The marketer’s challenge of the shrinking attention span

The marketer’s challenge of the shrinking attention span

Claire Walker

Claire Walker

Nowadays, attention span is one of the scarcest commodities we have in modern society. Online life can be addictive and endless, with perpetual anticipation of the next big thing and every brands’ reputation on the line. With this in mind, now is the perfect time to start prioritising and shaping your comms, with authentic and captivating PR strategies. Maintaining your company’s reputation, demonstrating your positive culture, and looking after your own workforce will ensure people are tuned in and listening.  

Attention span is defined as the ‘amount of concentrated time on a task without being distracted’. Scientifically, they call it ‘attention failure’, essentially investigating why cognitively we reach for our phones with such ease and frequency at every point in the day. Attention spans are shrinking, with some reports suggesting that humans are 25% less engaged than they were only a few years ago.  

Researchers in Denmark studied a range of media types; from movie ticket purchasing habits, popular books, Tweets, as well as Wikipedia attention time. What they found was that the hotness of topic, time in the public sphere, and desire for a new topic vary greatly and depend on the media type. As an example, Twitter is currently fixated on the recent Elon Musk board scandal but people will quickly move on to the next thing. Those doing a deep dive on Wikipedia are engaged for far longer.  

How can we overcome this attention span deficit? By moving to briefer, personalised, and authentic comms to engage distracted audiences and create content that is evergreen that won’t be caught up in the trend cycle. Not just with audiences, but with your internal comms too. Using engaging internal comms strategies to hold attention will also ensure this is reflected externally.  

Positivity engages audiences, and shines your reputation  

Positive content is more viral. Authentic and original human stories based on relationships will stand out from the crowd.  

Brandon Stanton, the creator of the viral storytelling account Humans of New York, emphasises when writing his personal profiles that he does not describe people in adjectives, but rather describes actions of their life. After all, actions do speak louder than words. Looking across his portfolio of work on social channels (with 20 million followers), he notably gets right to the point, with little explanation or introduction. Your audience is smart enough to get the gist.  

The journey of a good narrative in comms  

Researchers found that people read information on paper vastly differently than online, as the amount of data to absorb on a singular page in a book is far less than a busy webpage. The slow and linear journey of a book is why it is so pleasing to race towards the end (no spoilers, please!). Your online content should follow suit, and always engage in a complimentary, moving narrative journey.  

It seems obvious, but the simplicity of the beginning, middle and end with challenges addressed by solutions, is just the way our brains like to consume. So, when you’re creating content and communicating with your audiences this year, remember to get back to basics. And don’t check your phone whilst writing it- resist the urge, if you can.  

Interested in more on reputation shaping and online reputations? See here for our resources from making the most of content to measuring your PR efforts.  

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