By: Rebecca It takes approximately five-and-a-half hours to fly direct from San Francisco to Boston. If you’re traveling with small children, that’s enough time for them to play three games of Uno, watch one terrible Disney movie starring George Clooney, argue over whether or not it’s worth practicing math facts during summer vacation, read an entire book from the “Big Nate” series, chew through a pack of gum, order overpriced snacks from the flight attendant – twice – and complain about boredom. Small children have small attention spans. But as it turns out, so do the rest of us. Earlier this year, Microsoft released a study suggesting that those of us living “digital lifestyles” are slashing our ability to concentrate. In 2000, tests showed the average human could focus on one thing for approximately 12 seconds. In 2015, it’s eight seconds, according to researchers. By point of reference, goldfish can reportedly focus for about nine seconds (perhaps because they can’t interrupt themselves to see what’s happening on Twitter). What does this mean for those of us creating content for humans in 2015? You better make some seriously engaging stuff if you hope to hang onto your readers past your 200th word or so. Here are a few brief (of course) strategies to engage with audiences likely to drift away in 10…9…8…
Don’t be boring. Don’t write boring headlines. Don’t write boring metadescriptions. Don’t use SAT words when slang will help you make stronger connections with readers. Above all: don’t waste people’s time. If what you’re creating is purely self-serving dreck that has no hope of helping any reader anywhere with anything, stop.
Give audiences easy ways in. Every goldfish needs some plastic plants and ornamental gravel to keep the round-and-round routine interesting. Adorning your content isn’t just a matter of aesthetics. Images, catchy subheads, listicles and other easy-entry points help move readers into and through your content.
You might write an amazing 1,000-word article for a top-tier publication, but not all of your targets are up for that kind of commitment. Some will stick with you through a 400-word blog post, though. Others will do better with an image-heavy SlideShare presentation or an infographic. Some will give you enough time to share a series of tweets. Repurpose your message for different platforms and different attention spans.
My strategy for flying cross-country with kids is to bring enough activities on board to change things up every 15 minutes or so if I have to. Unfortunately, the attention spans modern marketers face are even briefer. While there will always be a place for long-form content in journalism, PR and marketing, content creators need to recognize that those “big rock” content pieces can’t be the only bait. To reel in more readers – and hold their attention – you’ll need to keep short attention spans in mind. Learn why your PR team should drive your content strategy.
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