Become a beacon or risk being lost in the noisy, infinite digital horizon
Is your company, content, or personal efforts actively sought out for direction and guidance? Be a beacon of light and attract high value attention & trust directly - a potent way to grow.
The big thing for me is just continuing to be a beacon of hope. And showing people that nothing is impossible.
A beacon is an intentionally conspicuous device designed to focus attention on a specific location.
Visualize what image the word beacon conjures in your mind: perhaps a lighthouse casting vision onto an otherwise dark horizon, or a signal fire atop a hill illuminating the night sky. In the physical world, a beacon is used to draw attention, act as a guide, or call to action. Civilizations have long used them to rally citizens together, protect ships from coastlines, and act as signal points. There’s even the famous beacon scene in Lord of The Rings.
But the concept of a beacon is not limited to purely physical signaling points. There are beacons on the web – they are people, companies, networks, blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels; anything that can direct attention to something of importance.
You must become a beacon or you are essentially at the whim of others who point attention at their discretion, perhaps shining the light on you for fleeting moments…if you’re lucky. Far better to become an arbiter of attention in your industry or niche rather than forfeit this advantage to others.
The lighthouse example strikes me as the type of beacon most analogous to the web. A lighthouse works by passing light through a system of lenses, focusing and directing the signal, as illustrated in the image below:
This is similar to how beacons function online. The only difference is constructing an amplification lens to spread your messages on the web is less of an precise engineering challenge than the manufacturing of a lighthouse lens – it is a far more fluid process that must be ongoing. This is because the amplification lens is made up of your network, email distribution lists, media, search engines and social areas of the web, etc – many of which are fickle, breathing things in a seemingly constant state of flux. So, in such a changing environment you must bring it all together (in my industry, we call this ‘integrated marketing’ but you don’t need jargon to get this concept).
As Kevin Kelly, noted technologist and longtime observer of digital culture observes:
The fastest way to amp up the worth of your own network is to bring smaller networks together with it so they can act as one larger network and gain the total n2 value.
Architecting your beacon
A strategic, precise approach (the directed lens) is more effective than a diffusive presence. Imagine a coastline with many lighthouses casting diffused light in all directions – yet one is pouring focused light in only one. To all ships traveling down that path, it would be obvious where to go. Without specific, directed amplification, the light cast from a lighthouse is useless. Same with your messages. This speaks to the real value of your network and is why bigger is not better, a razor sharp approach highly luminous to key audience(s) should be the goal.
If damaged, light amplification lenses in lighthouses are near impossible to repair, and upkeep is time-intensive. This is true on the web as well, speaking to the importance of maintaining a strong digital reputation -perhaps the only thing any of us have that truly matters, and is nearly impossible to repair through brute force methods (such as throwing money at a problem).
The source of light (your communications) matters too. The amplification lens you create will only work with certain messages and creative, which must be carefully considered and only possible to create with a sophisticated team with deep knowledge of a category, users, preferred formats/styles etc. As architect of your network, you must also work to define effective processes and formulas and direct them through the lens you’ve built to condition the world that you are in fact a vital beacon.
Note: I’m not going to go into specific channel strategy for today’s post, as this varies by industry, sector and audience type. If you want some words on this, my primer on growth for indie publishers might be worthwhile in helping you determine where to ‘show up.’ For major brands, your team is more than capable of determining this.
Only room for so many beacons - but one can be you
If there were 1,000 lighthouse-strength directed beacons dotting the shoreline, on small nearby islands and even attached to other ships, that wouldn’t be very helpful for navigation. Thankfully while it seems like that’s the situation online (and to a good extent it is) users have full autonomy and choice to focus on ones that matter and shine in specific ways relevant and important to them (vs simply always being the loudest/brightest, unless your goal is to attract the human equivalent of goldfish, which I don’t think anyone reading this wants -otherwise just go make some prank videos and lists of 27 animals doing crazy things you won’t believe and call it a day).
Low quality attention trolls aside, (the opposite of a beacon!) high quality, focused user attention is of course finite, and the number of those attempting to become beacons of information and attention (even if they don’t think to call it this) is consistently going up. The battle to be the topic of the day, or even talked about at all in your industry or on a specific platform is relentless and fierce, and it’s not only media competing against each other but now brands and individuals now as well.
We’re all on the same playing field fighting for a fixed sum of attention (one could argue the scarcest, limited resource we have left). So, not everyone can become an important beacon - which enough of the right people will pay consistent and focused attention to. Only those distinctly and unmissably noticeable that add value we can’t find elsewhere earn such privilege. So in short, it’s extraordinarily difficult. But that’s exactly why it’s so valuable …hard things generally are.
With all that said, this is definitely possible to accomplish for those who invest appropriate effort, time and resource. I strongly believe it’s indeed difficult, but also a winnable game (those are usually the ones worth playing). For sure you can name the top % of people and companies in your category you’d consider beacons off the top of your head. I’m certain if you spoke with them over coffee, they’d agree it’s possible for you to join their ranks with enough work.
So, using the lighthouse analogy and bringing this together:
You must construct the most directed, effective amplification lens possible to power your beacon.
Only feed specific, appropriate content, connections, ideas, narratives and creative through the lens.
Remember, the internet is more an organic, evolving network than anything else (difficult to forcibly push things on) and change is constant, so if for some reason focus is lost, the lens must be malleable/able to change direction (plan for an ongoing development process, definitely not requiring daily adjustments, but certainly annually if not quarterly).
An ultra-high signal to noise ratio must be maintained – do not attempt amplification of 2nd best ideas or abuse the power of your beacon, (for example to placate a vanity request of a team member) for even a small amount of misuse could shatter previous effort and ensure you are ignored for a time, potentially forever if you do something really intractable or do not course correct quickly.
Protect the lens and it’s positioning once correct at all costs, it is extremely difficult to regain if lost (save for cases external forces dictate change, which we mentioned above). Also don’t let team members not intimately involved distort or redirect the focused light you’ve built.
Strengthen/sharpen the lens regularly based on what ships in the metaphoric “digital ocean” look like, so those you wish to be guided by the light pay attention. Along with this, consider if “new” ship captains (people brand new to a sector such as a younger cohort just entering the world) are attracted to a different style of light you’re not yet accounting for. It’s very possible to attract more than one type of persona (done with extreme care to not alienate the other).
I’ve been conceptual above on purpose because I want you to view the internet and attention through this lens while creating frameworks, as I think it’s a good one. The tactics are going to vary based on many factors so didn’t say much there as not to be prescriptive. And of course, your playbook should be tailored to your goals/brand and also difficult to replicate or reverse engineer.
I thought this was a fun analogy to clarify a way of thinking about how to stand out in a world of infinite choice. There are many others of course but the lighthouse/beacon analogy is one I think translates well to the challenges of marketing/comms professionals, individuals and businesses who wish to be seen, stand out and taken seriously.