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Social Attention Span

by Randall Craig on August 10, 2012

Filed in: Blog, Communication, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Presentations

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How long is your attention span?  How long is the attention span of your clients, colleagues, or kids?  The conventional wisdom is that it is very short – 30 seconds – the length of a typical TV commercial.  Supposedly, the attention span of a Gen-Xer is even shorter.

Thankfully, both of these urban legends are wrong – very wrong.  The attention span is highly variable, but is dependent on two key factors, both of which are under your control:

1) The number of competing distractions, and

2) Whether the content and delivery are relevant and interesting.

Consider the last time you went to a blockbuster movie: how many people were talking, texting, or doing anything except being completely engaged in the action on-screen?  Or the last time you sat down with a great book: did you snuggle down to read for more than 30 seconds? You probably couldn’t put it down.

If you want people’s attention, then don’t waste time with what’s important to you – give them what they need, in a format that they want.  Too often, when people market their services, they get louder and louder in order to be heard above the noise.  When they do this, they unwittingly become part of the problem.

How long do you keep people’s attention?  If it is shorter than you like, make your message more relevant to them, deliver it professionally, and do it in an environment that is conducive to a conversation.

This week’s action plan:  Look at the status updates you’ve received today on Facebook or LinkedIn: what percentage actually engage you?  Then look at your own: are you increasing the social attention span of your connections, or are you just adding to the noise?  Do better by being more relevant.

Marketing insight:  The most common marketing mistake is to focus on the product, instead of the prospect.  It’s no surprise that TV commercials are so short (and getting shorter): the vast majority of them are of zero value to the viewer.  It’s not that attention spans are short, its that consumers are getting smarter (and faster) at discerning relevancy.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
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Randall has been advising on Web and Social Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released "Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business", and speaks across North America on Social Media and Web Strategy. More at and

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