Targeting the #InstaFamous generation

Winning digital business in the attention economy

One of the most widely observed consequences of the proliferation of digital media has been the opportunity it has afforded businesses, particularly those in the SME sector, which perhaps couldn't compete with the advertising power of global brands in the battle for consumer attention.

The web as we know it has become a vehicle for the development of a digitalised society, spawning terminology such as “crowdsourcing”, “prosumers”, “online brand community”, “user-generated content” and more, each of which has enabled SMEs to cultivate new audiences that would previously have been unattainable.

Of course, the digitalisation of society has come with its own issues, some more profound than others.

Consumers are now augmenting their own identities between the physical and virtual world. However, our online presence is often a façade – a self-branding activity where we promote to the world well-rehearsed, digital self-portraits through which we can attain those ever-coveted “likes”, “shares” and “retweets”.


Societal addiction

Indeed, social media has become a societal addiction. For digital natives, particularly teenagers, the effects are clear. Numerous reports and studies have stated that teenagers are dating less, self-identifying as being lonely, isolated, and lacking in self-esteem.

Such issues have apparently emerged from their unrelenting need for constant connectivity, through which they spend their time fantasising about the “spectacular”, albeit manufactured, lives of their peers, each seeking to be #InstaFamous; even within their own fragmented social network.

And that’s without mentioning the effects of Mark Zuckerberg’s latest addition to Facebook’s arsenal – Messenger for Kids – which metaphorically acts as a gateway drug for young teens, and their first “hit” in the world of digitalised sociality.

Despite the clear societal issues that have emerged from the proliferation of digital media, it is undeniable that it also presents an opportunity to win business, given society’s persistent need for further connectivity, participation and self-expression which goes beyond the purchasing of materialistic goods. We now exist in an attention economy.

Digital trends

How to win business using digital media is often best understood through the conceptualisation of the attention economy. It’s a theory that stipulates which marketing communications – digital or otherwise – should be focused on attracting consumer “eyeballs” and maintaining consumer engagement with your brand’s activities.

It’s a popular theory among marketers, given that it focuses on a brand’s capacity to become relevant in an information-rich world, saturated by media, brands, and amid an innumerable volume of advertising content.

In understanding the attention economy, one key element – and one which many businesses ignore – is understanding where the audience’s attention is, right now.

Marketers who were aware of the trend towards ecommerce and the shift in audience attention during the early years of Google AdWords and YouTube gained an immediate advantage over their competitors, capturing consumer clicks to their websites at a CPC (cost-per-click), in a way that marketers today can only be enviable. When there is a shift in consumer attention, there is an opportunity to be heard.

Power of Amazon

But marketers are still not accounting for the shift in audience attention. By way of example, if you're competing within the consumer packaged goods sector, you need to understand how your brand could fit into the Amazon eco-system.

Many marketers are still operating under the fallacy that Google is the most powerful search engine platform in the world of digital business, when in reality, Amazon accounts for more than 50 per cent of product-related searches online, compared with the cumulative 25-28 per cent occupied by traditional digital search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, and so on).

The preference for Amazon is even more profound among those aged 18-30, who turn to Amazon for more than 60 per cent of product-related searches. It is predicted that Amazon’s dominance within the online retail space will be further exacerbated by its proficiency in voice-related technology, in particular, the consumer adoption of Amazon’s own Alexa.


In keeping with the concept of audience attention, I would also posit the idea that, within the next 18 months, we will see a shift in audience attention to a new (or revitalised) social media platform – particularly among younger demographics.

This hypothesis emerges through the analysis of the content-sharing app, Snapchat. According to the Pew Research Centre, the app is the most used among teenagers. However, Snapchat’s questionable advertising model (and consequently business model) has seen the company post a $2.2 billion (€1.87 billion) loss in its first earnings report in May 2017. Yet, the app is still incredibly popular among younger demographics.

Such a situation makes it a prime target for acquisition, potentially for an Amazon or Google, that could leverage their already established audiences and advertising platforms to create a more innovate social networking platform. This is, of course, just a prediction, but it highlights the importance of recognising the ever-changing social media network environment, and leveraging such understanding to become heard within the attention economy. If you’re targeting younger audiences, you need to be relevant on Snapchat.

Content strategy

Once you have followed the digital trend and established where your audience is hanging out online, you must then formulate a content strategy. What is going to attract eyeballs and build a connection between your brand and the coveted consumer?

Many marketers are still creating digital content in the style of the traditional TV advertisement – 30 seconds, product focused, and lacking interest.

Consumers will opt out of your brand’s content if this is the approach you are taking. Social media is meant to be “social”, not a vehicle for marketers to pontificate over the subtle benefits of their product over the competitions. The style of content which we create must adapt.

Some brands have been successful in breaking through their audience’s social wall, making themselves heard. They have created Vlogs [video blogs], developed podcasts around interesting topics, and focused on the elements of their brand which excite consumers.

Each and every brand has a story to tell, a story that will resonate with your target audience. It is our role as marketers to tell that story.

Dave Alton is a lecturer in marketing in the Department of Management and Marketing at Cork University Business School, University College Cork.