Michael Cox is one of few individuals I have identified as ‘attention-era stars’. Cox is a blogger, administrator of Zonal Marking, a ‘….website about football tactics & on-pitch stuff,’ according to his twitter page:
Cox is also a freelance writer for many other sports websites, such as ESPN, and The Guardian newspaper. Cox started writing on Zonal Marking in late 2009, making the blog a little less than 3 years old. A bit of research reveals that, prior to starting up his blog, Cox was writing for ESPN, covering football in the Australian ‘A-League’. This began in October of 2006, and continued for about one and one-half years. Cox’s last ‘A-league’ post was written in late February, 2008.
I have no clue what Cox was up to in between his last ESPN post covering Australian football in ’08, and his first post on Zonal Marking in late Fall 2009. But the arc of Cox’s career is pretty clear: Cox – a sportswriter – honed his craft on the
platform that is ESPN.com, before deciding to ‘go independent’ with his own platform, a blog.
That is the first ‘law’ of attention-stardom: independence. The most obvious advantage of an aspiring star being ‘independent’ of corporate oversight is freedom. Cox clearly had a decent gig going with ESPN covering Australian football. But he also clearly had other ideas about what he wanted to write. Would Cox have been able to launch a Zonal Marking-like column within the universe of espn.com? Maybe. It might have resembled something like the old “Page 2′ section maintained by Bill Simmons (before he too went independent):
I remember Page 2 being one of the main reasons I would visit ESPN.com. The difference between Simmons’ ‘world’ within the wider ESPN universe was a sense of ‘sensibility’ or personality. On Page 2, Simmons was granted the freedom to write about sports, but also combine other aspects of popular culture into his columns. The result was that Page 2 felt much more ‘robust’ than the rest of the website, which was basically uniform in font and format.
Bill Simmons felt he could ‘do more’ within the ESPN universe to expand its horizons. Michael Cox felt he could do more to expand his own horizons. On Halloween of 2009, Cox’s first ‘tactics’ post went up on Zonal Marking, followed by two more over the next four days. His subject had switched from Australian football, to football in his native England: the Premier League. Cox had created his own ‘stage’ upon which to perform.
Zonal Marking was obviously a success. Fast forward one year – to late 2010 – and Cox resurfaced on ESPN.com as a freelance contributor, writing posts similar to the stuff he was writing on Zonal Marking. In other words, Cox now dictated the type of content he would write to the various outlets who wanted his ‘contributions’. He might also have been in position now to dictate the fee these outlets would pay him. This is of coure the ‘...where attention flows, money will follow,’ rule of Attention Economics. The UK newspaper , the Guardian also tapped Cox to post for its website as well:
And so it has continued since then. During soccer season, Cox watches matches across Europe (and sometimes globally) , writes what he feels like on his Zonal Marking blog, as well as other interesting articles on a multitude of other websites. He appears on radio, and sometimes tv / online videos taling about football-related topics. Thus, from the single, independent platform he himself created – Zonal Marking – , Cox has become a fixture on many platforms. Readers who come across his work on more mainstream outlets such as ESPN may follow Cox to his blog and become fans of the writer. He has taken a unique concept – articles on football tactics and statistical analysis – that is underrepresented in the media, and become the ‘star’ of it. And, like all people who become ‘stars’, Cox has fans. Unlike many people who become stars, however, Michael Cox devotes a lot of personal time to interacting with his fans. This he does through Twitter:
Twitter is an emerging medium that is still misunderstood by a lot of people. It is often described alongside Facebook, and other sites as a ‘social media’ site, but such a description is too vague to capture the essence of Twitter. Each ‘social media’ website has its own culture, or zeitgeist.The zeitgeist of Facebook is ‘family’, or one’s ‘neighborhood’. It is a site where one connects themselves to people they definitely know. Twitter is nothing like this. One doesn’t follow his or her mother simply because she may have a Twitter account. Yet this is likely how many people new to Twitter use the service. Many people approach to Twitter is to just randomly ‘follow’ other people, with little rhyme, reason, or logic. This is most commonly done when people -often new to Twitter – choose to follow the biggest celebrities and performers’ accounts. Here are the ‘most followed’ twitter accounts to date:
The 7 stars shown here all have many millions of mostly-anonymous fans following them. The most popular ‘tweeter’ , Lady Gaga, tweets on average a few times every day. The same can be said for the 2nd most-followed celeb, Justin Bieber:
So, with over 2o million fans following these two mega-stars, supposedly for a ‘new and cool’ , more personal way in which to interact with their idols, followers of Gaga and Bieber get a couple of ‘tweets’ a day. Often times, the tweets are merley anouncements of tour dates or performances, or random musings the stars felt like writing. Bieber does a lot more correspondence with his account than Lady Gaga, but with such a paltry number of tweets per day, there are millions of ‘fans’ for whom following stars like these is pretty pointless.
And that is not the purpose of Twitter. Twitter is a ‘star-fan-correspondence’ medium. It is a place that a fan can go to ‘catch up’ with whatever the stars they follow are doing. It is therefore incumbent upon these stars to be available for their fans regularly.
Michael Cox is currently on break, as his updated Twitter page states. If one were to check his blog, one will see that Cox’s last post came soon after the conclusion of the EuRO 2012 tournament, just over one month ago:
Now, what a savvy fan of Cox – such as myself – would have been doing for the past month , is scrolling down a bit on the blog, and clicking Cox’s Twitter link. On Cox’s Twitter, a fan would have been informed by Cox about articles he has written in places they might not know about, and would be provided with the links to such places. Fans would also be in correspondence with Cox, who seems to almost always reply to tweets ‘at’ him. Lady Gaga – 28 million followers – averages about 4 tweets daily. Michael Cox – 74,000 followers – averages 60 tweets daily.
This stark contrast in the fan-correspondence of ‘mega stars’ like Lady Gaga, and ‘micro stars’ such as Michael Cox highlights the difference in attitude of the old and new-style performers. Old-style performers like Gaga, who produce pop-culture to be bought by anonymous masses she will never meet ,and has little in common with, will begin to fade in importance in the attention era. With transparancy and accessibility likely to be of increasing imortance to fans, the lack of openness displayed by mega stars like Gaga will only serve to make them more forgettable. A tool such as Twitter exists precisely as a means for stars to say to their fans ‘I’m still here, and here’s what I’m doing.’ If the above is any indication, it will be the less-corporatized, independent operators such Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox that reap the biggest rewards from properly applying the laws of ‘attention’ in this point in history. Cox has a platform he is the ‘face’ of , and has grown through his own hard work, and he has utilized the medium of Twitter as a means to create synergy with the fans he has attracted. That is the template of the ‘attention-era star’..