Humans vs. Goldfish: who is winning the attention span war?

We all know the study done by Microsoft: the rising popularity of smartphones, mobile data, messaging apps, and social media is the cause behind falling attention rates to fall below that of goldfish.

But there’s a twist!

Why is it that we can binge-watch a series on Netflix for six hours at a stretch – yet an hour’s business meeting can have us zoning out every 5 minutes?

Humans are simply becoming more selective about what we devote our attention to.

A survey from Source Global Research on the habits of business professionals backs this up. It showed that although short pieces of content can be popular, a significant number of people are still looking for substantial content. The research concluded that every format in fact has its audience. (see table below for more).

What’s more, research presented in Prezi’s 2018 State of Attention Report, found that well over half — 59 percent – of business professionals feel they can give a piece of content their undivided attention more so today than they could just one year ago. In addition, nearly half (49 percent) of respondents said they are more selective about the content they consume compared to the year previously.

The study also found that attention spans are not only intact across generations, but also expanding in younger generations.

This is something we have noticed particularly with our customers. Many organizations can struggle to communicate effectively and develop engaging content for their multigenerational workforce. This is especially true with millennials.

The issue is compounded as millennials are the largest generation in the workforce as of 2017.

It’s time knowledge sharing got personal

If you want to share knowledge with people, whether it’s employees, customers or a community with differing interests, how can you create content to grab and keep peoples’ attention? Three words. Make it personal.

Instead of painting everyone with the same brush and assuming we all have the attention spans of goldfish, content needs to be created to target individual preferences. Remember there’s an audience for every piece of content! But the underlying dilemma is how to execute this targeted approach. Why not take tips from your marketing department. For years, marketing has been creating content to cater to a range of audiences, with targeted approaches depending on the type of content.

You need to give people options. Where a long-printed report may work for someone on their commute – an infographic highlighting the key trends might work better for someone else who has ten minutes to cram before a big board meeting.

So why not give it to them?

What you can do today to grab attention with your content

Here are some actionable insights you can adopt today to make the way you share knowledge better for a more selective attention span.

1 – Repurpose, repurpose, repurpose

This cannot be stressed enough. That long report or article with important information can be chopped up into at least 10 other blogs, videos, infographics. Give people as many chances as possible to consume the takeaways.

2 – Use the tools you have available

Linking to the first point – you have done the hard bit and created a long piece of content you want to share. Now it’s the fun bit. Why not create a short video of the key points on your phone? Or ask a designer to create the story in an infographic. People are used to variety –give them the choice to consume in the format they prefer.

3 – Embed calls to action, be interactive, and build a digital experience

Knowledge sharing should be a dialogue, not a monologue. There are so many opportunities to make your content interactive and create a two-way flow of information. People are used to this experience on social media – so make the most of digital communities to drive adoption.

So who is really winning in the attention span war of humans vs. goldfish? Our bets are on the humans. We have the capacity to give our undivided attention to a research report on goldfish for hours or consume the latest celeb gossip quickly from a 5 minute video. It just comes down to how useful the content is to us personally and the time that we have available at that moment.

Give people the choice and you will find adoption of the information you are sharing skyrockets.