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Why Social Media Attention Seeking Drives Traffic

What are the motivators and drivers that make us engage with social media with such generous endeavour, escaping from the clutches of  TV to instead, check your Facebook or Twitter site, to post photos, write articles, make comments on blogs and shoot videos and post them on YouTube, all for “free”.

Social Media has provided us with the ability to measure how much attention we are getting online and therefore we now have the  “Quantification of Attention” that has never been measured so broadly and deeply. This attention seeking behaviour drives website and blog traffic.

Have a glance at some the top social media channels and how they measure attention

  1. Facebook’s quantification  – the number of friends, fans and comments on photos
  2. Twitter’s numeric – how many followers you currently have and recently with the new lists feature “how many lists you are on”
  3. LinkedIn’s measurement is the number of connections, searches and views on your profile
  4. YouTube’s numbers – video views, video ratings and comments
  5. Blog -quantification is comments, backlinks, Google pagerank and subscribers
  6. Flickr –  How many people had viewed their photos? How many found them interesting?

Then you have other sites that give you other numbers, facts, figures and statistics.

  • Dopplr: They started out letting users share their trips (much as they share photos). Now users can count the number of days they and their friends spend in any city, the total number of miles they fly in any period (and the carbon impact thereof).
  • Skydeck: It lets you manage your phone calls – and to count your interactions with others: Does Juan call Alice more? Or is it the other way round? Now you can show your mother how untrue (or true) it is that “You never call!”
  • Xobni: Lets you do the same for your e-mail: Whom do you write to most, and who writes to you? Which of your friends have you not pinged since the last online holiday card? Who answers quicker in the morning vs. the afternoon?
  • Mint and Wesabe will let you analyze your own spending patterns; Wesabe will also let you compare them (anonymously) with the rest of its user base. Can Mint be far behind?
  • Most intriguing is 23andMe, which lets people analyze their own genomes. It offers perhaps the most striking example of the disconnect between numbers and meaning. 23andMe’s information is precise and accurate, and it is intensely interesting. Yet in many ways it has little meaning right now; there’s not enough data to draw the connections between most genes and the related physical manifestations (whether traits or diseases).

Attention and influence have until recently (before Web 2.0), been much less quantified and there was no or very little direct measurement. There was very little counting of the number of friends you had (maybe when you were in Primary school you did, or when you were at high school or college, how many dates you had was an important number). If you were a research scientist you were able to record the the number of citations in other research papers but the average Joe had very few numbers to measure where he stood in society.

Are we moving into an era of quantified virtual attention and influence where your persona online supersedes, surpasses and usurps your offline worlds reality.

Social media allows us to quantify attention at a level never seen before that caresses and strokes the ego in a manner that has been shown to be both compelling and addictive, this is one of the drivers for visiting social media sites,writing and developing free content in text, images and video that is driven in part by the attention that it brings and the ability then to quantify that attention. As in most modern societies, we are in most part freed, from the striving for the lower levels of Maslows hierachy of needs of survival and safety. So we are then liberated to find love, belonging, esteem and self actualization that this social media quantification attempts and allows us to measure.

Esther Dyson says in her article in the Huffington Post

“So what is this fascination with numbers? Is it some latent human information-explosion handling technique that is now being challenged by the proliferation of information online and extended by all the quantification tools that are emerging? Like so many of our human traits, is this a good trait that can be turned into a bad one if it turns from a constructive urge into a pointless obsession?
From a business point of view, this is a valuable new source of unique content: It’s a continuing challenge to keep readers from shifting from one source of content to another, but if you provide them tools to manage content about themselves, it’s much easier to keep their attention and even their loyalty.”

I have noticed that some of my articles such as a recent post  “How The Top 500 Fastest Growing Companies Are Using Social Media” that discusses the latest survey statistics and numbers, consistently rate very high in the number of views. It seems quantification is in demand.

Chris Anderson the editor of “Wired Magazine” and author of the book “The Long Tail” and more recently “Free”, suggests that two different economies now exist side by side

  1. The formal economy of business
  2. The informal economy of volunteerism” or “free”

The latter is the basis of what he declares to be “an entirely new economic model,” one in which money is “often taken out of the equation altogether.” This is the “amazing gift economy of Wikipedia and the blogosphere, driven by the nonmonetary incentives of

  • Reputation
  • Attention
  • Expression

As social networks extend we are starting to keep score in aspects of our lives that we’re once spared from such hyperrational calculating because if you aren’t getting paid in money you need to get paid with something else and that “something” is attention.

“The quantification of attention and reputation is now a global endeavor,” Anderson warns “It is a market we all now play in, whether we know it or not.The implication is that whether we want to or not, we are forced to count up our friends and consider how to cash in on what they represent”.

This new quantification of attention is driving traffic to your blog and social media sites because people want to keep score of how much attention (or loving) they are getting, and to get it they need to participate and contribute. If you want attention you have to give it.
So do you like attention? and do you like to quantify it?
Jeffbullas's Blog


  • Interesting analysis of the quantification of attention. Some of this relates back to “gift practices” which permeate all societies to different degrees, which also relates to groups and belonging. Your point is that this is now able to be measured in a way which we were never able to do before, which in itself drives behaviours. Walter Adamson @g2m http://xeesm.com/walter

  • How fast can measurements quantify the terms of the “amazing gift economy of Wikipedia and the blogosphere, driven by the nonmonetary incentives of Reputation, Attention and Expression”

    Well – the answer to that is – measurements will be built and refined to quantify those nonmonetary incentives at EXACTLY THE SAME SPEED as people will scratch, claw, and struggle to *monetize* those metrics.

    For some people (and businesses) all of the metrics are valuable only so far as they can be distilled into cash flow, profitability and monetization.

  • This was a really interesting post, Jeff. Thanks.

  • Jessicasjoys


    Excellent article. Social media is changing the entertainment industry as well as the way we do business.
    Social media has become such a popular place because it allows people to connect that would have otherwise been impossible outside of the digital forum. For instance, I am new at blogging and marketing my product however I am striving to make sure that I have a quality product and image. Following blogs and articles such as yours is really a gift to me. It gives me knowledge that would otherwise take me hours of research and mistakes to find out on my own.
    We can have 8000 friends and/or followers but if we are not offering something that is of high quality or something that someone else can benefit from, we may just be wasting our time. I appreciate blogs like this one and others who are willing to share what they have learned to help others be successful. Thanks Again.

  • crvdmedia

    Very interesting post Jeff.

    I love the pyramid of self-actualization you included (the colors coincidentally align with the Eastern Chakra system). 

    I’m interested in the intersection between what Maslow deemed “self-actualization” and digital media. The ability to quantify attention or consciousness or whatever you want to call it is certainly an invaluable tool.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for the comment. Social media is certainly changing society and as Arianna Huffington said is that “self expression is becoming the new entertainment”. Implications for us all is that this measurement with your readers through retweets and Facebook likes provides feedback that keeps us relevant.

  • great post jeff keep them coming