The way Americans consume media continues to change, shifting from television and print to new mediums online. But as we continue to experience this shift, at what point do we start to consider how that impacts our lives and how it impacts our ability to influence opinion?
In the past, the gatekeeping power of media organizations boosted their influence and their ability to control the spread of news. As that gatekeeping power has diminished, the ability for people to consume new media at any time of the day has significantly increased. But not only are people consuming media at all hours of the day, they are consuming it from more places than ever before.
In a recent report from Nielsen, Americans now spend an average of over 10 hours a day consuming media, a significant and rising portion of that on social media platforms. As we continue to spend more time in front of screens we will inevitably continue to consume more media, and the abundance of media is having a profound impact on our ability to process this information.
More people are experiencing media saturation, a state where consumers are saturated with information to the point where additional information causes stress or an inability to process fully what they’re seeing online. It would be one thing if the way we consumed media was isolated to one television channel or one news app that we could simply turn off, but as we continue to see screen time usage increasing, we will continue to see people consuming more media.
A consequence of this phenomenon is that people are being more proactive in avoiding information they don’t agree with. Whether unfriending people with opposing views or blocking outlets one might see as “fake news,” people are looking to relieve this stress in some manner – and that does not involve reducing screen time. As people engage more with those they agree with, social media algorithms are more likely to serve them more of the same content. But in doing so, social media users isolate themselves with reaffirming information even if the information is factually incorrect.
But from an influencer point of view, what is to be done?
The key is content that is easier to digest, requires less effort, and can quickly drive home a point.
That is why there has been an effort to move away from text-based content to video and graphic content. Recent studies show that 59% of people viewing an article online only read the title, and if they click on it only 55% of people only spend 15 seconds reading the piece.
To reach audiences instead, short-form video and easy-to-consume infographics must be corner stones of a robust communications plan. Our brains naturally engage better through visual storytelling because we can process the information at faster rates. And when we are presented with a video story, our minds are less able to distinguish that information from something we experienced in person.
Overall the communications industry is being forced to change simply because the way people are influenced is changing. While once the best way to influence a person’s opinion, well-crafted op-eds or articles in a respectable publication will likely never reach the same sizable portion of a target audience as digital media. As our lives continue to be more screen-centric, we need to optimize every second that desired information is in front of our audience. But without a keen understanding of the changing way people consume content and form opinions, any communications plan will fall flat.