Most of the content vying for our attention in social media campaigns these days is fleeting. You might see it for only a split second to begin with. And, if the message is designed to stoke your fear of missing out on something new and amazing (a.k.a. FOMO), the entire experience becomes one driven by a person’s willingness -- and ability -- to react quickly, take action now, and generally speaking, not think too hard about what they’re doing. The downside of this kind of content is that it’s often forgettable and usually meaningless.
Not everyone has a product that lends itself to time-sensitive marketing and discounts, so for many companies, using FOMO social strategies isn’t just a mistake, but a pretty significant missed opportunity. Besides: When’s the last time you encountered branded social media marketing content that not only made you pause but made you act?
Many social media marketers and other content creators operate under the assumption that their target audiences can’t pay attention to anything. It’s not that hard to understand why; the average person faces a constant deluge of streaming content, social media updates, and “disruptive” product announcements, all vying for our attention across every channel and multiple devices. But, it’s also true that people willingly binge-consume content they like, whether it’s Snapchat streaks or the latest Netflix original. And that’s where the big disconnect between modern social media marketing and audience behavior lives.
That disconnect isn’t a mystery, either. In fact, it’s the business version of something that all of us do pretty much every day: tell a story. It’s important to note, too, that not all marketers are missing it; there have been tons of standout examples of social media storytelling in recent years that have gone viral, and for good reason. Some examples include Airbnb’s Webby Award-winning animated short “Wall and Chain,” Land Rover’s digital adventure story, “The Vanishing Game,” Google India's tearjerker “Reunion” video, or the bone-chilling “Dear David” ghost story from Buzzfeed, storytelling has flooded the marketing sphere. Yet many social media marketers are still creating campaigns that lack any type of storytelling, relying instead on outdated tactics and then wondering why they fail to make an impact. Those campaigns are falling flat because people’s attention spans aren’t non-existent, shrunken, or fractured -- they’re evolving, and have given us all higher standards for what we consider worthy of our time.
The trifecta of audience engagement: Story, dialogue and visuals that wow
Findings in Prezi's 2018 State of Attention Report, suggest that we’re all simply becoming more selective about the content we consume, partly out of necessity and partly by choice. That means social media marketers and other content creators need to rethink their engagement strategies if they want their campaigns to actually catch fire and keep on spreading.
The study found that six in 10 business professionals report being able to give a piece of content their undivided attention more today than they could just one year ago. Meanwhile, 55% of respondents said that, for content to be considered engaging and worth their attention, it needs to tell a great story.
But, as critical as storytelling is, it’s not the only thing content requires to be considered great. Dialogue and visuals are also key, particularly when it comes to presentations. A simple formula for success, right? Not exactly. Here's why:
The story must be compelling. The people who make up that 55% of respondents who said a great story is what captures their attention weren’t just talking about adding “once upon a time…” to the beginning of your ebook or presentation. Like many things, storytelling is an art and a science, and there are dos and don’ts to consider.
The visuals must be gripping. Stand-out visuals, including animations and dynamic graphics, are critical for engaging audiences, according to one-third of professionals surveyed.
The dialogue must be stimulating. Forty-one percent of respondents said this element is essential for keeping audiences interested in the content being presented to them.
Many social media campaigns get some of these things right — especially the gripping visuals part — but they often fail to hit all three. They don’t capture and hold the audience’s attention.
Mastering the trifecta: A must for winning over today’s audiences
Making a meaningful connection with consumers through social media can have a direct and powerful impact on the bottom line. The risk of missing the mark with social media campaigns is high, however, given the vast amount of content that users encounter in these channels. And, most of that content isn’t living up to people’s growing expectations.
Content that tells a great story is far from a passing fad, and it seems that millennials’ expectations have a lot to do with that. Having grown up on a diet of instantly available information and the social media revolution, they expect content to be interactive, visual, and engaging. In fact, more than one-third of the millennials who responded to the survey said they only engage with content they feel has a great story or theme.
So, that’s the challenge: develop compelling stories or narratives that grab people’s attention and stay top of mind. Assuming that your audience doesn’t have a functioning attention span is a major mistake. They do. No matter the target audience you want to reach, or what age demographic they fall into, content that encompasses these three core elements is significantly more likely to attract, engage, and trigger your audience to take action.
And for those social media marketers and content creators who don’t feel the need to embrace this shift? It’s time to start paying attention.
Stefanie Grossman heads up the brand marketing team at Prezi. She steers the course as her team works toward helping people create more compelling, engaging, and memorable visual stories. Prior to Prezi, she helped build great brands including Popchips, Revlon and Dannon. She has a Masters in Business Administration from the Tuck School at Dartmouth College and an undergraduate degree from Duke University.