Executives don’t want snackable content, they want long lunches

One of the newer buzz terms in the content marketing space is snackable content. It’s premised on the idea that short pieces of content are preferable to longer form articles. Who has time to read an in-depth discussion about an important topic, anyway?

Back of the napkin explanation of “snackable content”

Proponents of snackable content (for some reason, this phrase bothers me considerably) link research revealing shorter attention spans with the length and depth of your content. As Shanna Cook put it in her blog post titled “How to Create Snackable Content” on the Marketo blog:

See it, scan it, share it. Your audience is hungry for content and consuming it at a faster pace than ever before. In fact, a recent study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that the average attention span is getting remarkably shorter, down to just 8.25 seconds this year from 12 seconds in 2000.

Since your fans are consuming content faster than ever, you need to make sure that yours is short and snackable (read: easy to digest on-the-go). Can they absorb everything you want to convey in these short 8.25 seconds, or do they require a teaser to whet their appetite and take them to a larger piece of more easily digestible content? As a marketer in today’s “always on,” mobile, and social environment, you need to make your content available, easy to absorb, and totally shareable.

I’m not convinced that comparing the articles you read or the videos you watch to food is entirely appropriate but let’s run with that for the purposes of this discussion.

Junk food marketing

What this snackable content trend amounts to is shorter, more superficial content designed to give the mistaken impression of being informed.

Junk food marketing
Junk food, photo by Thomas Kelley (Unsplash)

Your reader scans through a short article and leaves it feeling s/he is up-to-date on its subject matter. You, the author of the material taps “Publish” and feel the satisfaction of knowing that you have shared something worthwhile that will generate leads.

What’s really happening here is that you are churning out the equivalent of junk food that your audience is “snacking” on. They feel as if their hunger for knowledge and insight is sated, not realizing that there is little nutritional value in this snack blizzard.

Worthwhile content takes longer to prepare

I had an appointment with my dietician earlier this week. I’m diabetic so my diet has a pretty big impact on my health. Some of her advice is relevant so bear with me.

As I described what I typically eat for lunches (usually something I can toss in the oven and prepare quickly), she pointed out that if food is quick and easy to make, it usually isn’t that healthy for you. Food that nourishes you tends to take longer to prepare but it gives your body what it needs.

When I think about “snackable content” now, it seems a lot like that quick and easy food I tend to eat when I lack the energy to prepare something healthier (probably not a coincidence).

Sure, you can pump out a higher volume of material but at what cost? Perhaps attention spans are shrinking but creating shorter pieces of content in an effort to fill those attention gaps isn’t the solution.

You’re aggravating the attention problem

When your audience finds itself faces with higher volumes of “easy to digest” content that, necessarily, lacks any meaningful depth or insights, they’re often overwhelmed. It’s a bit like walking through a food court and all the food vendors are throwing small, bite-sized chunks of food at you.

It’s probably not going to be a satisfying dining experience (unless you are about 8 years old). If that’s how you eat your meals, your audience is going to find themselves on their hands and knees a lot, picking up bits of food and stuffing their faces.

Using better food cannons may increase the volume you’re hurling at your audiences but is it really giving them what they need? If anything, you’re just fragmenting their attention even further (which means louder and bigger food cannons, right?).

To aggravate the situation, you’re also insulting your audience’s intelligence by force feeding them with this superficial stuff masquerading as “content”.

Maybe it isn’t about attention, not really.

What if the underlying assumption is wrong? Perhaps attention spans are shrinking because there is too much junk food content being thrust at audiences and they have become far more selective.

You can try break through to them with a bigger banners, clickbait titles and other shiny objects but it’s not a sustainable strategy.

In a recent episode of the “PNR: This Old Marketing” podcast, hosts Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose mentioned the “Quartz: Global Executive Study” conducted by Quartz Magazine.

One of the statistics they highlighted was that 84% of the study’s respondents said they are most likely to share long-form articles. Charts and data came in at second place with 47%. A related insight reinforces this:

88% of executives are likely to share good content, and its source almost always (85%) influences their decision to share it.

Long lunches and better conversation

Certainly, long-form articles take time to write and they take time to read. The same applies to longer videos, podcast episodes and so on.

It’s worth it.

Long lunches and good conversation
Photo by Kevin Curtis (Unsplash)

When you think about the audiences who are most valuable to you, who are they? Are they the people who like your tweets and Facebook posts without reading them? Are they the people who click on your site links and almost immediately click away because you aren’t offering the equivalent of a free box of chicken nuggets?

Probably not.

In all likelihood, the audience that is most valuable to you are the people who take the time to read what you publish. They will read your longer articles, consider your arguments and insights and share it with like-minded colleagues and friends.

What is the point of creating all this “content” anyway? You certainly don’t need to add to the digital mountains humans create each day just for the sake of it.

Besides, like most junk food, this snackable content will only give your audience the mental equivalent of a quick sugar kick, followed by a nasty blood sugar crash. There’s nothing satisfying about that.

Nutritional content

No, you write all this stuff and produce these videos because you have valuable insights to share and our audiences want to be informed, stimulated and entertained. You take the time to write a 2,000 word analysis of an important industry development or edit a seven minute video because you believe that your perspective will give your audience something that was previously lacking.

This is a big part of what it means to add real value and your ideal audience appreciates that. Not only that, they crave it and they will share it and your audience will grow.

Oh, and if you said that a growing number of mobile consumers changes this dynamic, think again.

Good news, publishers: People will read your long stories on their phones (for two minutes, anyway)

As the Quartz study also revealed, executives are much more selective with their time and younger executives tend to be more discerning. This means they are more particular about what they focus their attention on and that quality really matters.

If you can deliver good quality and relevant material, your audience will take the time to appreciate it and share it. Just like a long lunch at a great restaurant with stimulating conversation.

Save the junk food for the kiddies’ birthday parties. Well, perhaps and in moderation. You wouldn’t want to cultivate bad eating habits, would you?

Featured image credit: Roman Kraft

The trouble with LinkedIn engagement

Yam Regev shared some interesting data about LinkedIn engagement on LinkedIn.

My LinkedIn activity stats (on average):
– Textual post: 3k views
– Post with a video: 4K views
– Post with an image: 6.5k views

  • Published article: 80 views

You read it right, it is generating only 80 views.

If I put so much effort in it, why do I get only 1% of the views I see from other kind of posts?

To have more traction and content on its platform, LinkedIn will have to change this realty.

I tried to share my thoughts about LinkedIn engagement with him in the comments but it seems my feedback was too long for the comment box so I shared a shortened version instead. Here is my original comment:

I don’t think this is limited to LinkedIn. The major social networks optimize the interactions that keep people on the sites and clicking. I suspect text posts, videos and image posts keep people moving through the site. They are fairly low friction content pieces, easy to engage with through likes and comments and easy to consume before moving on to more. They’re the digital equivalent of snacking – high volume.

When it comes to articles, they are longer form and people need to dedicate more time to reading the articles. It would be interesting to have % complete metrics like you have on Medium to see how much of an article people read before abandoning it.

You’d probably find that people view longer articles less frequently because they prefer to snack on social media and not spend time reading the articles in their entirety. The problem with this is that it tends to discourage longer form content. It also doesn’t help all that much to write longer form stuff elsewhere and share it here because these services optimize for keeping people in the service, not making it easier for them to leave for sites outside the social network.

Image credit: kaboompics

Privacy is contextual and social

Privacy is more than a couple settings and a consent checkbox on a form somewhere. Privacy and publicity seem to be pretty straightforward concepts and, legally, they are treated fairly superficially and defined mechanically.

A result of that is a similarly superficial treatment in conversations about privacy and publicity in social and commercial engagements which rarely touches on what privacy really means to us.

This leaves us fundamentally confused and conflicted about privacy because we have a deeper sense of what privacy means to us but the typical conversation about privacy lacks the language to describe that deeper sense of it all.

Anil Dash and dana boyd recently published articles on Medium titled “What is Public?” and “What is Privacy?”, respectively, which dive deeper into what publicity and privacy mean to us. If you are interested in what privacy and publicity mean in modern times, you should read both articles carefully:

View story at Medium.com

and

View story at Medium.com

One of the paragraphs in Dash’s article that stood out for me was this one:

What if the public speech on Facebook and Twitter is more akin to a conversation happening between two people at a restaurant? Or two people speaking quietly at home, albeit near a window that happens to be open to the street? And if more than a billion people are active on various social networking applications each week, are we saying that there are now a billion public figures? When did we agree to let media redefine everyone who uses social networks as fair game, with no recourse and no framework for consent?

I agree more with boyd that privacy is more about social convention. I particularly like this extract from boyd’s article:

The very practice of privacy is all about control in a world in which we fully know that we never have control. Our friends might betray us, our spaces might be surveilled, our expectations might be shattered. But this is why achieving privacy is desirable. People want to be in public, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to be public. There’s a huge difference between the two. As a result of the destabilization of social spaces, what’s shocking is how frequently teens have shifted from trying to restrict access to content to trying to restrict access to meaning. They get, at a gut level, that they can’t have control over who sees what’s said, but they hope to instead have control over how that information is interpreted. And thus, we see our collective imagination of what’s private colliding smack into the notion of public. They are less of a continuum and more of an entwined hairball, reshaping and influencing each other in significant ways.

I also think this next extract nicely captures why people become angry with brands and why reputational harm happens at an emotional level. If you represent a brand, you should read this a few times:

When powerful actors, be they companies or governmental agencies, use the excuse of something being “public” to defend their right to look, they systematically assert control over people in a way that fundamentally disenfranchises them. This is the very essence of power and the core of why concepts like “surveillance” matter. Surveillance isn’t simply the all-being all-looking eye. It’s a mechanism by which systems of power assert their power. And it is why people grow angry and distrustful. Why they throw fits over being experimented on. Why they cry privacy foul even when the content being discussed is, for all intents and purposes, public.

Privacy is contextual. Law is also a poor mechanism for protecting it because law tends to be mechanical (it has to be). What we need more is a better awareness of what privacy and publicity mean in a social context and where the line is.

Jeff Jarvis made a statement about privacy in This Week in Google 261 which really caught my attention:

Privacy is a responsibility. It is an ethic of knowing someone else’s information.

Image credit: Photo credit: Lost in Translation by kris krüg, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0