is right here: “Only the die hard brand loyalists and fans care now. They are the ones who opt in and follow organically.”
    They are the only ones who ever cared – it’s just that brands were getting likes by giving away iPads and sharing photos of puppies.
    The brands that stop trying so hard, who are organic with their organic followers are the ones who will see success. This means, metrics need to be adjusted accordingly. numbers will be on a smaller scale.
    and this is why I don’t do windows. And I don’t do social media contests.

    • I like how Facebook is making people opt in to getting updates on the brand page. It reminds me of the get updates from Groups feature. Heck this is the first time I’ve liked a Facebook move in a long while.

      If the metrics were fake, then reality will come home to roost for some folks. Those who did it right will be happy.

  • Geoff, I am a little offended.

    I have a soft spot in my heart for crisis and disaster communications, and the elimination of Hashtags will be HORRIBLE. There has been a lot of work in the #SMEM community, trying to be leaner and better about crowdsourcing good information and connecting people on the fly with resources they need.

    It’s not all about Marketing.

    As to the disappearance of the @ symbol in Replies, that is a huge mistake as well. When there are multiple people in a thread, you need to see the first name in the list to know exactly who is being replied to, versus those who are listening in.

    You single out Listening as the key, and that Marketers need to be better Listeners. But the elimination of those tools limits the Engagement. You know, for those of us who actually engage instead of farming out Buffer links.

    • While I appreciate your disappointment, until we see the new solution that replaces hashtags, I don’t think we can say it will be horrible. More shall be revealed.

      As to the rest, we can disagree. I know that Alabama Power has other tools at its disposal, and those tools will see a higher pick up as a result of Facebook’s algorithm moves. There are always multiple ways to engage.

      • I was really thinking outside of my employer, but as far as that goes, we’re not in a business model where we are Funneling Prospects and Hubspotting to Death. Our Facebook page is good for general information and tips, and very heavy on customer engagement. We have a strategy around what we use and who uses it, and it works for us.

        On Twitter, our best play is with Promoted Trends. And I don’t want those crippled.

  • Couldn’t agree more. We need to appreciate our communities and not be afraid to show it. They certainly could be spending their time elsewhere, and with more and more competition and less visibility thanks to changing algorithms, well, we’re lucky to hear from anyone these days! Gratitude is the least brands can do!

    • Amazing how far a thank you can take you. It says so much, a true valuation of someone’s time. Cheers!

  • Geoff, I think you just gave me even more reasons to buy FB stock! 1) Cleaner social content will driven increased user engagement; 2) Better silo-ed advertising will drive marketers to spend more to reach more consumers; and 3) FB will have more pure social data to better serve frighteningly targeted ads.

    But then again, I haven’t seen the Taco Bell Ronald McDonald ad yet :)

  • This is exactly why I have written a few of the posts I have over the past few weeks. It’s not about us (the marketers), and this is why Seth Godin’s post over at Inc. resonates so much. Market, market, market, sell, sell, sell. Like Lisa says here, it’s all about organic.

    • I think the principles of Word of Mouth have been lost on the current crop of social media marketers and that’s a damn shame. Because when you approach social from that standpoint, life is good.

      • And that fact is, they will ALL give lipservice to social as word of mouth, but don’t practice what they preach. “Social is word of mouth, now let’s buy some ads and expand our reach!”

  • Really informative. I just read this
    article: Safeway buyout proceeds after no new bidders emerge. See the whole
    story here: http://bit.ly/1jSHgiz

  • I’m no big fan of waffle taco ads either, but one thing I’d say we shouldn’t forget about in all this is the small business. I’m thinking now not with my big brand hat on, but with my mind on my next-door neighbor the local pharmacy owner and my friend the cupcake bakery owner. When I followed their pages it wasn’t to win an ipad, it was because I’m genuinely interested in what they’re doing – whether it be as simple as the featured flavor of the day or as useful as reminders for flu shots. If these “brands” have 1,000 people who have chosen to like their page, they really like it and showing the content to only 10 of them is limiting their choice. Sure, they can make a point to go visit the business page itself, but really, who does more than scroll through their feed on their phone while waiting at the doctor’s office? (a doctor who may have actually come up with a cool way to manage said appointments through a FB app that we’ll never know about because we weren’t the lucky 1%) Because big brands behave badly, and Facebook smells big budgets, small businesses are being penalized.

    • This is the problem with small businesses across the board, though. Capitalization always allows the big companies to outsell, acquire and muscle out the little ones. I see this as a function of our overall economic system, not necessarily Facebook’s decision to limit business page visibility.

  • Pingback:What's the Future of Content and Social Media? - Tenacity5 Media

    […] first prediction is Geoff’s. It’s more of a question. He asks what happens when people don’t pay attention anymore. If deluging people with content doesn’t work now and won’t work in the future, what’s a […]

  • Geoff, I think you continue to miss the point about what Facebook has done. It’s not just “cute” pictures and gaming likes. Even if you’re posting high quality content and always have been, most of the people who “subscribed” to your page by liking it no longer see it unless you pay Facebook. Lots of businesses invested heavily in building an audience at Facebook in the first place, and now they get to pay for the privilege to communicate with them.

    Yes, Facebook can do whatever it wants. But blaming legitimate content creators for Facebook’s bait and switch seems awfully odd to me.

    And again, I was never stupid enough to trust Facebook, so I have no dog in this hunt. So let this be a lesson about who you can trust (yourself on your own domain — that’s it). But I do think that people rationalizing Facebook’s business practices are on the wrong side of this particular discussion.

    • I am not sure I missed it or if we are having the same disagreement that we had about content shock, which is that there is a vast majority of marketers who create bad content and updates that far outweigh the good ones.

      • The balance of good to bad doesn’t matter. Facebook screwed people like me just as much as the cat photo crowd.

  • To hell with marketing schemes – I want to know why friends and family don’t care about my life anymore!

    I’m sure your answer is something like, “But my blog covers marketing.” This is, actually, on topic. I, like many, have taken great pains to purge marketing from strangers for products I didn’t solicit from venues that once left me no choice in the matter. TV, radio, and print are coming under the control of the consumer. Like it or not, it is true. I would agree with what you say above, and add that some of us don’t wait to see the Taco Bell ads and puke. We simply block them.

    Why so many have done so hardly needs explanation, does it? Perhaps it doesn’t, but to be clear, who wants to be made to puke, especially in such an invasive
    fashion for something we don’t even want? People will
    block that if they are able.When I can’t even get friends to pay attention to things that matter to me, and even family has shifted its communication M.O. to social media instead of texting, sending heartfelt correspondence, or even picking up the phone, you tell me, Geoff – why should I waste the valued and limited hours of the day entertaining the virtual vacuum salesman that I don’t even have to acknowledge at the door. With ABP, the most he can muster is making me listen to him knock for 80 seconds. That still beats fighting back the urge to vomit, right?

    Everything you say, I agree with. And I would add that the diehard loyalists already know when they want to eat fast food. It is time for advertisers to get real, and realize that consumers do not want, need, or appreciate being told what they want, need, or appreciate.

    Does that make it difficult for marketers? Absolutely! Not my problem. Marketing was once the limitless art of creative persuasion. The marketer’s of, say, the pulp magazine era to early TV did not really need a captive audience in order to spur the age of unrivaled consumerism.

    So have we gone beyond the point where a smooth talker could sell a product? Absolutely not! It is merely the same thing that is happening in the entertainment industry. The old barons of commerce refuse to adapt to the 21st Century. They would rather annoy than compromise, and because they can, it completely escapes their comprehension that they are supposed to be persuading, not brow-beating.

    So I would say what marketing prowess? Commercials are neither entertaining nor transcending anymore, and since I don’t really have to pay attention to them, I won’t. There IS no easy path to ROI, and there never was. Where are the David Ogilvy’s of this generation of marketers, their stand-ins no doubt trying to scheme ways to manipulate, rather than enchant, their consumers. The Four P’s are the stuff of Marketing 101, which they should know straight out of the gate. Yet the art of honest-to-goodness promotion seems all but lost on social media, and indeed, even among more traditional venues.

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