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Shrinking Attention Spans?

Attention span of a goldfish

We’ve all heard the bad news. Our youth now have attention spans shorter than our pet goldfish. The average web surfer spends less than a minute on any given web page. What are communicators to do? Grab attention up front with a quick gimmick, keep things really short, and hope for the best?

What if this "bad news” actually masks a more difficult truth? After all, these same beings with attention spans supposedly less than 8 seconds are known to spend hours intensely playing video games and bing-watching Netflix. Thinking about this paradox, I realized how often I find myself avoiding potentially informative videos that take too long to get to the point — the inspiration for our “Hair Tutorial” above.

Today’s audiences actually have plenty of attention to give, but they are increasingly selective. Their interests are diverse and there is a lot of competition, so the bar is much higher. If your content is not relevant or if the delivery is boring, they will be gone quickly. So, it might just be your message that failed — not their attention span.

Audiences like video, which can be expensive to produce and so is often higher quality. It's easier to learn from information presented both verbally and visually. Videos are engaging — they can be entertaining, inspirational, relaxing, or help one feel more connected. Video is often easier to watch on mobile devices than reading text.

Having a video is not a slam-dunk for success, however. A poorly designed or produced video can actually be a negative. Some tips for success:

  • The first few seconds are important. Use them to introduce your topic and its value. Your audience will not continue to listen if it seems like a waste of their time.
  • Speak TO your audience, not just about your product, service or mission. Know your target audience well enough to explain how to solve their problem, improve their life, or otherwise make their watching worthwhile.
  • Invest in a quality production. Design your video so that the time required to watch it delivers more useful information than an equivalent time spent reading text. At minimum, it should have good audio, effective lighting and thoughtful editing. Informative graphics, a voice over, sound effects and music can also be helpful, depending on your message.
  • Understand how your video will be viewed and tailor it for those situations. Platforms tend support different communication styles and may have different requirements, such as length, file size and video aspect ratios. On many social channels, you video may be viewed without sound, making captions, drawings and other visuals more important.
  • Strategize and test as you would with any other communications investment. What are your goals for this video? How does it fit in with your audience’s experience with your brand? How will you reach your audience with it?

Jacquie Greff, author