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Why Brands Care About the "Attention Economy" — And Why You Should, Too

audience social media creation content ROI

Attention is a hot commodity. It is one of the most valuable resources of the digital age.

As an example, Facebook recently bought consumers' attention from Giphy in a $400 million deal. The Giphy division will reside under Facebook-owned Instagram, where it already had partnerships and integrations. This acquisition puts Facebook's tentacles into its competitors' well-guarded reserves.

Giphy is a massive, searchable database for GIFs that attracts the attention of tens of millions of people each month. It provides animated GIF images that users can embed into messages and posts on social media and other platforms. Rather than typing out a sentence, users can simply send or post a GIF that represents the idea or emotion they want to get across.

Giphy makes its money through advertising via sponsored content in search results. It partners with companies like Disney, Universal Studios, Pepsi, and GE to host all their existing content on their own branded channels. Other social platforms like Twitter and Slack are so dependent on Giphy at this point that they can't uncouple from it

In today's economy, there is no way to grab and hold attention without creating highly attractive content. Just as Giphy was on the verge of becoming the next content media king, Facebook came in and grabbed it. That is one way to take advantage of the built-in audience of a growing attention competitor.

How the Attention Economy Works

Attention is the act of applying the mind to something or focusing on one thing while ignoring others in the environment. Our modern economy circulates around human attention and how products capture it. Attention is very limited, however. The average attention span for humans is only 8.25 seconds.

According to one study, 55% of web page visitors spend less than 15 seconds there. Advertisers are left to fight over those few seconds. Sure, this can be compounded by millions, but no one wants to sacrifice even one pair of eyes — the competition for web views is fierce.

Digital products are competing for something that is very limited and precious. In the attention economy that drives social media marketing, attention is not only a valuable resource, but also a currency. Many online services are offered free of charge, and users "pay" with their attention. Companies must entice users to volunteer their attention and spend money.

Are We Shifting Toward a Creation Economy?

Every brand wants attention. The only way to get it is to create an attractive and eye-catching product. A highly competitive market calls for drastic measures. This has led some advertisers to become relentless in their pursuit of attention-grabbing tactics such as:

  • Eye-catching animations that call attention to the content
  • Busy, crowded designs that include large amounts of information with the hopes of getting the user to notice an image or phrase
  • Sites that send out frequent and often unnecessary notifications with the goal of boosting engagement
  • Campaigns that force users to pay attention to an advertisement, using schemes such as no visible close icon until the ad has played for a certain amount of time

Actions like these only serve to degrade the user experience and drive consumers away.

The dynamics of the attention economy create greater challenges in user acquisition and engagement. Companies have an incentive to encourage users to spend more and more time on sites and apps.

To capture consumers' undivided attention, businesses must pad social ads with creative content marketing that will draw users in. Marketing messages must be fine-tuned with maximum relevance to products and services that are tailored to the right audience. This not only gets highly-sought-after attention, but it also creates better connections with the audience through social connectivity and responsive options.

More and more consumers want to take part in the creative process. They are drawn to interactive sites that let them express themselves and share that expression.

Creation Apps That Have Our Attention

We first saw the trend toward creation apps with Pinterest. Here users create boards of pictures they find on the internet to express their individual interests. It helps people discover the things they love and connect with others who share commonalities.

Then came Instagram, the first picture-sharing social site. It allows users to participate in the lives of their families and friends from anywhere. It also offers photo editing and short video posts.

TikTok, the latest trending creation app, lets people create short-form videos (15 seconds to 1 minute), edit them, add music, and broadcast them out to the world. The app comes with filters and effects that make videos unique and interactive. It also has a monetization feature available through sponsorships, which many find enticing.

The aforementioned Giphy has entered the game by growing the content creation side of the business. Companies and individuals can create original GIFs on the website. Artists who want to distribute their visual artwork via Giphy can apply for an account to do so, and their creations are displayed on the site's art gallery. Businesses, recording artists, actors, and public figures also can get a brand channel on Giphy.

Consumers like these apps and tools because they increase engagement on social sites. Plus, they are fun and relatable. Someone will watch a viral video over and over again if it makes them laugh. Grandparents will visit a social site every day to interact with grandchildren who live in a different state. A recording group in need of exposure will connect with fans as often as possible online.

This is the kind of engagement that advertisers desire and need. When given the opportunity to create, share, and participate, consumers will give more than just eight seconds of their attention. They may even pay more attention to the accompanying advertisements

We face attention shortage every day; while paying attention to one thing, we ignore others. This ideology is why Facebook's purchase of Giphy is not just smart, it is calculated and data-driven. This will be yet another avenue it can use to capture the ever-precious attention of its users — and eventually another monetization method for its agencies and advertisers.

We must balance brevity and usefulness when capturing attention. We need to personalize ads and content without being unsettling; give smaller bites when we can; be visually-heavy, but not tacky; and put ourselves in the shoes of the users of the platforms on which we advertise. What works for one, may not work for another.

For more information about how to gain your customers' attention, contact us today.

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