Do we value attention properly?

Every day, at the end of his shift, one of your employees takes three laptops out of the supply closet, takes them home and sells them on eBay, pocketing the money.

If you discovered this, would you take action?

At the very same time, another employee is busy spamming your house email list, relentlessly pitching this and that because, “hey, it’s free.”

Which one costs you more?

Consider the non-profit that hassles its volunteer list for donations. Instead of differentiating between those with energy and passion (but little money) and those with an instinct to give (but little time), they do the easy, dumb thing and treat everyone the same. It’s just an email.

Or consider the politician who turns an attention asset into dust by ever escalating the urgent pleas for money, long before it’s actually urgent.

A few simple principles:

  1. If you’re not measuring attention in dollars and cents, you don’t know what it’s worth.
  2. If you’re treating everyone the same, you’re wasting attention.
  3. If you’re burning trust to get more attention or more action, you’ve wasted both of them.
  4. If you’re making those that you don’t activate feel guilty after engaging with you, you’ve created a second problem, one that’s even worse than the inaction.
  5. If you’re not measuring the cost of unsubscribes, of bounces and most of all, of waning attention, see #1.
  6. If you let multiple people on your team mess with your attention asset without taking responsibility, see #1.

Putting a banner across your site urgently asking for money is a senseless waste of trust and attention. It incorrectly values everyone’s attention the same. It makes the vast majority of your users (those that didn’t donate) feel guilty and less likely to engage with you productively. And most of all, it distracts you from doing the sort of work that could truly make things better.

All because we pretend that we can’t measure attention and the trust that goes with it.