Turtl Throwback Topic: The human attention span

Estimated reading time
4 minutes
4th July 2022
Author: Sabrina Stubbs
Posted in: Content Distribution & Promotion, Content Operations, Content Production, Psychology & Science, Strategy & Planning

Back in early 2021, we looked at the widely reported—and widely debunked—myth of the eight-second human attention span and the problems it causes for marketers.

We looked at the concept of the shrinking human attention span. We explored how digital environments make it harder to apply the most effective kinds of attention.

Since then, the snackable content trend hasn’t just continued—it’s exploded. In the last year alone, the quarterly active user base of TikTok (the platform that’s played the biggest role in the growth of hyper-snackable video content) has almost doubled from 812 million to nearly 1.4 billion

Has an overabundance of snackable content left us hungry?

We’re consuming more snackable content than ever before. According to HubSpot’s 2022 Marketing Industry Trends report, short-form video is now the primary form of media used within any content strategy. Supporting research also shows that the shortest videos tend to generate the highest engagement rates

The question is, what kind of engagement is that content really generating? Anyone that has ever binged a bunch of eight-second videos, only to find two hours have ticked by can attest; binging content is like binging on snacks. You consume a lot. But you still feel a vague sense of emptiness – with a side of guilt. 

So, what marketers really need to assess is whether the deluge of snackable content they’re creating is contributing to conversions or simply fueling a culture of endless scrolling that negatively impacts consumer mental health

Snackable content gets attention. But does it get results?

In its 2022 B2B Content Marketing trends report, the Content Marketing Institute found that video is the number one area of content marketing investment. However, it’s just sixth in a list of the content types delivering the best results.

Long-form content types such as e-books, white papers, and research reports all ranked higher than video on the list. That reinforces the conclusion we drew last year that while great at grabbing attention, snackable content isn’t a replacement for deep, high-value resources.

Consumers still need in-depth and informative resources to get their teeth into after a topic has piqued their interest. If marketers only look at the statistics dominating the headlines, they could wrongly conclude that those essential types of content aren’t worth producing.

Snackable sentiment looks set to shift

When a 2019 study found that 90% of consumers prefer shorter content, many industry commentators attributed that shift in preferences to information overload. Exposed to too much for too long, our minds craved short, simple content.

While that may have been true at the time, an awful lot has changed since 2019. Since then, we have spent hundreds of hours locked indoors, scrolling and clicking through large volumes of snackable content. It’s an experience that many don’t look back on fondly. 

But, how widespread are options like this? Is anti-snackable sentiment more than anecdotal? It’s too early to tell. However, there are a few early indicators that are worth noting. 

Throughout 2022, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok—the primary channels where snackable (largely video) content is consumed—have all seen a significant downward trend in Net Promoter Score. It suggests that, while we’re snacking more, we’re growing increasingly dissatisfied with our choices.

Until now, much of the discussion around shrinking attention spans has focused on how marketers need to adapt to them. One critical point that’s been overlooked is how consumers themselves feel about it all. In 2022, the headlines are telling consumers that their attention isn’t shrinking, it’s being stolen. Unsurprisingly, many of them aren’t too happy about it.

Consumers are taking steps to reclaim their stolen attention. They’re limiting their screen time, deactivating social accounts, and even installing purpose-built apps just to restrict their scrolling and content consumption.

In that, lies a powerful lesson for marketers. It isn’t just that hyper-snackable content is so powerful that consumers need support to wean themselves off it.

Getting back to balanced content diets

For marketers, the biggest takeaway from all this is that we can’t afford to take consumer trends at face value. Firstly, we need to dissect what they’re really telling us. Secondly, apply those lessons to best practice – rather than funneling entire budgets in the content flavor of the week.

In the case of shrinking attention spans and growing appetite for snackable content, the lesson isn’t that all our content should take eight seconds to consume. The lesson is that it needs to be striking enough to grab attention within that first eight seconds. 

We should reassess how we structure headlines. Rather than turning our backs on white papers, we should look at how we visually present and personalize our content.

Snackable content is a great tool to have in your kit, used strategically as part of a balanced content strategy. Once it’s grabbed consumer attention, you’ll still need to provide that consumer with something more substantial to move them along a logical and engaging content journey.

By increasing the interactivity, personalization, and visual appeal of your content, you can harness the same psychological principles that make snackable content so engaging without sacrificing depth and detail. That’s the key to creating content that doesn’t just drive engagement, but converts that attention into the right results.

Turtl