Marketing to a World with a Short Attention Span

Steve Rubel of Edelman Digital recently wrote an article for Fast Company reporting that people are spending a record amount of time on social networking sites: Twitter and Facebook, etc.

These sites are so attractive of course because they offer streams of brief information updates. Because these “pipelines” of brief status updates enable us to consume information quickly, many people are neglecting other news outlets. Traditional news websites present well-researched, quality information in well-thought-out formats, but, this sort of information takes longer to process than the quick snippets available on social networking sites.

People’s desire for ever-speedier information and communication is further evidenced by the demise of voice mail. Boston Globe correspondent Beth Teitell wrote an article about how people overwhelmingly prefer text messages to voice mail because they “can’t stand the endless prompts just to hear a longwinded – and often pointless – message.” With impatience for voice mail increasing, a market for services that transcribe your voice mails to text has erupted.

With the reach of online ads on mainstream news sites declining due to the decrease in website traffic, marketers are having to adjust their promotional strategies.

But, these streams of constantly updating information are posing quite a challenge to marketers. How can they break through these streams and reach their target audiences in real-time?

To make their messages stand out, some marketers are posting messages frequently, thereby increasing their visibility. However, these frequent status updates often come across as spamming (a big social media “no-no”). Other marketers are fairing better, by building a presence on all key social networks and integrating information across the different platforms. They’re using social media to build relationships with their current and prospective customers. They’re listening to them, engaging them in conversation, and making them feel as though they belong to their “brand tribe.” And, of course, they’re empowering them to be ambassadors of their brand.

It’s a point that we continue to hammer home, but it’s an important one. New communications outlets require new communication strategies.

Republicans Taking to Twitter to Take Back the House?

In the early 1990s, Republican politicians dominated talk radio. Persuasive speakers used the medium to advance their political agendas (through their own shows, interviews, and ads) and uproot scores of Democratic congressmen, governors, and state lelegislatorsRepublican-vs-Democrat in the 1994 election.

Today, we have an interesting parallel. Republicans are now proactively using Twitter to build up support among the Nation’s younger generation (18 to 24 year olds –-who are typically skeptical of the virtues of limited government, more supportive of gay marriage, and overwhelmingly identify themselves as democrats). On an April 23, 2009 episode of The View, John McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain said that “81% of people under the age of 30 consider themselves democrats.”

In fact, a February 17, 2009 Washington Times article reports that Republican politicians have surpassed Democratic politicians on Twitter. Right now, 93 Republicans in Congress use Twitter, compared to 52 Democrats (according to http://tweetcongress.org). With 806,691 followers, Republican Senator John McCain is the most followed congressman on Twitter. Senator Claire McCaskill, the most followed Democrat, lags behind with 26,765 followers.

So… conservatives are ALL OVER the micro-blogging site?! Say what?! Wasn’t President Barack Obama the one who received loads of press for being a social media guru? Well, although he still boasts 1,463,854 Twitter followers, since assuming the presidency, his tweets have become few and far between, and Republican Congressmen have seized the opportunity to use this technology (and others) to vocalize their concerns over his current policies.

Is there are a reason that they are currently dominating this medium? It may be because they are tweeting to bypass mainstream media and communicate what they’re doing, their ideas, concerns, and agendas directly to the public. They’re also using the forum to solicit ideas for legislation. And, they’re getting a handle on how to use other tools besides just Twitter. A quick glance at their feeds and you will recognize that they are tweeting links to their blogs and to YouTube clips that support their political objectives, and using all channels to respond to the President’s comments in real time. It still might be too early to tell, but it seems like they understand that they have a chance to transform their tired image and leverage these viral tools to reach the millions of younger, voting-age citizens who they have had difficulty connecting with in the past.

So while republicans are still looking at how Obama used Internet technologies to aid his bid for office, they are certainly trying to improve upon his strategies for future runs. What do you think? Is Twitter the new talk radio for Republicans? Do you think the Republican Party will shine online when the next election rolls around?