September 9, 2019

Dealing with the Short Attention Span on Social Media

Social media is often blamed for people’s short attention span. However, it can also be turned the other way around: people’s short attention span is modifying the way we communicate on social media. In fact, in our shaped-by-smartphone world, consumers value immediacy, relevance, and convenience.

Social media is often blamed for people’s short attention span. However, it can also be turned the other way around: people’s short attention span is modifying the way we communicate on social media. In fact, in our shaped-by-smartphone world, consumers value immediacy, relevance, and convenience. So how can social media marketing adapt to this kind of audience? There are tactics to adopt in both content and format to achieve good performance for your company’s social accounts, or those of your clients. In this article, we’re going to have a look at some techniques that adapt to today’s audiences.

1. Keep it simple and clear

On social media, everything moves fast. For this reason, a post shouldn’t require too much thinking to trigger liking, sharing or commenting. Don’t confuse “keep it simple” with the type of tone you use. Those are two separate things. In fact, if you’re managing the account of a bank, you often can’t have a light-hearted and casual tone — but can still use simple syntax. The Twitter account of the National Bank of England is doing a great job at this.

Overall, their phrasing is simple and clean, but at the same time, they use a tone that is still suitable for a bank.

2. Keep it short and sweet

Something also to point out is the length of the text. Shorter posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have higher engagement than longer ones. People look for easy content to read and something that engages without too much effort, therefore, these platforms have features that allow an immediate way of communicating. Twitter offers a “thread” function, which means you tell stories or messages through a chain of tweets. You can immediately guess why threads perform better than a pre-scheduled tweet. It’s about immediacy and relevance. It catches attention because people want to see what comes next in the story, and they’re easy to consume, just like videos. Here’s an example of how a thread works.

Instagram offers “stories”, an immediate and ephemeral way to communicate with followers. This platform is mainly centered on the visual impact, thus it is suggested to spend time on an entertaining video/picture rather than writing a great caption underneath. Therefore, even if the character limit is 2,200, social media experts suggest to keep it around 125 characters. This is due to the fact that captions longer than that aren’t shown completely, and one would have to tap on “read more”, which is highly unlikely these days.

Facebook behaves in a similar way. Experts at BuzzSumo point out that “Facebook consumption is extremely passive, and attention spans are short. You need to be able to grab people’s attention quickly and effectively if you want to be noticed.” They suggest to use catchy pictures and keep the caption under 100 characters. Let’s not forget though that longer posts are good for SEO, and that you should always test what works for your own audience. If there is already a certain level of loyalty, as people know that your long posts are high-quality and they know that there’s an intrinsic benefit from reading them, then the length shouldn’t be reduced. When you form a trust relationship with the audience, it’s easier to get high engagement with long posts too.

For LinkedIn, the dynamic is different mainly because it’s a social platform designed for professionals who want to share knowledge and news. Writing long posts is actually recommended in the best practices for Linkedin: “People like to read long-form content on LinkedIn — 1,900 to 2,000 words long” says Noah Kagan, social media expert. However, there’s a certain type of content that is favored: how-to posts and list-style posts. The reason why these two formats perform well, it’s because they’re easy to consume and understand. “How-to” titles trigger the attention because people immediately associate the post with an intrinsic benefit from reading it. They could learn something new from it so extract further benefits. The “list-style” posts are designed in a way that is appealing to the human brain: short points that are easy to mentally process and integrate in one’s pre-existing knowledge about the topic.

3. Use video content

Videos have demonstrated to be highly engaging on social media, because of the ease of information consumption that they allow and the emotions they trigger. Emotions are the way to connect with people on social media, what else could be more powerful than them? Therefore, videos have to tell a story, trigger oxytocin in the brain, the neurochemical responsible for empathy. Think about John Lewis’ Christmas commercials: these videos are real tear-jerkers! The high engagement on this tweet says it all.

Emotions and immediate access to them are key to the success of social media. Think about Instagram stories: the most used function of the platform, growing 15x over feeds. Their success has not only to do with the format (short video) but also with their perceived genuineness. “Stories feel real, immediate, and intensely personal” claim Hootsuite experts. Many big companies are adopting stories to make people feel closer to their brand because it’s a highly flexible functionality and can serve different types of business (from serious corporations to hand-made jewelry shops).

So, it’s a fact: video content helps to catch the attention and often leads to higher engagement on social media, however, there are contraindications too. For instance, videos that automatically start playing on the home page can annoy people, rather than engage them. In this case, one needs to tailor the video usage according to the type of audience and social platform.

These were some of the suggestions to deal with today’s social media audiences. The attention-span is probably going to worsen in the near future, so social media platforms are metaphorically racing against the clock, and we’ll see what new tricks come out. THE RELEVANCE HOUSEsocial media team is constantly updating methods and strategies to keep algorithms happy and numbers green.

Photo credits:

Image by on Freepik
Official Bank of England Twitter account
Official John Lewis Twitter account

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