The Commoditization of Twitter Followers
Power Laws and Pyramids: Participation, Gratification, and Distraction in Social Media

Co-promotion Reconsidered: The Recursive Attraction of Attention

Amybeth Hale, a Talent Attraction Manager with AT&T’s Interactive Staffing team, wrote a great primer on 4 Essential Traits for Social Media Success in your Career, which was recently posted on Mashable. The four traits are:

  1. Develop authentic relationships
  2. Be a digital trendsetter
  3. Take risks
  4. Give back (and/or pay it forward)

I think there is one important trait missing:

  1. Reference other people who attract social media attention

Although it might qualify as a corollary to #4 (Give Back), I think it's important enough to give it separate billing, as I've noticed many people who appear to be successful at attracting attention in the social media world, especially Twitter, exhibit this trait. When that attention is amplified through retweeting by those whose attention was initially attracted, it represents a recursive attraction of attention. And few practices are more effective at attracting attention than referencing someone in a blog post or tweet (not that this is necessarily the primary goal in referencing someone, but I suspect it is rarely an unwanted side effect).

Amybeth herself demonstrated the value of this essential trait in her post, referencing 16 people, each of whom has more than 1,000 followers on Twitter (and some of whom have tens or even hundreds of thousands of followers), and 8 of whom tweeted or retweeted the post.

Name Twitter ID Following Followers Listed Tweets Retweeted?
Amybeth Hale @ResearchGoddess 1,163 4,808 198 34,873 yes
Elisa Camahort @ElisaC 780
4,430 145 20,945 no
Keith Burtis @KeithBurtis 8,752 10,520 365 75,767 yes
Chris Brogan @ChrisBrogan 106,679 121,009 8,379 181,423 no
Amanda Mooney @AmandaMooney 997 4,048 135 21,022 yes
Dan Honigman @DanielHonigman 3,949 6,048 860 22,106 no
Jennifer Leggio @mediaphyter 906 15,352 1,139 87,870 yes
Kaitlyn Wilkins @CatchUpLady 894 1,693 55 3,033 no
Dave Knox @DaveKnox 1,333 5,631 456 2,221 no
Kipp Bodnar @kbodnar32 2,684 3,904 282 26,995 yes
Venessa Miemis @VenessaMiemis 901 2,317 363 2,166 yes
Jessica Randazza @JessicaRandazza 1,976 3,258 187 13,932 yes
Laura Roeder @lkr 460 7,616 350 21,864 no
Kneale Mann @KnealeMann 11,254 12,973 304 34,218 yes
Ken Burbary @KenBurbary 6,950 7,211 805 32,143 no
Len Kendall @LenKendall 2,544 5,630 490 54,775 no
Sarah Evans @PRsarahevans 10,157 38,325 2,824 47,747 yes

The combined Twitter followership of the 16 people is nearly 250,000 (though I'm sure there is considerable overlap in their sets of followers); while only 8 of them tweeted or retweeted the post, that represents a potential amplification of attention beyond Amybeth's followers of up to 90,000 followers (modulo the aforementioned overlap). Now, with @Mashable's followership of 1,956,431, I'm not sure how many additional users lie in the set difference between Mashable followers and the combined followers of all those referenced in the article, but I still believe the social media value of the trait holds, as not everyone posts articles on Mashable.

Four years ago, I wrote about Co-Promotional Considerations: Customerizing and The Brand "Us", in which I described the practices of Jones Soda and Luna Bars, which respectively incorporate photos or quotes from their customers on their labels, representing what I called a customerization of their [co-]promotional campaigns:

I had earlier speculated on the evolving nature of promotional considerations as new social marketing channels arise, noting possible conflicts of interest that may diminish the potential impact of some of these channels (e.g., how much can we trust reviews by people who may derive direct financial benefit from the products or services they are reviewing).  What I particularly like about the Jones and Luna customerization techniques is that they are really co-promotional: customers whose visual or verbal content is co-opted for use on labels can promote themselves (and/or their loved ones) along with the product(s) they are telling people about.  Neither Jones nor Luna offers any financial incentive to people whose content is chosen for co-promotion on their labels; the wealth they are sharing is attentional rather than financial.




As I noted in that earlier post, I think the practice of co-promotion can be a positive thing, although that is not always the case. For example, in the academic world, researchers often employ defensive citation in conference and journal papers - citing work by peers who may be reviewing their submissions, partly or even primarily for the purpose of assuring that those peers do not feel slighted by the omission of what the reviewers may consider to be relevant work to the submission. A related practice, gratuitous citation, is sometimes employed to flatter or compliment other researchers, especially prominent or senior researchers, with an aim to curry favor with the powers that be.

I don't mean to suggest that most - or even many - citations (or authors) are defensive or gratuitous, but it is a fact of life (or work) in many domains that one must be careful to please - or avoid angering - the people in positions to potentially promote you, and so I don't think anyone would dispute that these considerations factor into some submissions [and I never thought about the double entendre of that word in this context]. And since the most prominent and senior researchers tend to be the ones who sit on program committees and editorial review boards, there is an unavoidable Matthew effect, wherein the rich get richer ... or more precisely, those with many citations (and hence prominence) are cited more often. 

In my last post, I expressed some concerns about the commoditization of Twitter followers [about which I was tempted to post the tweet "How to Write a Blog Post that Won't Get Tweeted"]. One of the things I mentioned was the growing plethora of various tools and techniques attempt to measure Twitter influence. The quest for [evidence of] attention and impact is not restricted to social media (although, in a way, I supppose that academic publications could be considered a special case of social media). For example, Harzing's "Publish or Perish" tool is designed to measure academic influence:

Are you applying for tenure, promotion or a new job? Do you want to include evidence of the impact of your research? Is your work cited in journals which are not ISI listed? Then you might want to try Publish or Perish, designed to help individual academics to present their case for research impact to its best advantage.

Returning to the recursive attraction of attention in social media, I want to be clear that I do not mean to suggest that Amybeth's blog post is either defensive or promiscuous. In fact, I chose it primarily because I think it is a well-written article that provides an engaging overview with helpful examples of best practices ... and given that its aim is to highlight those practices, I thought it may be useful to use it as another helpful example of an important practice in the successful use of social media ... especially if one of the metrics of success is attention.

DarkTwitterBird-reversed One of my posts that has attracted the most attention is on the dark side of digital backchannels in shared physical spaces back in early December. As in Amybeth's post, I also referenced a number of people prominent in the social media world, e.g., danah boyd (@zephoria, with 22,669 followers), Brady Forest (@brady, with 6,169 followers), Scott Berkun (@berkun, with 3,267 followers) and Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang, with 59,141 followers). I know that danah and Scott retweeted my post, but don't know if Brady, Jeremiah or anyone else I referenced did. I would have used that post as the strawman here, but finding tweets that old would be challenging; using Amybeth's post was far more convenient, and - given its focus on social media best practices (vs. some of the worst practices I was highlighting) - more relevant.

I keep grappling with the issue of appropriate attraction of attention. I believe that some level of attention is necessary to survive - if we don't attract the attention (and affection) of our parents or other caretakers as infants, we will die. In my blog post on coffee, community and health, I wrote about some of the health benefits we derive later in life from the attention of consequential strangers and acquaintances, such as we might enjoy at coffeehouses and other third places. But as Don Miguel Ruiz warns in the Introduction to The Four Agreements:

With that fear of being punished and that fear of not getting the reward [of attention from our parents, teachers, siblings and friends], we start pretending to be what we are not, just to please others, just be good enough for someone else.

Again, I'm not suggesting that anyone I've mentioned here is pretending to be what they are not, but I do want to highlight the risk of becoming addicted to attention.

I'll conclude with another risk regarding attention and social media (as well as the fragmentation resulting from multi-tasking), which was articulated in an interview with Cliff Nass, part of which was broadcast on PBS Frontline's Digital Nation earlier this week:

One of the biggest points here I think is, when I grew up, the greatest gift you could give someone was attention, and the best way to insult someone was to ignore them. ... The greatest gift was attention. Well, if we're in a society where the notion of attention as important is breaking apart, what now is the relationship glue between us? Because it's always been attention.

I've already written elsewhere about my reflections on issues of ambivalence and attention raised in Digital Nation, in response to an insightful critique by Cathy Davidson on The Digital Nation Writes Back, so I'll do my best to approximate one of the social media best practices that I rarely use - keep it simple, keep it short - and end this here.

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