April 29, 2014

Understanding the Attention Economy

Being an entrepreneur is cool and sexy right now. We see CEOs make billions and change the world and we want a piece of that. But that isn’t what Steve Gadlin has in mind, his dream is much simpler: he wants to draw a cat for you.

In 2012 Gadlin founded a company called ‘I want to draw a cat for you’ and appeared on Shark Tank, an ABC show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to venture capitalists. Gadlin told them what his business was and they laughed, he sang a song and they laughed, he danced and they laughed, and everything about it screamed, “This is stupid flop of a business that shouldn’t get funding”. At the end of the day though, Gadlin got the funding he asked for and the question we should be asking is why. He isn’t a great artist or a great business man, his song was just ok and his dancing was just silly. But one thing Gadlin does remarkably well is grab your attention, and in today’s economy attention is among the scarcest of resources.

Everyday, people are trying to get a moment of your time because your attention is extremely valuable, it’s quite literally worth money. The blogs you go to and videos you watch make money through views and clicks, and beyond that companies spend a lot to get email addresses and Facebook likes. Your attention is fought over.

Gadlin understands this, and 12,000+ cat drawings later he is still drawing away and can be called a successful entrepreneur. I’m happy for him; he found a way to do what he wants to do. He got my attention, and if you watched him he probably got your attention too.

Not all of us, though, have the dynamic personally Steve does, or the willingness to do whatever it takes to get the attention we’re seeking, but the fact of the matter is you don’t need it. Once you learn how attention works and how the different social networks facilitate it, you can use your time to get the attention you’re seeking.  

We live in a strange world, a world where things like ‘I want to draw a cat for you’ can flourish, and the next viral YouTube video means big bucks. We’ve all heard it said that time is money, and truth be told the saying has never been as poignant as it is right now: people are willing to pay a lot for your email address, for just the mere chance to get your attention.

An exciting aspect of this shift is that it dramatically levels the playing field. Before the internet and social media your influence was about as big as your social circle. If you wanted to expand your reach you would have to spend a lot on advertising to do it. Now it’s different; whether you want to change the world, make people laugh, or simply make your entrepreneurial dream come true, you have tools freely available to help you make it happen.

So where does that leave you? How can you take advantage of this shift? You need to first understand the valuable asset you already have: your online social influence. Your presence online is your doorway into other people’s lives, the access point that lets you grab a bit of attention and influence others...

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