The dirty secret about online content and shrinking attention spans



This article was first published on Ragan’s PR Daily.

I’m tired of hearing marketers, journalists, and PR people use “shrinking attention spans” to explain why their content sucks.

In an article about the role of public relations in a rapidly evolving media landscape—with which I otherwise agreed—David Armano, managing director of Edelman Digital Chicago, noted the following.

“The people we want to reach move effortlessly across a media landscape about which they rarely make distinctions. Increasingly, they spend time on mobile devices, skimming content in ‘streams or feeds.’ The average consumer of media has the attention span of a squirrel on Ritalin. Getting them to pause to read anything more than a paragraph is becoming increasingly difficult.”

Shrinking attention spans and squirrel comparisons have become go-to arguments for why people no longer consume long-form articles or online videos lasting longer than two minutes. But this is a cop out. The real reason people don’t consume longer forms of media is that most digital publishers don’t want them to.

Shrinking attention spans are the symptom, not the problem 

Let me be clear, I am not arguing against the body of evidence supporting our diminishing attention spans. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators conclude that the Internet is an environment that promotes perfunctory reading and distracted thinking.
Nor am I accusing anyone on the team at Edelman Digital of producing bad content. They are, in fact, trail blazers in the space.
I’m simply taking exception to the stance that digital publishers can no longer produce compelling long-form content because of shrinking attention spans.

Our shrinking attention spans are the symptom, not the problem.
The problem is that digital media is designed to be clicked, consumed, and spread as quickly as possible. Although the rallying cry is “content is king,” the reality of the Internet is that “clicks are king,” because clicks are what drive ad revenue.

The goal for digital publishers is not to produce well-written, thought-provoking articles and videos, but to create content that can be spread quickly and easily. How can readers quickly spread content if it takes them several minutes to read or watch it? Every single second a reader spends reading an article is one more second that could have been used to encourage the reader to share it, click through to the next piece of content, and repeat. Click, consume, spread.

In fact, it doesn’t even matter if the content is consumed, as long as it’s shared. Reading doesn’t generate ad dollars. So whenever you hear a media pundit proclaim, “Long-form journalism is dead!” what they mean to say is “Long-form journalism isn’t lucrative.”
It’s not that people won’t read long-form content, it’s that the nature of digital publishing has seemingly removed any incentive to produce content that takes longer than eight seconds to consume.

Healthier options are available 

As a result, digital media is being pushed further and further in the direction of becoming the fast food of content—it’s quick, cost effective, and not very good for you. But just as there is growing demand for healthy options at the drive-thru, there are significant changes taking hold in the realm of digital content that stem from the audience’s demand for quality.

For instance, Taulbee Jackson, founder and president of digital marketing firm Raidious, pointed to recent algorithm shifts in social and search platforms, such as Facebook and Google, as evidence of growing demand among consumers for better content. In a recent interview, he explained:

“Search results ranking algorithms like Google’s Panda and Penguin and Facebook’s EdgeRank were put in place to defend users against being exposed to bad content. Think about the ramifications for that. There is so much bad content that these companies felt it was necessary to help their users proactively filter out all the irrelevant noise. That is a big deal.” 

You can also look to movements like the one led by Mark Armstrong, founder of, as evidence of our growing demand for quality.
Longreads posts daily links to long-form journalism and magazine stories from publications including The New YorkerThe Atlantic, and Rolling Stone, as well as short stories, interview transcripts, historical documents and yes, even blog posts.

As the name suggests, a typical Longread is at least 1,500 words. The @longreads Twitter account has more than 82,600 followers, many of whom use the hashtag #longreads to share URLs to long-form stories they find around the Web.

Short doesn’t always equal bad 

I’m not suggesting that when it comes to content, long equals good and short equals bad. I, like everyone else, applauded Oreo’s profoundly simple, yet genius Super Bowl blackout tweet. But saying that people won’t—or as many arguments suggest—can’t process something more substantial than a picture of an Oreo followed by seven words because of their eroding attentions spans is simply untrue.

Marketers, PR people and journalists: Before you start dissecting what is an otherwise great piece of content just so that it can be consumed in the amount of time it takes to read this sentence, please reconsider. Your audience will read it. Then they will share it. And you will have engaged them in a way that few have.

Does Your Startup Have a Story?

“Startups that are failing tend to be struggling to tell a compelling story.”

Last week, the Dittoe Public Relations team was given the opportunity to take a front row seat as hundreds of entrepreneurs, founders and creative technologists from across the country converged on Indianapolis for the city’s first startup conference, The Powder Keg.

The Powder Keg introduced something brand new to Indianapolis by creating a series of events that exemplified the spirit of entrepreneurship: sharing and leveraging the power of perspective shifting ideas so they can spread as widely and effectively as possible.

The entrepreneur community in Indianapolis (and across the Midwest) is itself an early-stage startup, but The Powder Keg proved without a shadow of a doubt that entrepreneurial energy and momentum are no longer limited to coastal tech hubs.














So, how can Indianapolis and other cities throughout the Midwest join the ranks of San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Boston as centers of creation and innovation?

Tell better stories.

Throughout The Powder Keg, an interesting theme emerged as presenter after presenter took the stage and stressed the importance of telling your company’s story.

Nobody articulated the importance of storytelling better than Scott Case, founding CTO of Priceline and CEO of Startup America Partnership: “Startups that are failing tend to be struggling to tell a compelling story.”

In the startup world, the creation of a story can seem trivial when compared to the creation of a product or service, and the notion of storytelling can seem intimidating as it often conveys a very complicated process. As a result, startups often forgo the storytelling process so they can continue focusing on building and improving their product or service.

Now, don’t get me wrong, having a finished, easy-to-use product that delivers what it promises is critical. But a well-made product or useful service is not a story, and there is no shortage of great products and services that nobody has ever heard of.

A story is something that conveys information, ideas, emotion and context in an original and engaging manner. By itself, a startup does not provide context or convey emotion; it is merely a provider of a product, service or idea.

Sometimes, founders and entrepreneurs can be so invested in ensuring their startup’s success that they forget to consider the big picture: “What does this mean to those who aren’t invested (financially or emotionally) in our company?” “How does this new product change or improve upon something that has already been done?”

The amazing thing about early-stage startups is that every one of them has a story. And, having worked with more than a few, I can tell you that startup stories are some of the most entertaining ones you’ll ever hear.

Never underestimate the importance of just telling a good story. To make others care about your company or idea—whether you’re pitching your startup to potential investors, clients, partners and journalists, or just conversing with friends and family— you need to engage them with a story that conveys information, ideas, emotion and context.

What’s your startup’s story?


A big thanks to Matt Hunckler and the Verge community for hosting The Powder Keg and Startup Bowl!

Everything you Need to Know About LinkedIn’s New Company Pages

For those who missed it, LinkedIn quietly launched a complete redesign of its Company Pages that features a dramatically cleaner, easier-to-navigate interface. I say “quietly” because unlike Facebook, when LinkedIn launches a redesign, it’s not accompanied by the collective wail of users who, when confronted with change, demonstrate the same lack of emotional stability we’ve come to expect from The Incredible Hulk.

Superhero comparison aside, LinkedIn’s changes do reflect many of the functional design changes that Facebook Pages employed following the launch of Timeline. In other words, if you’ve been using Facebook Pages, you should feel right at home using LinkedIn’s updated Company Pages. The ability to add a banner image, feature updates, and display a longer news stream should all be familiar territory.

Why should you care? A recent LinkedIn study found that 67 percent of its members follow a company to gain industry insights, 61 percent for company news, while 49 percent are attracted by the peer community. So, the more you engage with LinkedIn users using LinkedIn’s updated Company Pages, the more they will engage with you.

Here’s how you can take advantage of the redesign of LinkedIn Company Pages:


A picture’s worth a thousand words.
LinkedIn Company Pages now allow companies or brands to welcome visitors to their page with a banner image akin to Facebook’s Cover Photo and Twitter’s new profile header image.

Company Page administrators can add a banner image by taking the following steps.
• Click the blue “Edit” button located at the top right corner of the page.
• Scroll down to the “Image” section, hover your mouse over the “Edit” button and click “Add Image.”
• You will then be able to upload a PNG, JPEG, or GIF image from your computer. LinkedIn Company Page banner images must be 646 pixels wide by 220 pixels high (LinkedIn lets you crop larger images to fit) and no larger than 2 MB.














Showcase what you have to offer.
Although the most noticeable enhancements LinkedIn introduced in the updated version of Company Pages are aesthetic, a number of interesting updates took place under the hood.

Not only is the Updates/Newsfeed section of the new Company Pages longer, allowing visitors to see more of your updates without having to scroll to the bottom of your page in search of the See All Activity button, but it has also been revamped to offer more relevant news. Previously, LinkedIn presented Company Page Updates using nothing more than a reverse-chronological stream. Now, LinkedIn will algorithmically sort updates based on how likely they are to be relevant to each Company Page visitor.

LinkedIn also removed its oft-ignored Blog section, and made it easier for visitors to Comment on Company Page updates by embedding a comments box directly under each update.


Highlight what’s important and keep followers engaged.
LinkedIn now allows page administrators to Feature and Target their Company Page updates. To Feature an update, simply click the “Feature this Update” button located in the footer of your update. Targeting Updates, which takes a little more effort, enables page administrators to target specific audiences before posting an update.

To target your content to a specific audience prior to posting, any Company Page administrator can click the “Share with” dropdown menu and select “Targeted Audience.” In the box that appears, you can choose to exclude employees of your company by selecting non-employees only, or keep them included for greater reach. You can then target your updates by Company Size, Industry, Function, Seniority or Geography. Followers who match your targeting criteria will see your Company Update on their homepage, and the update will be visible to anyone who visits your Company Page.















Twenty-four hours after your content is published, you will have access to impression and engagement metrics for your post. You can also review the targeting criteria by clicking “Targeted Audience.” You’ll also want to check out your “Follower Statistics” to discover insights about your follower demographics, updates and engagement levels that you can then use to hone your messages. Take a look at your dashboard to see what your followers find engaging and how to make the conversation more relevant and valuable.