To Win at Social Media, You Need the Best Stories



At SMWLDN, Dom Whitehurst (Wavemaker) shared the irony that as we all spend more time on our phones our interaction with content is reducing in length.


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In a world where average Facebook video view lengths are less than 2 seconds, Instagram Stories are viewed for less than a second and people are scrolling the height of Big Ben on their feeds every day, how can we capture enough attention to tell a story worth listening to?

At Social Media Week London 2018, Dom Whitehurst, head of digital engagement at Wavemaker shared the irony that as we all spend more time on our phones – ignoring our friends, partners and children – our interaction with content is reducing in length. Or is it?

Whitehurst disagrees with Microsoft’s 2015 report findings that due to our increasingly digital lifestyles “you now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish”.

He argues that our fascination and focus on shorter attention spans have changed our relationship with the content we’re producing. We’re trying to tell the same stories but in shorter and shorter packets and as such, every time we shorten the story, we lose something, and it all become less impactful.

The dopamine drip

“Whenever someone likes or comments on a post or photograph, we give you a little dopamine hit”. Sean Parker, Facebook

Dopamine is at the center of our reward system and it is addictive – it’s woven into the heart of social platforms. Social notifications provide the drips of dopamine that keep us coming back. And it’s working, we’re spending more and more time on social platforms and yet attention is dropping… served by the fact we are being served more content than ever.

Whitehurst suggests that the dopamine drip means we have a growing audience desperate for entertainment and that we should be thinking about gaining more attention rather than reaching more people.

“Investment in social media content is low in comparison to other media channels and unfortunately we think we can get away with it.”

If the content is good enough, we will find the time to consume it

If we turn to the film industry, which is less competitive than social media, we can see that films are in fact getting longer. Attention isn’t getting shortened. Trends is binge-watching on streaming apps such as Netflix provide that if the content is good enough audiences will find the time to consume it.

We don’t have short attention spans. We just hate crap ads.

Viewers would rather a blank screen than something that looks like an ad, according to tests by YouTube. We will actively go out of our way to avoid ads. This is confirmed by Pinterest where 50% of people don’t think they’re being advertised to, despite 75% of content coming from brands – because when people can’t tell the difference between ads and content, they watch for longer.

The first rule of advertising is to attract someone’s attention… but most advertising is ignored largely because it looks and sounds exactly like advertising.

“If you can deliver something is a way that doesn’t look like advertising, you’ve got rocket fuel”, says Whitehurst.

The John Lewis Christmas ads are a perfect example of this; they focus on entertainment before telling the brand message.

Whitehurst concluded; we’re now in the most competitive marketplace for brands. To win, you need the best stories and the most engaging content.

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