the sky floor

The Eye-Opening Rise of the Really Short Attention Span

November 15, 2022

We have all heard the bad news; the average attention span is down to 8.25 seconds, down over 4 seconds, compared to a similar study from 2000. The rise of social media has significantly contributed to this trend. Our media is more addictive than ever and comes in shorter snippets. You have a split second to capture someone’s attention, or they will scroll to the next tok or reel. 

But I don’t think that is the whole story. Because if you know someone addicted to Tik Tok or Instagram, they will spend hours watching it. Even though the time per piece of media is brief, they spend concerted time with the overall experience. The average Tik Tok user spends over 1.5 hours daily on the platform! That is more than 40 hours per month. So the attention span is short per clip, but overall it is a part-time job. (Not to mention the creators and influencers hoping to capture your attention – they spend full-time working overtime creating media that appeals to a short attention span.)

So what’s the point? Don’t get too caught up in the short attention span game. As a marketer, you must consider if you are capturing attention, sure. But we know that if we make the overarching experience engaging, users will still spend time with your brand, content, product, or idea. 

I think of this like a pop song. There is a rule of three’s in music writing: your sound should have no more than three hooks at a time. The tendency is to layer and layer until it is a proverbial wall of sound, but three tasteful musical elements at a time let the listener focus in and bring them back for more. The next rule is to create dynamic variation in the arrangement. You want the sections of the song to be distinct; you can even have a musical element that only appears once throughout the song, so the listener needs to listen again to experience it. Once you layer these elements, you have created a song that keeps the listener’s attention, but it is still one song.  

Use the same method when you are fighting for attention in your marketing. Stay focused, and don’t introduce too many themes. Create variations on those themes to build and maintain interest. And don’t worry too much about the total attention required. Think of Tik Tok or the pop song; you have to bring variety to the viewer, but if you do it well, they will devote more attention than 8 seconds. 

Good news and bad news: attention spans are getting shorter, but some lessons are baked into the troubling trends about harnessing attention and using variety to your advantage. 

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