Getting people to pay attention

Depending on who you ask and how they are counting, the average American now sees more than 400 advertisements a day. It often seems like I get more than 400 email messages a day and as many instant messages as well. I often pay about as much attention to many of them as I do to advertisements, and while I may receive more emails or instant messages each day than the average American, I suspect my response isn't that far out of the norm.

This leads us to the question of how, in this world of constant partial attention, can you get anyone to pay attention and respond to your message. It seemed as if many of the advertising folks at OMMA focused on online advertising as just another place to put up an non-interactive billboard or thirty second spot and I wondered how different the banner ads or the search ads were really from those other advertisements.

This isn't to say that such advertising isn't effective. In fact, I believe it is fairly effective, not in a click through sort of way,but in terms of forming a digital palimpsest; shaping associations with products and norms of expected behavior. People sending emails might want to think about their emails in how they help form such associations or expected behaivors.

Yet, so many of the political emails I receive are aimed at eliciting a contribution. At OMMA, people spoke about email campaigns as needing to give as much to the email receipient as they expect to receive in return. Emails that provide useful information or a sense of community are much more effective than the simple asks. Yet it seems like, in the political sphere, so many of the emails don't really give me anything and as a result, I don't pay very close attention to them, let alone clickthrough to their signup, volunteer or donate pages.

This is perhaps even more notable in Twitter. As I write this, Barack Obama is following 5,199 people on Twitter. Somehow, I don't imagine he, or his staffers pay attention to that many twitters. In return, 4,910 people are following Barack Obama. I can easily imagine that many people wanting to get short quick updates from the Obama campaign. Yet it is worth noting that only 34 updates have been sent. It is similar with the Edwards campaign. Sen. Edwards is following 3,884 twitterers. In return, 3,574 are following him. He's posted 84 updates, although some of them start off with (from staff). Sen. Edwards has even favorited one Twitter message and has used twitter to encourage people to send in questions.

Neither have used Twitter in any conversational manner, the way many people start twitter messages with an at sign and a twitter id to indicate that the message is directed and, and usually in reply to a different twitter message.

So, in this world of excessive messages, in advertisements, emails, twitters, instant messages and so on, how do you get people to pay attention, to become engaged? A few people have sent me emails about projects they are working on that they think might help. I'll write up some of these a bit later, but if you have thoughts, please add them here, or send me an email, an instant message or a message via twitter. If you're lucky and I'm not overwhelmed by all the other messages, I just might see it and pay attention.