Since the beginning, Twitter users, including me, have at times been stymied and frustrated by Twitter’s seemingly arbitrary character limit, which redefined social media.
Now Twitter aims to shift the paradigm for visual sharing as well with Vine, an app for sharing six-second videos. Is it the perfect balance between Instagram’s single images and YouTube’s long videos? Is it the best of both sites? The worst?
For me, the bigger question is: How much shorter can our content get?
Twitter’s 140-character limit has driven all its users, from high school students to the New York Times, to get creative when communicating. And if you want to encourage retweets, the number should be closer to 115, since some Twitter applications add your handle to the retweet (Twitter itself does not).
But it doesn’t end with Twitter. Social Media Today published an analysis that Facebook posts of 70 characters or less get the most likes and comments; posts from 71 to 140 characters do less well; and the number of likes drops tremendously when posts are more than 140 characters. The same number as a tweet — coincidence?
The visual social site Pinterest virtually does away with words altogether. Though Pinterest allows 500 characters for descriptions, many “pins” lack any descriptions, and some even lack titles. Over on YouTube, a study by Pew found that 29% of the most popular videos were a minute or less in length.
The trend goes beyond social media. Numerous sources state that the average length of a text message is 160 characters, which makes room for three or four words more than Twitter does. But despite the extra letters, texting brought us abbreviations like “c u l8r” and “how r u?” Those “words” have found their way into lots of online content — though not blog posts, thankfully. Yet.
It wasn’t that long ago when the only major challenge, and measure of a great ad, was “breakthrough.” The ad needed to stand out from the clutter of competition and other advertisers within the same medium. A breakthough TV advertisement stood out from all other TV ads, a breakthrough radio ad was only required to stand out from all other radio spots, etc. Breakthrough remains important today, but the requirements are vastly different.
Simultaneous Multimedia Consumption
It wasn’t that long ago when multimedia referred to a campaign or a production that used more than one medium. That definition still applies, but today it can also be used to describe how people consume media. Audiences now consume media in multiple forms – ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Simultaneous multimedia consumption adds another dimension and challenge for breakthrough advertising. As if this were not enough, another trend is developing that creates yet another barrier between advertisers and their audiences.
The trend is referred to as the evolving Digital Brain. This “new” segment is made up of both Digital Immigrants (30+ in age who are heavy computer users but did not grow up with computers) and Digital Natives (under 30 who grew up with computers). The most defining attribute of the Digital Brain is a short attention span. While measurement is somewhat subjective, the average adult attention span has declined from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2012. (The average goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds, but in all fairness, there’s not much going on in their lives.)
The short attention span in reality is the Digital Brain scanning through a barrage of information to land on what is most relevant to them personally. Some “experts” say this use of technology is changing how the brain functions with more activity witnessed in the part of the brain governing short-term memory.
While there is much interest and debate on how educators will best teach the Digital Brain in the future and what kind of people they will turn out to be, our industry’s challenge to “breakthrough” has once again been magnified. They can access our messages 24/7, but their hyper connectivity leaves them in a state of continuous partial attention.
A lot is being written and discussed about reaching the Digital Brain through the new and traditional media, but what about the messages themselves? Have the rules changed? Or, should the guidelines below (that we too often drift away from) simply be more emphatically followed than ever before?
1. The message must be sharply focused to making a single point – fast!
2. A point-of-difference is not optional, rather it is critical to getting attention!
3. We can’t try to educate an audience but rather, give them a reason to educate themselves!
4. They must see themselves (lifestyle) in the ad!
5. Brand and message must be consistent at every media and consumer touchpoint!
If we can do these things effectively, our messages can pass through their elaborate and sophisticated screening process and connect with the person inside.
What new rules about messaging should we add to this list to resonate with the Digital Brain?