The Attention Economy

Posted on 04/29/2018 in misc

Help Wanted sign

The entire attention economy is based on the idea that "engagement" (whatever that is) has some monetary value. Likes and favorites are worth something, and thus brands are willing to spend big bucks on Twitter and Facebook ads. Well, some brands. Proctor & Gamble is not convinced.

What if the entire "attention economy" is an example of McNamara's Fallacy? If you are not familiar with that term, McNamara was the architect of the strategy in Vietnam that suggested we would win the war by killing more of them than they killed of us, primarily because KIAs is something the military knows how to measure. Of course, connecting success to a specific metric like that has all kinds of problems, one being it encourages killing people with no direct connection to any larger goal than racking up the body count, because that is how success is designed. Another is that one simple measure like that will inevitably be gamed. As we all know, there was no correlation, let alone causation, between body count and political success in the Vietnam War.

In fact, there is a whole another theory called Goodhart’s law (named after a British economist) that states once a variable is adopted as a policy target, it rapidly loses its ability to capture the phenomenon or characteristic that is supposedly being measured. Again, because people change their behavior once they know something is being observed and measured.

We have built billions of market value and tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs on the idea that there is economic value in digital engagement with a target market. What if we are wrong? What if the fact that we "like" something on FB or Twitter has no economic value at all? I mean, I follow Moon Pie on Twitter because whoever runs their social media is hilarious. However, I think Moon Pies are gross and there little chance I will ever eat one again. Somewhere some MBA has my likes as part of some metric showing the value of the social media account. How many people like me does a social media count need before its assumptions are completely invalid? Or are those assumptions all invalid from day one?