Are you smarter than a goldfish? Attention spans and the 8-second rule
Recently, I installed a new Google Chrome plugin that blocks out certain sites that tend to eat up my time. I figured it will help me stay focussed at work and improve my productivity.
A fun feature of this particular app is that it has a counter for every time you try to access a particular blocked site. By the end of my first work day, to my horror, the block counter for Youtube had climbed to 26.
I’d flicked over to Youtube 26 times in one day without even noticing.
This made me curious about how my attention span and work habits had changed in the digital age. Was I always this unfocused? Or, has a fast-paced, over-stimulated work life affected me on a deeper level than I thought?
The more research I did into attention spans and the internet, the more fascinating the picture started to become.
The 8-second attention span
In 2015, Microsoft released findings from a study on Canadian consumers of digital content. Assessing 2000 participants, they found that the average attention span of the average user had dropped from 12 seconds (in they year 2000) down to 8 seconds. Officially, digital users could hold their attention for less time than a goldfish.
With the exponential rise in sources of information, our attention is constantly split between a multitude of different inputs. As the study says, consumers are ‘less effective at filtering out distractions – they are increasingly hungry for something new’. This effect is compounded by multi-screen information access – the fact that everyone has an advanced media processing machine in their pocket at all times. The overall effect is that it has become far more difficult for users to stay focused on a single task for extended periods.
The rise of rich media
This isn’t, Microsoft claims, necessarily a bad thing for marketers. It states that “tech-savvy consumers are actually getting better at processing information and encoding it to memory”. This simply means that in order to be successful we need to adapt to more immediate forms of communication.
It seems like short, punchy methods of communication are the order of the day, and that rich media sources like video, animation, and interactive web platforms increase the chances of keeping your customer’s attention. In general, attention is less likely to manifest itself as sustained periods of intake and more likely to appear as short bursts of extreme focus.
Something we can draw from this research is that text, or at least, long reams of content, is not going to absorb the reader as effectively as it used to. One of the reasons we love video is that the bright colours, fast movement, and emotional messaging helps to grab and hold attention. Video provides a narrative platform for emotional engagement with an audience and helps to deliver the key information in a way that’s stimulating and memorable.
That’s why it’s so good at encouraging your audience to make the right purchasing choice. A well-written video calls out to your audience, jolts them to attention, and draws them in.
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