The struggle for attention

For a long time, companies have fought for their stakeholders’ attention. The main challenge was for the message to cut through the clutter and get the public’s attention. I’m noticing this dynamic is reversed in social media. Social media users, and bloggers in particular, want companies’ attention. I’ve come across several blog posts lately that deal with getting (or not) enough/appropriate attention from a company. See cases and links below.

So, why is it so important for bloggers to get the attention of companies they blog about? Is it to feel validated? Is it because bloggers are evangelists of the conversation and this is their way of putting pressure on companies to join in? Is it because, as stakeholders, we assume companies should be happy to finally have our attention and we’re disappointed when our expectations are frustrated?

I’ll collect some case studies here that can hopefully teach us something about this need for attention:

Target dismisses blogger Amy Jussel from shapingyouth.org; blog storm ensues, story is picked up by the NY Times.

Saturn comments on blogger’s post; blogosphere celebrates Saturn’s engagement. Story here.

Ike Piggott praises companies reading his blog, such as Citi and Canon.

Blogger advises auto insurance company esurance to let character Erin Esurance play in the social media landscape, esurance responds, but bloggers  won’t take no for an answer.

I’m sure there are many more such examples out there (if you send me links, I’ll add them here) that all speak about this struggle for attention.

What are your thoughts? Why is corporate attention so important to bloggers? Are their expectations reasonable? Will this lead to redesigning the PR function so it can participate in thousands of conversations? How should companies handle requests and pressure for attention? –VERY carefully, suggest the Target and esurance examples, as responses will be published, analyzed, and criticized. Oh and… use a conversational human voice. Any well thought-out, well-written response may be dismissed as a “prepared statement.” “Honest opinions pecked off in a few minutes on a laptop” will do. No mercy out there in the blogosphere.

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7 Comments

  1. For me, it was simple curiosity. I’m not selling anything, so it’s not like I’m evangelizing for personal gain.

    My curiosity is focused on the chicken-and-egg aspect. Do companies who are listening have a better reputation for customer service? Or is it that companies with great customer service are more likely to be engaging customers directly. I’m not sure there is a clean answer to that just yet.

    The Target issue is a little different, in my opinion. The tactical error on their part was referring to the inquiry as a “blogger.” Ask yourself this: if the same complaint had been registered with the PR department via snail mail from an angry consumer, would they have shot back a form letter saying they don’t engage in correspondence or questions from the public?

    “Bloggers” (and I really loathe the term) are not placed in the same slice of the spectrum from company to company. Some place them closer to the journalist side, some place them to the citizen/consumer side. They also exist on an axis of annoyance/benefit.

    If Target had ignored the blog element, and dealt with the question by treating the complaint like they would any other, there never would have been this sideshow drama. You’d still have a small group of people offended by the ad, but they’d have lost the moral justification they now feel for being summarily dismissed.

  2. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here, but need to reiterate, I wanted NO part of ‘attention’…AT ALL…NEVER contacted media, NEVER complained or filed a form whatsoever…this has been nightmarish from our nonprofit’s perspective, since the reasoning and reporting has been so skewed by so many. To recap:

    Being a former journalist, ad agency CD and Target shopper, my whole purpose in calling Target in the first place was in a ‘what were you thinking here?’ context to get their POV/explanation/motivation of why the heck they’d risk alienating CORE customers to run an ad that could be misconstrued.

    I did NOT call to ‘complain or be angry or get attention’—I called to be FAIR…

    Their response (or lack thereof) became the bigger story, derailing the normalization of objectification story (corp. ‘edgy’ innuendo, akin to the current naming gaffe Woolworth’s claims is an oopsie by stocking the “Lolita” line of children’s beds, sheesh) —

    It rapidly diluted into a ‘dumbed down’ dialog/wacky UGC opinion polling on (in)offensiveness…sort of a ‘snowangel or spreadeagle you decide’ snapshot of minutiae which is something I’d expect from a Facebook-app, not an erudite bunch of industry bloggers….sigh.

    As far as what Target COULD have done? Address me as any ol’ customer, a mom, a consumer. (& yes, they knew I was a blogger because they’d BEEN on my blog.

    As I explained in the comments section here on ‘the shut up heard round the world” :

    http://www.unboundedition.com/content/view/4451/54/

    …They could’ve ‘defused & diffused’ with some common sense (and even feigned compassion for a bonus) rather than arrogant dismissal. THAT is what lit up the blogosphere…and btw…I wasn’t the one to do it…(that story got lost too, now, didn’t it?)

    Sure could’ve saved my time sink mopping up this media mess and dealing with the vitriol of incivility and unabashed flamers that never even read the original post, but only the NYT ‘sound-bite’…

    At the risk of being misconstrued once again as ‘desiring attention’ pls. accept these links to set the record straight once and for all:

    FULL NYT verbatim e-interview:
    http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=1063

    Original post/context w/APA study on adolescent damage to self-worth/retail objectification-normalization:
    http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=969

    p.s. I loathe the term bloggers too…can we please come up with a new one?

  3. p.s. Just cut and pasted this comment from the link I sent you above, re: “how could Target have handled this better?”

    Loved this: “Bloggers are consumers…
    written by E.R., January 28, 2008 05:31 PM
    Target gets a lot right, but it’s true, they tripped over this one.
    On this issue, they might have considered saying:

    “In retrospect, perhaps the the logo may have been better positioned as a halo, since we intended the woman in the photo to be making a snow angel. We are proud, however, that bloggers and other new media critics view Target as an influential design force in America today. It is “design for all,” and that includes public interpretation of design. We would like to collaborate in the future with people who may have innovative design ideas for Target campaigns… we urge those who are interested to e-mail designforall@target.com” —E.

    Spot on, I say! (at least for the blogosphere/diss portion) –Amy

  4. Amy, thank you so much for reading and commenting here. This is nothing personal about you desiring attention, rather about what seems to be a general feeling among people who blog about marketing & PR related issues that companies should pay attention and become involved in the conversation (OK, in every conversation).

    I’m trying to make sense of this general feeling, document it with some examples, and figure out what it might mean for the future of the PR function.

    As I think about these issues, I came across a post on the same topic that should be part of this conversation: http://tinyurl.com/2mz593

  5. Excellent link, thanks so much for that one…Got more?

    And yeah, I know it’s not personal, sorry if I sounded frustrated…In fact your post was so well written in terms of merit of deconstruction and genuine appeal for ‘how to handle’ the new media surge that YOU are the reason I chose to reply to this one…

    Believe me, I had to ‘let most of them go’ as it was ‘same ol’ song’ and missed the opportunity for conversation and enlightenment on all sides.

    Anyway, THIS is the type of ‘best practices’ conversation that SHOULD be floating around the industry…(and it’s not just because Edelman used to be our PR arm at Dailey & Assoc./S.F. before the Lowe Marschalk/Omnicom acquisition 😉

    So… since I respect your handling of this post so much, here’s a plea for ya…

    From a PR standpoint, is there anything I (as a wee nonprofit) can/should be doing to reframe the hijacked conversation that often dismisses (there’s that word again) us in kneejerk reaction w/out doing the homework to see the broader scope/context and facts for analysis?

    We’re a centrist, non-censorship, nonpartisan, level headed voice of the massive middle, so it’s important that our brand NOT be perceived otherwise. Tips? Advice?

    As you can imagine, we don’t have ‘staff’ to handle this kind of whirlwind, which is why I’ve chosen to remain ‘in stealth mode’ via blog vs. making a big websplash/pre-launch as our programs and outcomes get tested and the consortium grows…Ideas? Links?

    Our overall mission is to ‘use the power of media for positive change’ and applaud the great uses of media, (disaster relief, eco-mobilization, LiveAid, etc.) in an attempt to ‘raise the bar’ of what’s being put out there (as well as shine the spotlight on the lesser efforts in ‘let’s not go there/what were you thinking’ mode a la Tarzhay…)

    Shaping Youth is about shifting toward more positive, fun, content embedded in the pop culture zeitgeist to energize with purpose, energy, and meaning above just coinage & consumption…

    The way I see it, we’re at the crossroads of new, virtual worlds that have fabulous potential to learn, explore and create…Media and marketing don’t have to be viewed in either/or terms portrayed as ‘good/evil’ …We’d just like to see more collaboration & participation with those of us IN the industry who’d like to see a higher level of purpose…rather than being reduced to an ‘eyeroll.’

    Thanks for being one of ’em who ‘gets it’ and raises the bar of the dialog…I’ll chat w/you like this any time. Oh, and btw, ‘note for Target’ and other best practices folks…it’s not about how ‘big the blog is’ re: deserving of a response…It’s about the quality of the minds in the conversation and respect for another’s voice than your own.

    Keep up the great work, Amy

  6. Hi Amy,

    I’ll have to think about this some more before giving you specific ideas (and I hesitate to do so because I don’t know your organization very well). However:

    My perception of you and your organization is not at all negative in this entire story. You identified a valid issue, and asked an appropriate question. The blame for the rest is on Target. (For the record, I don’t agree with their response, but I do wonder what this all means in the bigger PR picture).

    I understand that some of the attention you got might be unwanted, but if it weren’t for it, I, my students, and some of my colleagues here at Clemson would have never heard about shapingyouth.org. I bet your readership has increased, or at least awareness of your blog & organization.

    The question is, how do you shift this attention to the organization’s real purpose and away from this particular incident? Keep doing what you do. Mention your organization’s work and link to your other posts in your comments. Maybe we can start a meme. I promise I’ll link to one of your posts and tag a few other bloggers who have written about the Target issue to ask them to link to something different on your blog, something that does justice to the good work that you do. What do you think? When should we start?

  7. Gawd I need a PR person…that’s a fabulous idea!

    Might be an interesting social experiment… 😉

    As is often the case, I think myopia sets in a tad when we feel we’ve been typecast or misunderstood as human beings (or organizations for that matter) so it’s refreshing to see that you think the whole brouhaha was fairly benign. (the personal attacks and flaming/incivility were pretty jarring and unexpected, so I’ve really learned a lot about the way our media mindset has shifted in ‘fairness factor’ from my days as a journalist)

    Granted, sensationalism was part of the reason I shifted gears away from the field long ago…but it’s become even more raw, confrontational, and ‘in your face’ now, both on the air (Hardball/talking heads/shouting pundits reality shows etc.) and off the air (digital flamers, cyberbullying etc.)

    Guess the ol’ Marquess of Queensberry rules don’t apply in media anymore… 😉

    Anyway, thanks for the thoughts…sure appreciate the brainpower on this…


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