Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why are We Always Running Out of Context?

There's one place that we all know, understand, and wish a speedy delivery for the folks who don't get us (once we're taken out of it). This single word transcends the subjective machinery used in personal opinion-making. It describes shared understandings that we draw as representative samples (members of groups). The term is context and the phrase it describes is social information. I would have blurted it out sooner except for the routine dismissal or willful abuse of message senders and receivers alike.

Context is in a state of constant observation but it is only invoked when a news-maker is quoted outside its margins by a news distributor. Actively nudging the needle back to within contextual boundaries sounds like a sucker's game. But it's more than a fair hearing, the other cheek turned, or the benefit of the universal doubt. It's more than extending credit to the cashed-out egos of officials corrupted by their addiction to taking credit. It's the relative value of what we know and the assembled piece of ourselves that we bring to the abstract but vital understanding of what the world "thinks."

Context is not ferreted out in absolutes like dollars or power. Even the most deluded brokers and elitist messengers know it's a waste to pay for something no one owns. But that doesn't stop us from flirting with what it might be like to define, map, and measure the media climate in the degrees and dimensions of context.

Actually there is one duality at play that the tiny advertiser in us readily grasps: do I stop and listen or continue on what I was already going to tweet ... um ... do? Attention is the unit price of social information. Once the sale is recorded the next question is this: What filtering do we apply or purge from the lenses we affix to our own world views?

Influence-peddlers focus on the purge. It's a sanctionable way to steal a close election. It's the flickering moment where an uncommitted voter is open to persuasion. And that flicker will not extinguish because marketing itself would cease to exist without it. And that flicker can be magnified to a blinding high beam when the skillful marketer frames a self-selecting argument around the banded comfort zones of message receivers. How do we know we're on the receiving end? Do we end more firmly ensconced in our conclusions than when we began? That's a sign that we are surely running low on context. Another surefire sign: the permission we give ourselves to parade our own muses. The current phrase for this is "social media."

To the contrary social information is not about us. It is about the world and the tar and stuffing and back story that sticks to what each old topic brings to the table of each new day. It's the piece of gum just waiting for a ride on someone's feet. What will today bring in the life of bringing Tiger out of the Woods? Is it that he is the once heir apparent uber-superstar-letes from Babe Ruth up through Michael Jordan? Is it the interchangeable nature of sponsors and the celebrities with which they share top brand billings? Is this another indication that individuals and corporations should now be judged as equals under the law? Is it that Tiger was toppled by his own natural control freak similarly to Martha Stewart's jail bird song? Is it the Eliot Spitzer fall from grace where the role model carriage falls especially hard on tonal deaf ears? Pick your narrative.

But don't apply it to my fifteen minutes of fame. Apply it to the fifteen minutes of every news cycle that we use to process the fame-worthiness of others. We'll never run short on context within a jury of our peers.

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About attentionSpin

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.