Desperately $eeking followers: the rise of the attention economy


Kim Kardashian posted this photo to celebrate hitting 42 million followers on Instagram, just 165 days after reaching 27 million (McDonagh 2015). But were these followers bought or earned?

Celebrities, bloggers, politicians and internet personalities are increasingly buying fake followers to expand their social media reach (Domjen 2014). In the age of information overload, attention is a scarce commodity and the competition to attract limited attention has become intense (Goldhaber 1997b). For example, after claiming the title for the most-liked Instagram photo of all time, Kendall Jenner tweeted ‘Take that KimYe’ (Siebert 2015). Attention is, thus, the most valuable currency in the media world (Goldhaber 1997a). This has given rise to an “attention economy” whereby traditional wealth is becoming less important than the ability to capture people’s attention (Gauntlett 2000).

The idea of the attention economy does, however, underestimate the power of people with money to buy attention. With people now able to pay for fake social media followers, it is no longer valid to assume that the attention economy will completely replace monetarily-based capitalist economies. Rather than becoming irrelevant, money will become an essential source of competitive advantage as online attention-seeking become more mainstream.


Digital artefact:

The implications of the attention economy are evident in my digital artefact project. In an age of information overload and limited attention spans, it is increasingly difficult to attract and sustain people’s attention. This is particularly the case on content-push platforms such as Facebook and Twitter whereby users scroll through long news feeds expecting ‘instant gratification’.

The challenge to attract attention is further compounded by the nature of the content I produce – cat-related media. The plethora of cat videos, memes, gifs and photos on the Internet intensifies the competition for scarce attention. At the same time, however, this could also be an advantage of my project. After all, cats’ famously reserved and withholding personalities naturally seduce us into playing closer attention to them (Stein 2012).

For my project, I need to understand what will and will not attract genuine attention. Creating content that reveals startling statistics – such as the millions of cats that are euthanised every year – is likely to turn people away. Instead, my content needs to be emotionally authentic, resonating with audiences in a way which compels people to consider adoption. This will be the key to creating content that is noticeable and engaging.

Reference List:

Domjen, B 2014, ‘Celebrity cheats exposed in ‘fake Instagram followers’ scam’, Daily Telegraph, 12 December, accessed 28 August 2015, <>.

Gauntlett, D 2000, Web.Studies: Rewiring media studies for the digital age, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Goldhaber, MH 1997a, ‘Attention Shoppers!’, On Newsstands Now, iss.5.12, accessed 28 August 2015, <>.

Goldhaber MH 1997b, ‘The Attention Economy and the Net’, First Monday: Peer-Reviewed Journal On The Internet, vol.2, no.4, <>.

McDonagh, R 2015, ‘Following behind! Kim Kardashian has gained four Instagram followers every THREE SECONDS since THAT belfie picture in February’, Daily Mail Australia, 10 August, accessed 28 August 2015, <>.

Siebert, V 2015, ”Take that Kimye!’ Kendall Jenner taunts sister Kim after her heart-filled hair snap overtakes the selfie queen’s wedding photo for the highest number of likes on Instagram’, Daily Mail Australia, 27 June, accessed 28 August 2015, <>.

Stein, P 2012, ‘Why Do Cats Run the Internet? A Scientific Explanation’, New Republic, 1 March, accessed 28 August 2015, <>.


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