Humans have shorter attention spans than goldfish - and what this means for your visual content strategy

So humans have a shorter attention span than a goldfish.

And our smartphones (not very aptly named since smart and short attention spans don’t generally go hand-in-hand) are to blame.

This isn’t a new fact. It dates from a survey conducted in Canada in 2015, but I heard if for the first time last week at Marketing Week Live (admittedly I was following it on Twitter rather than attending).

Given all the other oft-quoted stats about the importance of visual content, such as:

  • 65% of the population are visual learners
  • Web users read only 20% of text on a web page.

And the work I’ve done trawling the internet to find them, I was surprised that I’d not come across this before because it reinforces a number of the key messages around why you need visual content and the type of visual content you need. More of which later.

The researchers surveyed 2,000 people in Canada and found that the mobile revolution had reduced the human attention span from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. Ok so it wasn’t massively high in the first place, but that’s still a 33% drop.

Goldfish by contrast are thought to have an attention span of 9 seconds.

The study, conducted for Microsoft, goes on to say that early adopters and heavy social media users “front load their attention and have more intermittent bursts of high attention”.

"They’re better at identifying what they want/don’t want to engage with and need less to process and commit things to memory."

Another reason to stand out therefore when posting your content on social media.

The ‘Revenge of the Goldfish’ as I shall now call it (after my favourite Inspiral Carpets album) is just another reason why you shouldn't just tweet a dull text link and expect a tonne of retweets.

It’s why you should use short social video clips to divert attention to your piece of content.

It’s why your video shouldn’t be more than two minutes in length as a rule.

And if you have lots of messages you should split them up over several videos, catering to that attention deficit by giving your audience a slight change of scene before hitting them with more messages.

If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this piece, congrats. Your goldfish would be proud

Nathan Coyne
By Nathan Coyne