POV as explainer

Philip Morgan

How does one explain Facebook's recent decline in users and the stock valuation decrease that followed that news?

If you casually hate Facebook, you trot out something about how people are finally waking up to [insert the reason(s) you hate Facebook].

If you have a clear point of view that impinges on this area of the world, you use your POV as a way to explain what's happening.

That's what I see Midia, a media research and consulting firm, doing here: https://www.midiaresearch.com/blog/the-attention-recession-just-showed-its-teeth-to-facebook-and-took-a-200bn-bite.

Here's how they link their POV to the Facebook news:

Towards the end of 2019, we presented a keynote, in which we were the first company to identify the peak of the attention economy.

The basic premise was that there was more and more content and services screaming at consumers to get their attention (engagement). As time went on, consumers kept piling all this engagement with new content and apps on top of each other, using previously available time (from things like staring out of the window or waiting at a bus stop). While the number of propositions kept rising, the 24 hours in a day, of course, never changed.

Inevitably, it had to get to a point where consumers could no longer allocate additional time to accommodate all the content and services. This was the point (the peak of the attention economy) where consumers had to start prioritising between apps, platforms, and content.

Source: https://www.midiaresearch.com/blog/the-attention-recession-just-showed-its-teeth-to-facebook-and-took-a-200bn-bite

I think the Midia folks do a good job with POV and thought leadership. They invent (or popularize) catchy, memorable phrases like "attention recession" and use them to summarize their research findings. I haven't been following them for too long, but their POV seems to be stable over time.

And, for the audience, there's something comforting in believing that ideas like the "creator economy" or the "attention recession" explain, with simplicity and clarity, a much more complex and overwhelming reality.

The reality, of course, is that there are probably a half-dozen or more points of view with a meaningful ability to make sense of some part of the Facebook news. Does that mean we should not promote our point of view as having explanatory power? Should we caveat every instance where our POV won't adequately explain things?

POVs always have caveats. You should acknowledge those, but not in a way that competes with the POV itself. If you over-caveat a POV, you make it seem like it's risky to adopt it, and that can decrease adoption, which decreases the world's ability to enjoy the POV's benefits.

If, every time you wanted to travel somewhere in a car you had to watch a video that depicted every possible way you can die in a car crash, you'd probably decrease your usage of cars (or develop something like banner blindness but for car risk educational videos). There is such a a thing as being over-focused on risk. :)

Even though the idea of the "attention recession" is at best a partial explanation of what's happening with Facebook, I get value from the POV:

  • It spurs me to reflect on all the competition for my attention, how I manage all those attention-suitors, and how I might manage them better.
  • It reminds me that when I seek attention, it's not something I'm owed and it's not something that is cheap or valueless.
  • The phrase "attention recession" becomes a convenient "handle" that I can use to retrieve a bundle of related ideas when I need them.
  • I have at least one piece of the cognitive tooling that helps me feel that I can understand the issues of attention and digital media and so forth.

My world is enriched by adopting Midia's POV. If they had attached one of those disclaimers like pharmaceutical drug commercials have for side effects, I might not have given Midia's POV a chance. (Also, if it was presented in a prosaic way like "here's our POV hope you enjoy it bye" rather than woven into a take on current events that is part of their campaign of thought leadership I might also have not adopted it.)

When you're projecting your POV into the world, don't kneecap yourself. Be clear about the caveats and limitations, but not at the headline level. Calibrate to the intelligent consumer of POVs who can do a good job of their own risk management and cross-referencing.

Besides, if your POV is distinctive and relevant to a potential client, chances are good you'll end up talking to them (or selling them a book) before any real money gets spent, and it's then that you can do a proper diagnosis/risk analysis and deliver any caveats needed.