Communicating in an Era of Digital Dominance & Information Overload


In an open letter last week defending the impacts of social media in general – and the platform he created, in particular – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg offered the following saying: “We always overestimate what we can do in two years, and we underestimate what we can do in ten years.”

Ten years ago, the routine that now seems so normal to us – checking our phones 50+ times a day; broadcasting our every thought online to strangers, many of which we confusingly call “friends”; spending six hours a day consuming digital media – would have been incomprehensible to our younger selves.

The result? According to a recent piece from the newly-launched Axios titled How Tech Ate the Media and Our Minds, “the human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to eight seconds since 2000, while the goldfish attention span is nine seconds.” As authors Jim VandeHei and Sara Fischer conclude, “we’ve been hit with more technological innovations than we are capable of responsibly handling.”

People are so overwhelmed with the deluge of online content that today nearly 60 percent of all social media posts are shared WITHOUT the sharer clicking through to the actual content.

Stop a moment and think about that. What drives people to share something they haven’t even read? A desire to be perceived as informed and in-the-know, without actually being either? Sheer digital exhaustion?

Whatever the answer, one thing is clear for communications professionals: now, more than ever before, we must find ways to ensure our clients’ messages, insights and unique points of view are breaking through the clutter, and actually capturing peoples’ shrinking attention.

So how do we reach a distracted audience with a “goldfish attention span” that is hit every day with more information than they could ever absorb – most of which they don’t trust in the first place? A few guiding thoughts:

1. Find a hook that grabs your target audience and shakes them out of their technology-induced comas. It may be a unique message, an unexpected messenger, or an interesting take on an issue that’s already trending online. It could be paired with an eye-catching graphic or attention-getting headline. Whatever it is, it is NOT the status quo.

2. Short is sweet. If people already aren’t reading 60% of the content they share online, longer is definitely not better. Cut to the chase, increase your views – and expand your impact.

3. Know your audience. What interests them, where they “live” online; which channels they trust, how they interact with their networks – and meet them where they are. This means taking advantage of sophisticated digital tools that increase efficiency and return on investment by identifying your most persuadable audiences at the granular level and talking directly to them.

The media and digital world we navigate today is unrecognizable compared to what it was just ten years ago. Imagine what the next 10 years has in store. One thing will be a constant, however: As communications professionals, our ability to adapt and to innovate – and, always, to cut through the clutter – will continue to be critical to the success of our clients in an era of digital dominance and information overload.