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PHOTO: Thomas Kelley

Our attention spans are frayed.

Digital media penetrates nearly every waking moment of our lives. 

Microsoft conducted a study in 2015 that suggested the average attention span — defined as “the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted” — has fallen to a fleeting 8 seconds — we've discussed this before

The study found that while “age is correlated with these behaviors, it isn’t significantly tied to sustained attention,” but that long-term focus “erodes with increased digital consumption, social media usage, and tech savviness.” 

“We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce, to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention,” concluded CEO Satya Nadella in the summary.

Some Serious Competition for Attention

For an intimidating look at what digital content providers are up against, take a quick look at Live Internet Stats, the digital media monitoring site. 

A few examples: As of this writing, the world wide web contains nearly 1.1 billion websites, Twitter users send approximately 500 million tweets per day and Google processes roughly 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.

So what can we do to capture an increasingly fragmented audience and hold its attention? 

Tactics to Move Your Content Forward

By injecting a few themes into our content strategy, we can attract and retain a loyal audience. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather some groundwork to build upon.

Understand Your Audience

It's been said before, but I'll say it again: Fully understanding your audience — their needs, their wants, their pain points and struggling moments — is essential to forming an authentic connection. Knowing what truly motivates our audience allows us to create compelling content.

This is true for publishers across the board, but it’s doubly important for product marketers. 

Thankfully, today we have ample tools at our disposal. In addition to traditional methods like surveys and focus groups, sentiment analysis, social media listening and customer feedback tools all make it easier to understand your audience. 

Understanding and listening to your audience — whether they buy your products, or read your publication, or donate to your cause — is crucial because customers and readers and donors listen to each other

A recent study by Seattle-based SEO firm Moz found that online reviews impact 67.7 percent of respondents' purchasing decisions. More than half of those respondents (54.7 percent) admitted that online reviews are “fairly, very or absolutely” an important part of their decision-making process.

Make it Clear and Concise

Word economy is a great way to show you understand and respect your audiences’ time constraints. 

Be a relentless self editor. Trim wordy copy, excessive passive voice and unnecessary dead construction. 

If you can cut words from your sentences and paragraphs without sacrificing clarity or meaning, do it. Use active verbs and short, declarative sentences whenever possible. Replace vague propositions with authenticated stories, anecdotes, details, facts and specifics. 

Our brains are hardwired to remember stories. Make your messages stick.

Eliminate jargon. 

Don’t assume your audience is familiar with terminology that’s specific to your industry or profession. Lingo alienates anyone who is unfamiliar with it. And worse, abstract language hampers trust. 

A 2010 study conducted by psychology researchers at New York University and the University of Basel in Switzerland unsurprisingly found that “statements of the very same content were judged as more probably true when they were written in concrete language than when written in abstract language” and that the “linguistic concreteness effect on judgments of truth could most likely be attributed to greater perceived vividness compared to abstract statements.” 

In other words, people find concrete language more convincing because it’s easier to understand. (See what I did there?)