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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

What was I Talking About? Attention Spans in Digital Marketing

Updated: Jun 4, 2019

Who has a longer attention span, you or a goldfish?

The answer to this question may surprise you. According to an article by Time Magazine, goldfish win by 1 second with an attention span of 9 seconds! Why is this happening?  Scientists contribute it to the increasing accessibility to the internet and the tendency to involve multiple screens at any one time. Another possible explanation to this phenomenon is the environment in which we are raised. In his book, Normal and Abnormal Behavior in Chinese Culture by Arthur Kleinman and Tsung-yi Lin, the difference in attention spans between american and chinese children is explored.

Chinese culture dictates that children be raised in extremely uniform and stable environments; this along with collectivist values allow the child to practice more self control from an earlier age. In comparison, Americans value individualism and push their children to be out-going and outspoken. It is believed that this emphasis on individual variation correlates to the higher amount of hyperactivity and shorter attention spans in the United States. According to, about 5% of mainland China’s school-aged students suffer from ADHD compared to approximately 11% in the US (

How does this affect businesses and social media?

Marketing and advertising strategists must adjust to cater towards these limited attention spans. Consumers no longer retain data from traditional television commercials, instead they gather their information from social media and the radio. It may sound counter-intuitive to return to a more primitive form of technology in this situation, however as this study from Nielsen Catalina Solutions shows, consumers retain more information from audio platforms like radios than any other form of media. This doesn’t mean that marketers should focus solely on radio commercials, rather that they should use audio information in their campaign efforts. Additionally, with the rise in mobile usage, it is vital to have information constantly available and updated through social media outlets like WeChat and Weibo. Companies can not simply create an account and expect consumers to find them, they need to make people interested in listening.

How can you do this?

  1. Grab consumers’ attention from the very first second. Hulu has done this by changing traditional commercials into games that feature multiple TV shows.

  2. Pay attention to the mechanics. If your website has a great design but loads slowly the majority of consumers will lose interest. Make sure your website works properly and fast.

  3. Don’t bury the lead! With today’s short attention spans it’s important to provide the key information first. Keep your posts simple, providing only what consumers need and want to know.

  4. Use bullet points instead of paragraphs.

  5. Utilize data analytics to evaluate your performance and determine your prime posting times.

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