The human attention span is now less than that of a goldfish: dropping from 12 seconds at the dawn of the new millennium, to just 8 seconds in 2016. That comes as no surprise; we take in 34 gigabytes worth of information, outside of work, every day.
After all, we live in the age that the term 'spam' debuted its contemporary definition. Sorting through click bait and ads has quickly worn out human patients, producing a generation of word skimmers and stat winnowers: millennials.
As such, many media titans have seen rapidly falling viewerships and are struggling to adapt. On one hand, old school powerhouses in the likes of Fox, MSNBC, and CNN are battling to stay relevant. In the other, upstart media sites like Vox, Mic, and VICE are burgeoning in digital media.
Yet both parties alike face the same problem: people will only read 28 per cent of textual content. An even more overwhelming 95 per cent of surveyed respondents assert that they prefer short content to long form media.
I reached out to Vip Sitaraman, founder of GMTRY Inc., a rapidly-growing startup built around millennial media and marketing, to learn a bit more about how to effectively captivate younger audiences. To speak to Sitaraman's expertise in this space, at just 18-years-old, he is a college graduate and has raised venture funding for GMTRY.
How is news/digital media adapting to millennials?
If you look at the market, some relatively new players are rapidly dominating the news media space – and they all have one thing in common. Millions of Gen Y and Gen Z-ers get the majority of their curated content through assimilations of ultra-short form text, images and videos via Snapchat Discover channels.
At the same time, live video streams (ie. Periscope, Facebook Live) break news long before even newer media sites can pick up leads. The unifying recipe: visual news.
For any skeptics, let me give you some stats from my own experience as a sort of "narrative proof-of-concept." We started Explica, an infographic-based news site, about 2 weeks ago.
Our goal was to offer news with doggedly factual, politically faithless, and informedly provocative content through a visually-appealing but quickly-digestible medium, infographics. We're on track to match The Verge's first month numbers with over 450,000 unique views. If you're trying to get young people to read your content, use visuals.
If the key is visual media, the majority of marketers swear by video, but I will adamantly argue the value of infographics. We conducted low-level customer discovery test with several college students and observed them while they went through 2 - 3 Snapchat Discover channels. Over 90 per cent bounced from videos, but they would spend 37 per cent more time reading through content using the Buzzfeed-esque image + 140 characters recipe.
The biggest advantage of infographics is that they keep reader’s attention better than videos and gifs because they are self-paced. A study from 3 million found that visuals are 60,000 times faster than text. We're wired to take in visual scenes: it takes us just 13 milliseconds to process an image - - as opposed to 250 milliseconds for characters and symbols. Most importantly to those in media, visuals attract 94 per cent more social engagement.
What does this mean for marketing?
This visual revolution in news media has significant repercussions for the neighboring field of media marketing. Inbound marketing, since it's conception in the late 2000s by Brian Halligan, founder of HubSpot, has come to define the lowest cost-per-acquisition for inbound sales. With the fall of long form media readership, visual content marketing is going to define the field. I think the transition will begin with sponsored content, which has long been the bridge that married media with marketing.
I'm actually quoting an Entrepreneur article when I say this, "millennials want stories, not ads." The only addition I'd make is that millennials want short, inspiring stories; a great example of a media site taking advantage of this is Great Big Story. They were launched by CNN as a sort of answer to millennial media in 2015. They put out these super-short (under 3 minute) videos about an inspiring individual.
There's this wide-open space between click bait content that fits in 140 characters (Buzzfeed) but also isn't consistently painting a dystopian present (VICE), to roughly quote Chris Berend, CNN’s vice president for video development and the head of its digital studios and Andrew Morse, the executive vice president of editorial for CNN U.S. and GM of CNN Digital Worldwide.
Content marketers can easily take advantage of this to paint emotionally-connective, positive brand presences with visual media.
But people say infographics are dead/dying. What makes you think otherwise?
I've been in this space for about 4 years now, and my conversion rates on infographics have never changed. When I was sixteen, I ran a high school science blog, Draw Science, where I translated breaking-news science with novice infographics.
I remind people, this was a scrappy website built on Blogger, with a marketing spend of $0, created by a biologist with no formal design experience. 37 infographics, 1.2 million views, 9 countries and a successful crowdfunding campaign later, I was running a company.
The whole time I've been working on infographics, random news sources intermittently made this sweeping claim that infographics are dead. While I largely disagree with them, they're right to an extent: the quality of infographics has plummeted.
The market gives people one of two options: (a) super-cheap, horrible quality or (b) super-expensive, high quality--and both are super time-consuming. On one hand, it's relatively cheap to get a gaudily-colored, text-heavy "infographic" spit out by either an infographic design SaaS platform or somebody on Fiverr or Upwork or GrowthGeeks.
On the other, you have million dollar businesses like Visually charging upwards of $3,000 for one infographic.
It's part of the reason we started Infographit: to offer affordable and fast infographics (under $999, 24 hour delivery time). Within months, big names like Hillary Clinton, Soylent, American Scientist, and Tilt have used us. If you're looking to attract huge audiences, follow the decisions of people who already have them.
Nevertheless, the value of infographics is--again--in the fact that they are self-paced. Video, animation, even interactive graphics will never convey dense information as quickly and effectively.
When you consider that the #1 barrier to user acquisition is their attention span, it makes sense why infographics have this staying power as the shareable social currency of digital media.
It is exceedingly clear that media will have to adapt to the interests and wants of Generation Z and millennials. According to those in the industry, like Sitaraman, the future is in visual content.