Social Media’s Mass Attention Myth

BSrinivas Rao, Contributing {grow} Columnist

On two separate occasions and in two different ways  I’ve been discouraged from the pursuit of mass attention.  The irony is that it came from people who many of us consider wildly popular.

Mass attention is almost unattainable and it’s not clear that you want it. – Seth Godin

There’s no value to working hard on being really popular. – Chris Brogan

Despite knowing this, the following question comes up over and over again

  • How do I get more traffic
  • How do I grow my audience?

Ask it enough times and you might as well be asking “How do I get mass attention?”

The end of the popular kid in school 

If you’ve spent time in junior high then you probably had some point in your life when you wanted to be one of the popular kids. Maybe they dressed better than you did. They had the latest pair of air Jordans. They got all the attention. You wished you were one of them. But take a look at the popular kids from high school now … their popularity in that point of time is meaningless.

Fame is Relative

My dad has no idea who Seth Godin is even though there are copies of his books sitting right on my the desk. When he saw my pictures from New Media Expo with Guy Kawasaki he wondered what all the fuss was about.  It’s possible you’re reading this and you’ve never heard of me, Mark Schaefer or anybody else who I’ve mentioned. Maybe we need to be asking ourselves a different question than how do I get more attention?

How Do I Take Better Care of the Attention I Have? 

A few years ago I dreamed of becoming “famous” by interviewing the most successful people because I thought they would share my interviews. That didn’t happen. The audience only started to grow when I focused on how to make my content as valuable as possible for the people who were already there, even if there were only a few of them.  This is how audiences and readers turn into tribes and communities. I think we should abandon all of the following questions

  • How do I get more traffic
  • How do I get m more eyeballs
  • How do I grow my audience

Diminishing those who spend their valued attention with you to nothing but metrics and measurements is tragic. ALWAYS remember that there is a human being on the other end of the screen.  Whether you’re selling widgets or e-books, you have people and tribe members,  not buyers, listeners, or an audience.  If we can start to see the world through this lens, which requires a leap of faith, I believe the metrics will take care of themselves.

The Future Belongs to the Fanatics

Here are some people I’ve met who have built tribes of absolute fanatics.

  • Danielle Laporte has a cult following. People hang on her words. They spread her message for her.  I published interviews with her and Tim Ferriss in the same week. Guess which one was more popular … by a landslide?
  • Talk to an Erika Lyremark fan and you’ll see the same effect. It’s a tribe of fanatics spreading a message to the few they deem worthy of an invitation. It’s an exclusive club that people want to be a part of.
  • Mars Dorian, is a regular contributor here at {grow} and is having the same effect on people. Ask  any of his fans what they think about him and you’ll get something along the lines of “I can’t wait to meet that guy in person.”

When these people talk, the tribe listens. If you’re wondering why, the answer is simple.  They care. They show up when we need them. They tug at our heartstrings.  We miss them when they’re not around. There’s no blog post that can tell you how to do this. There’s no three step formula. It’s just a way of showing up in the world.

Disrupt the mainstream, fragment the masses

The way I see it you can either give all your energy to five fanatics or pursue the lukewarm masses. I think the choice is obvious. You might be frustrated reading this because unlike my last few posts I haven’t offered a single tactic. But I”ll leave you with this quote.

“People who are scrambling for tactics are almost always stalling. Strategy is important, but tactics tend to take care of themselves.” – Seth Godin

Maybe it’s simply enough to “care deeply”?

What do YOU think?

srini rao

Srinivas Rao writes about the things you should have learned in school, but never did and his the host-co founder of BlogcastFM.  You can follow him on twitter @skooloflife

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  • Manish

    Nice thoughts,
    If you try to get more and more attention then it will be a waste of time and energy, there is no specific formula of getting attention but if your strategy is right then you will not have to keep trying for attention.

  • MrTonyDowling

    Great post, and a real salve to me, thank you

    ‘It’s just a way of showing up in the world’

    Great line, really pops out!

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  • Excellent post, Srinivas.
    I think the words “authenticity” and “transparency” have been over-used, yet it basically boils down to being generous online, without after-thought. Demonstrate that kind of behavior as a blogger, as a speaker, as an active member on various social platforms and communities, and the following will take place naturally, somehow.
    Thank you for the thoughtful post and quotes.
    Cheers from Quebec City,

  • allarminda

    I really appreciate this post, Srinivas. Thank you for your thoughts and for your insight. Being genuine is a quality often overlooked, yet it is what provides us staying power.

  • I cannot agree with this enough Srini.

    Unique value.

    What is your unique value that will impact a certain type of person’s life?

    That is the attention you want for that is the attention that will stay with you.

    I also love that you mentioned your Dad has no idea who Seth Godin is. I was talking to my wife about some concepts he discussed a recent podcast and I could as well been describing the intricacies of Thermodynamics.

    Couldn’t have cared left. Popular to me. A nobody to her.



  • Excellent post, Srini. This reminds me about the conversation we had on my blog a couple months back. As much as we might crave popularity, that’s not the end goal (at least for most people and businesses).

    I think we spend so much time chasing after new friends, followers and subscribers that we often forget to take care of the ones we have. If we go out of our way to delight, surprise and wow our current fan base, rest assured, your popularity will grow anyway. 😉

  • This is exactly on point! Focusing on the people that are already there for you is the key. They are the ones that are emotionally invested in your message and willing to advocate for you and spread your content. Going for the masses is great, but more impressions does NOT equal more engagement.

  • Ha! That last quote from Seth is Kryptonite to every lame blogger on the planet. Well done.

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  • shawmu

    Excellent message. I’m reminded of Hugh MacLeod’s art that reminds us that following the crowd is not where inspiration is found. It’s when we dare to stand out, to stand alone even. My favorite point in your post: How do I take better care of the attention I have?

    Well done.

  • Excellent post! I was just listening to your interview with Seth Godin and that last quote from him really resonated with me as well. I love how he encourages us to build tribes around the “focused few”

  • I get your point, Srinivas, but as Mark himself said in an earlier post (must be a couple of years ago), you need numbers before you can “take better care of the attention I have”.

    Tribe building is pretty damn hard if you have something like 100 followers, and doing a bit of research, you find that most of them are people trying to sell you something.

    I agree, the future belongs to the fanatics. Which only serves the already-popular figures. Who’s going to be fanatic about my message? Numbers again.

  • Really, really good post today (again!). I was feeling a bit blue because I seem to be “stuck” but I won’t now. I will just try to write authentically for my faithful few. 🙂

  • Betsy Talbot

    Great post, Srini. I actually met Mars Dorian last year in Berlin, and he’s just as cool as you’d think. 🙂 I do think you need a certain number of followers to know you’re putting out a desirable message/product, but the grasp for “internet stardom” is more of a vanity project than anything. You can do very well with a small core of loyal fans. I read once that Bruce Springsteen still outsells most touring bands because of his loyal following, and he hasn’t had a top 40 hit since the 90s. (I think I read that from your guru Seth. :)) I’d rather my business be more like Bruce than Justin Beiber.

  • Manish,

    Great point. Too many people just want more attention, but don’t consider what they’ll do with it.

  • Thanks . It’s so true. That can’t be taught. There’s no guru or ninja to pass on that wisdom.

  • You said one key thing. “It will happen naturally.” That’s so true. You can game the system and inflate #’s. But the results will show when you get further down the road. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Thanks. It’s overlooked and it can’t be taught.

  • Ryan,

    It’s so true. We live in a self inflicted bubble. Nobody knows who we are or are heroes are. Funny to think that isn’t it?

  • That last sentence Laura is so key. Go out of your way to delight surprise and wow, and you’ll get that back. My sister will always deny it, but she was a popular kid in school. Her secret though is one that I realize we can only adopt. She was friends with the jocks, the cheerleaders, the smart people, and the outcasts. She could navigate cliques because she saw them for who they were: just people trying to make their way in the world.

  • Vincent,

    I’m so glad to see you say that. Attention is a really precious thing in the world we live in today. The easiest way to get more is to give all yours to the people who are already there.

  • Yeah. You can have all the tactics in the world. But until you do something with them, they don’t matter.

  • Glad you liked it. Daring to stand out is hard, but the rewards that come with it will make worth it.

  • Don,

    Thanks. I had no idea you listened to BlogcastFM. Seth is brilliant about things like this on another level.

  • i get that you have to have numbers. But I don’t believe the idea of fanatics serves only those who are already popular. The ability to care is not something that’s determined by how many followers you have. Rather than count the 100 trying to sell you something, I say start with the 10 who are there to connect. So yes, you need numbers ,but not as many as you might think. If you have 20 readers, treat them like the most important people in the world.

  • Thanks and I think you’ll find something magical happen when you do that. The fact that they found you and they’re paying attention is so awesome. That first reader, that first moment when somebody other than your mom reads your blog is awesome. You can do two things with that

    1) BE annoyed that its only 1 person
    2) Treasure that attention, nurture it, and overwhelm that person with joy

    I prefer the second.

  • Betsy,

    Agreed you need a critical mass. But the whole “stardom” thing is a bit ridiculous. People get obsessed with it and then compare constantly The Bruce Springsteen example is fantastic. Dave Matthews is like that. His following is insane.

  • You’re so right about the popular kids in school and where are the now? Great point. Mostly I wanted to stop and say hi because I listen to your podcast regularly. Today I was listening to your nteriew with Guy Kawasaki and was thinking what a fantastic interviewer you are. I should comment or reach out to Srini. O course, I’m always in the car, so I never remember to. Until tonight! So, thank you!

  • Indeed! Awesome stuff on BlogcastFM! I’ve downloaded and listened to several on the way to work, and probably going to re-listen to Seth’s today.

  • Excellent post Srinivas.., and a point well made. We mustn’t loose sight of those who are supporting us now. They might turn out to be the loyalist of followers.

  • Roger,

    I always say the people who made BlogcastFM were not the famous guests or me. It was our listeners. The one who put my with my lack of ability to conduct interviews in the early days and having faith that I would get better. There’s still a comment out there somewhere that says “BlogcasTFM misses the mark.” The truth is you never know where those early relationships will lead.

  • Hey Lisa,

    Thanks so much for your kind words. As far as popular kids in school go, I’ve got a great story. One of them who actually was nice to me is a friend on Facebook. He’s going to meet up with me in Venice beach after almost 20 years. The funny thing about the popular kids is they don’t even think they were popular. I found that amusing.

  • You know, that’s really interesting. Show’s how our own perceptions cloud things.

  • When my wife saw pictures of me with you and Mark Schaefer, she new exactly who you guys were, but that’s only because I was telling her how cool you guys were for such a long time … 😉

    Srini, this is my favorite line from this piece:
    “ALWAYS remember that there is a human being on the other end of the screen.”

    So, so true. When you blog, work at visualizing somebody experiencing some sort of pain (this includes trying to solve a particular problem). Someone needing the impetus to bust a move.

    That is how you can make a difference, and I think all of the people you mentioned do this with honestly. I think each has that swag thing I write about all the time! Mars has the added ingredient of a very unique style of illustration. Plus I’ve had a conversation with him and he is a really cool guy.

    Be honest and bring some emotion. Why not bare your soul a bit. It might make a difference in someone’s life and it will also help you expand your capabilities as a writer.

    Another thing is TIME! It takes time to do this right. I’m working at this slowly but surely, and making certain I enjoy the ride, love the people I’m hanging out with and not getting carried away or overly concerned with the wrong things. That’s when I’ll start to hate this gig.

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  • Great article and I completely agree. If you portray your own passion and effort through your writing then this will be appreciated and enjoyed far more by readers than sub standard content for content’s sake.

    I visit so many links which offer ‘5 great tips for better blogging’, only to find that the 5 ‘tips’ are along the lines of ‘write great articles’ & ‘write article that will be popular’. These aren’t tips, they are the end result. Occasionally though, you will find a jewel where the author has obviously taken great pride in writing about a subject that they love and want to share, that’s what works and makes them popular.

    Not sure if I went a bit off topic but I hope you get my point! 🙂


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  • brainwise

    I was amused that I had heard of nearly everyone mentioned in this piece … expect for the three folks singled out with links (Danielle Laporte, Erika Lyremark, and Mars Dorian). Still, I was captivated by the core point regarding how fame and fanaticism differ. Thank you!

  • Awesome. I think your reaction just proves my point :)., I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It’s a really big part of my personal philosophy.

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