Attention, Engagement and Trust: The Internet Trinity and Websites
Note: This post originally appeared on the BizMediaScience blog on 11 Oct ’07. That site’s having trouble responding so I’m posting this here for ease of access.
Still going through old emails. This post is a public response to an email from April ’07. I’m discovering that a joy of going offline is that I can actually catch up with my emails, respond to them thoughtfully rather than spontaneously, and therefore learn more about myself and the person I’m corresponding with.
Heck, that’s almost like when people use to send real paper letters to each other via postal systems!
This response is to a reader of my Defining Attention on Websites & Blogs column. Less you think ill of me, yes, I responded to this person long ago. I’m simply sharing the exchange with blog readers now as I’m preparing another column on Engagement.
The reader’s comments follow:
Attention is a buzzword in multiple senses, and there’s
a fairly strong movement to reclaim attention as an asset for folks. You
might want to look at the Attention Trust. I think it’s a hard sell, myself.
Steve Gillmor is the very cranky host of Gillmor Gang, a
podcast that talks about this stuff ad nauseum although
seemingly not recently.
is another big buzzword… the guy doing the most legitimate and smart
stuff with engagement is Bob DeSena. Here are two relevant
Data: Back in my doctoral research days, I thought a lot about the
focused kind of attention you describe and its relationship to memory. Some
social psychologists talk about schema driven cognitive processing vs. data
driven cognitive processing.
Branding as an exercise seems to be an
interesting combo platter: you want to suck the potential consumer into thinking
about the product in a data driven way long enough for the product to become
part of a schema and then be automatically accessed by the consumer.
oscillation between the two cognitive modes is hard to achieve, but powerful
when achieved, I think.
My comments follow:
I always worry when some word becomes a buzzword. A word becoming a buzzword makes me think that the original definition or some discipline-based definition is too challenging for the general public to understand it so they co-opt it in the belief that if they use it improperly enough then the improper meaning supercedes the original or discipline-based meaning. This, of course, gets us back to how one defines expertise and what happens if Wikipedia decides 2+2=5, as I wrote in Expertise – Who Decides?.
The end result? The word is used to mean whatever one is pointing to at the moment. I think this has happened to Attention. I’ll share the definition I find most worthy:
Attention is a behavior that demonstrates specific neural activity is taking place.
That’s both as general and as specific as I can make it. Buzzify the word as much as you care to, I’ll keep on coming back to the above as a working definition. Unless certain specific parts of the brain are sucking up proteins and sugars, Attention ain’t happening.
How do we know attention is happening? See the above.
What if we don’t have fMRI, nMRI, MRI, NTM, EMR, CSG, EEG, MoUsE, whatever, tools with which to determine those proteins and sugars are being sucked up?
Then come talk to NextStage. We’ve been demonstrating and creating value without using those tools for years now.
What about Engagement? You’re shocked, I know, to discover that NextStage has a working definition of that, as well. Engagement is the demonstration of Attention via psychomotor activity that serves to focus an individual’s Attention.
I spent some time on the AttentionTrust site. I have no idea how they’re defining attention and am pretty sure it’s not the way NextStage defines it.
I read the articles the reader suggested. The first one offered the following definition of engagement:
“turning a prospect on to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context.”
(I must be in a mood today. That definition makes no sense to me at all. You?)
I recognize at this point that NextStage’s definitions have no more validity than anybody else’s…except perhaps a dictionary’s.
What is Attention
Noun: attention (u’tenshun)
- The process whereby a person concentrates on some features of the environment to the (relative) exclusion of others
- The work of providing treatment for or attending to someone or something
“the old car needs constant attention”
– care, aid, tending
- A general interest that leads people to want to know more
“She was the centre of attention”
- A courteous act indicating affection
“she tried to win his heart with her many attentions”
- The faculty or power of mental concentration
“keeping track of all the details requires your complete attention”
- A motionless erect stance with arms at the sides and feet together; assumed by military personnel during drill or review
“the troops stood at attention”
Hmm… What about Engagement?
Noun: engagement (en’geyjmunt)
- A hostile meeting of opposing military forces in the course of a war
“he lost his romantic ideas about war when he got into a real engagement”
– battle, conflict, fight
- A meeting arranged in advance
– date, appointment
- A mutual promise to marry
– betrothal, troth
- The act of giving someone a job
- Employment for performers or performing groups that lasts for a limited period of time
- Contact by fitting together
“the engagement of the clutch”
– mesh, meshing, interlocking
- The act of sharing in the activities of a group
“the teacher tried to increase his students’ engagement in class activities”
– participation, involvement, involution
(Background information: Last week, during my travels, I was invited to be a founding member of the Center for Semantic Excellence. I’m flattered and still wondering if everyone will be able to agree on the definition of “semantic”)
The whole concept of defining a word in a way that suits one’s purpose intrigues me greatly. Mind you, I mentioned long ago (in internet time) in Greetings from the Mothershipthat I created language as required. NextStage, during the development of its reports and tools, gave them names based on what they did or reported. Our marketing guru (who gave up marketing years ago for reasons that would be several blog posts in themselves) commented that the names might be accurate but wouldn’t catch in the consumer psyche.
Case in point – Purchase/Exchange Stop. Any idea what that report is about? I explained some of what this report indicates in Failure: a case study; “This graph shows what’s stopping conversions
from taking place. This doesn’t mean conversions aren’t taking place, only that
not all of them are. The distance between the red mark and the stacked bars in
each category is an indication of how many conversions are being lost due to
each factor, and there are many more factors involved than what’s shown here.”
The truth is this chart is showing what’s stopping information from being exchanged. Information is the neuroscientist’s general term for whatever is going back and forth between two or more entities. It can be names, addresses, phone numbers, money, credit card information, health related information, …
So do I have a right to question how someone else use’s a word or how they define it? No, I think not. Do I, the individual information consumer, have any rights in this highly temporary, definitely fleeting, ADD-driven world where words and phrases are usurped by others to suit their own also highly temporary, infinitely fleeting, ADD-serving purposes?
I can either accept or reject another’s use of information.
What? This is all about being an intelligent, well-informed consumer?
Yes, me thinks so. In the end, what difference does it make what words are used and what meanings are assigned to them? History and evolution demonstrate that what survives is that which serves the greatest number of individuals within some society to function within that society. Study the evolution of language and one finds that words have changed meaning with a staggering fluidity. One of my favorites is in my list of memorable quotes:
An example of language transition through time; a word which use to mean “holy celebration” and now means “to achieve orgasm” in the vulgar, “godere” from the Latin “gaudere”.
For future reference and to respect the fluidity and morphology of communications, Attention will mean whatever the greatest number of people are pointing at when they say it when they say it. Ditto Engagement.
To the Schemas v Data statements the reader makes I offer this; Attention does not cause branding, Engagement does. (again, I’m using NextStage definitions)
Something can gain one’s attention and once the brain-mind decide whatever got one’s attention isn’t important attention goes away. More importantly, the more often false-attention is generated the more one becomes immune to whatever is triggering the attention mechanism. Example: The first time flyer may get nervous each time there’s a bump in the flight. After a while one can nap through the USAF Hurricane Hunter going into the eye of a storm.
Branding occurs when psychomotor activity (Engagement) is demonstrated because it is at this point that the brain-mind has decided whatever got one’s attention is important enough to devote additional (ie, memory) resources to.
And Trust? Trust is the final element in the Internet Trinity. Trust is what I, the consumer — well informed or not — give the site (or whatever is asking for my Attention) when my Engagement is rewarded with useful, relevant and meaningful information.