Teens And The Three-Second Rule For Social

First the good news: Contrary to a common factoid (can we call it a faketoid?) teenagers — and, in fact, all humans — do not really have attention spans shorter than those of goldfish. In studies with school-aged kids, it has become apparent that the ability to pay attention varies widely. The reality is really not that teens have short attention spans, it’s that they have short attention spans for things they don’t care about. 

For marketers fighting for Gen Z’s attention within their crowded social feeds, the challenge is to make them care before your content is usurped by an influx of photos, news, ads, chats and notifications. You have an incredibly narrow window, probably about three seconds, to engage your target audience lest they move on. 

Here are a few ways that you can rise above the distractions in those first few, critical seconds:

Move them with movement

Motion is naturally attention-grabbing. When things are moving on-screen — whether people, animals or animation — it naturally draws the eye. That’s why media like video and even GIFs are widely recognized as more effective ways to drive social engagement. Once you grab your audience's focus using motion, they’re less likely to become distracted by the deluge of other social content. Once they’re past the three-second mark, you can seize the opportunity to establish a deeper connection.

Make it pop without making a noise

With social video, it’s much safer to assume there will be no sound than the reverse. No longer can marketers rely on music to attract and connect on an emotional level. So in a social media world without sound, use text and color as important strategic tools right out of the gate. Use bright, standout colors to grab attention followed by sharp text overlay to establish context and relevance to the viewer.

Put some life into it

There’s a reason cats own the internet: the human mind is naturally immediately stimulated by the sight of living creatures. Just about everyone loves to see animals, and while people aren’t as frequently meme-worthy, they can be equally attention grabbing. Add movement to the mix and you’ve got a winning way to break through the social media clutter. 

Be different

Novelty is known to spark the pleasure centers in the human brain in general, but the developing teenage brain is even more predisposed to seeking out new things. When planning out your social strategy, don’t look at what’s working for your competitor or which social campaigns won all of the awards last year. Instead, bring something fresh, new and unexpected to the table. The more unpredictable the better, surprises have been shown to be more stimulating and attention-getting than even things we already know we like. 

Aim for authenticity

Teens today have grown up with omnipresent advertising, and as a result, they have a natural skepticism. If your post comes off as fake and insincere, they’re likely to spot it and move on in a blink of an eye. This doesn’t mean you need to try to mimic what a teen’s post might look like or say (in fact, don’t even try!). It does, however, mean you should first build an understanding of your audience and build who they are, not who you want them to be, then build a content strategy that truly reflects the things they already care about.

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