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4 lessons for an increasingly online-driven world
2015-06-23

The average adult’s attention span is now eight seconds—officially shorter than a goldfish’s.
Not only are our attention spans shorter, we’re accessing more information. According to Randy Bennett, director of entrepreneurship and partnerships at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, the average American uses four devices to get the news, and almost 70 percent of Americans under 30 get their news from social media.

News isn’t the only thing we’re bombarded with: Bennett says that on average, each adult sees 300 to 500 marketing messages each day.

What can communications professionals do to cut through all that noise?

Bennett and his university partners created a collection of pieces called “Captivate.” The most popular posts include insights on how to effectively tell stories, create meaningful interaction with consumers, use proper marketing techniques and measure your efforts online.

Here are four lessons all communications pros can embrace to better their brands’ social media campaigns:

1. Engagement is all about giving your consumers exactly what they want.

“We live in a world where many sites try to get attention any way they can,” says Ryan Singel, co-founder of Contextly.

These methods include hashtag jacking, clickbait headlines and content stealing with minimal attribution. When PR and marketing pros resort to those strategies, Singel says, they miss the most important question: “How do you convince people with choices to return to your publication?”

The answer lies in serving your audience.

Singel says whether you love or hate Buzzfeed, the publication’s team has “done an extraordinary job thinking deeply about their audience.” Buzzfeed’s founder, Jonah Peretti, explains how the site’s editors do it:

When we have something that’s a hit, usually our response is not, let’s do more of those. Our response is, let’s figure why this is a hit and make variations of this. This was successful because it was tied to someone’s identity, it was successful because it had cats in it, or it was successful because it had humor, or it was successful because it tapped into nostalgia. If you’re making entertainment content, which is a big part of what we do, you look at that hit and you say: “Why was that successful? Can I do it again? Can I make something else that people really love and want to share?”

If you want to get loyal fans that keep coming back to your content, you should figure out what they want and consistently produce high-quality content that meets their desires.

2. Telling good stories is crucial.

“Google the term ‘storytelling in business’ and you’ll get 17 million results,” says Rob Beinsenbach, a corporate communications consultant and business writer. “Yet one question goes unanswered in most of these reports: What exactly is a story?”

According to Beinsenbach, it’s not a customer testimonial, nor an emotionally packed picture. Instead, a story is a “character in pursuit of a goal in the face of some challenge or obstacle,” and every brand manager can tell one. Beinsenbach says:

While some people play fast and loose with the definition of story, others are intimidated and think storytelling is just for the experts.

But I’ve found that with a simple structure, anyone can tell a decent story. We may not reach the heights of Mark Twain or Martin Scorsese, but that’s okay. No weekend golfer expects to play like Tiger Woods.

Beinsenbach says brand journalists can create a story by first thinking of their audiences’ challenges and then finding a character—a historical figure, co-worker or consumer—to overcome one of them.

From there, you should “find the emotional core” and “cut the fat” until you have a polished story that your audience can relate to.

3. Don’t just sell products; cater to the needs of your audience.

Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, describes the battle that marketing pros face today:

Brands are under siege, finding it ever harder to command premiums and retain loyalty. Only 23 percent of consumers in a 2012 Corporate Executive Board study said they have a relationship with a brand. Another study showed the majority of people worldwide wouldn’t care if more than 73 percent of brands disappeared tomorrow.

Does the increasing use of technology and overabundance of content mean brand managers are sentenced to getting only scraps of their consumers’ attention? If you’re purely clamoring for attention, the answer is yes.

“The path for marketers wanting to kindle brand power and loyalty has less to do with functional elements such as distribution and advertising, and more to do with emotional fulfillment,” Roberts says.

Marketers will stand out from the crowd if they participate in online conversations with consumers, create and share visual content, are quick with engagement opportunities, and pack an emotional punch with their messages.

4. In the race to measure, don’t lose sight of what’s important.


Matt Boggie, executive director of The New York Times research and development group, says the quality of your content can get lost in the fervor of social media measurement, analytics and SEO.

However, it’s the quality of your stories that will keep people coming back for more. Boggie explains:

Time spent on a story is not necessarily related to its cultural import, its reach, or its ability to change a user’s mind. These are—and have always been—the things we all most want to measure, and the things hardest to measure about journalism. Whether a story is spread through print, websites, mobile applications, or watch-sized glances, it is the quality of the story and the clarity with which it’s told that reaches hearts and changes minds.

Though PR and marketing pros should look at engagement metrics such as the number of shares or time spent on a particular Web page, don’t become so obsessed with these analytics that you lose sight of important campaign goals.

“Making content with which people want to spend time is critically important,” Boggie says. “Telling stories in new ways, from new perspectives and with new voices, helps build trust in a publisher’s brand so that the next enticement a reader is presented is more likely to be acted upon.”

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Vivian Li

PR Manager

Tel: +86 010 8390 7451

Mobile: +86 13041030670