What does shareable content mean for our attention span?

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An infographic appeared in The Drum’s digital section earlier today, which has been put together by Bell Pottinger Wired based on stats and quotes from Forrester, Mashable and Cisco, to name but a few. Like any hardworking public relations agency then, we couldn’t help but consider what it contains.
Unsurprisingly, the post, entitled ‘Digital Statistics for 2014‘, has more than a few references to content marketing. Already a buzzword (or phrase), it’s amongst the most talked about areas of marketing today, not least thanks to the rise of native content. The idea is pinned on a principle that creating content that is likely to be shared is a great way to push out brand messages and increase a company’s online presence.
Content marketing could be the creation of an infographic such as Bell Pottinger Wired’s, which contains a direct and blatant reference to the firm responsible. Native content is more regularly used to describe what’s currently funding websites like Buzzfeed and The People, wherein businesses create shareable content that isn’t so obviously linked to the firm, and it always refers to content hosted on a third party website, i.e. news or entertainment news.
There are plenty of merits to mention, not least the potential for publishers to use native content online in the same way they have advertorials in print. Analyses show that well written articles, for example, can be far more influential than any traditional advert, and as such a web-based magazine could well see its revenue stream increase as a result of offering space for native content.
But there’s a problem; namely the potential impact of delivering an increasing amount of short-form, quick to digest content. Even if we’re talking about neutral, editorial posts, or videos created by the public and uploaded to Vine, the proliferated mantra has long been ‘less is more’. Yet this surely risks lowering attention spans, and makes it more likely people will begin avoiding longer work, irrespective of how important the information therein actually is.
At the beginning of this month, MailOnline ran a story under the headline ‘Proof of our shrinking attention span‘, stating how the average person switches between devices 20 time in one hour, and uses three gadgets within that period. Unsurprisingly, Google has welcomed this phenomenon, which it calls ‘constant connectivity’. And whilst the idea of flitting between several sources of eternal information doesn’t instantly sound that worrying, the habit-forming nature of electronic behaviour means there could well be a downside too. In short, the more we get used to consuming information through less words and fewer seconds of video, the more we are at risk of beginning to expect all information to be delivered in this way, when obviously there are huge differences between that piece on ’10 reasons the English love tea’ and an overview of a new government white paper.