The internet is changing who we are. One of the most important changes that is taking place is the way that we consume information. This is a question of increasing importance to any one that works in communication – such as marketing and public relations – but it is particularly important for those that create and distribute news.
In fact, the creators and distributors of news are trailing far behind the communication experts in marketing. The reason for this could be because marketers are open to new ideas about how to communicate their message, and need to stay at the top of their game. Communication experts jump on the latest tool and master it before anyone else has heard of it. And once they have mastered it they will be the ones to shout about it and get everyone else using it. Newspapers, on the other hand, suffer from having a tradition media model that has been crafted over time and that hasn’t needed to change dramatically for centuries. But newspaper circulation is steadily decreasing because more and more people are turning to the internet to get their latest news and information for free. So the question of how to monetize news and help journalism survive has become a pressing issue of our time.
But to deal with this challenge, creators and distributors of news must first understand how the internet is changing the audience. In todays busy world we live in a continuous state of interruption, distraction and time pressure. Today’s reader will be checking emails, using a multitude of social networking sites, using the phone for messaging and calling, surfing the internet and keeping on top of a continual stream of news. With so many different channels of communication we are finding it harder to concentrate. And whilst we are taking part in this confusing hive of digital activity we are bombarded by adverts – clever adverts.
Adverts today are not static sections of a newspaper, they are not regular breaks in programmes, and they are not billboards begging for your attention. Advertising is raw and unleashed on the internet – dancing images of alluring women tempt you to click them whilst you try to read a news report; loud, bright and flashing logos are placed exactly where your eyes land when a page loads up; targeted adverts that know exactly who you are and what you want float around your email inbox; games, competitions, offers and once in a lifetime opportunities become more and more appealing as your resistance weakens. These adverts are preying on our primitive subconcious desires and fears, and they are growing in effectiveness and power as the people that sell learn what works and what doesn’t online.
And it is not just these in-your-face techniques that advertisers and marketers are using. The trend is shifting towards generating a complete positive experience around a product or brand online – telling stories, asking the audience questions and involving them emotionally. The goal is to deeply affect the audience and create a strong and deep connection to what the marketer is selling. Again – this is something that news organisations need to learn from. They need to begin creating these stories themselves and learning these new techniques.
Marketers know that we love novelty. Our brain releases chemicals that make us feel pleasure when we encounter something new. And like a drug it makes us want more. It is this demand for novelty that is making us habitually look at our phones for the latest tweet or update. Our brains are reacting in much the same way as they respond to drugs, food and many other things. This addiction to novelty is what is making it harder to concentrate on long pieces of writing. Reading text in our digital environment could be stunting our ability to read deeper into what we are reading. Because we have more sources vieing for our attention, our brain is hooked on novelty and wants “meaning” shortened down to bullet points and sound bites. All of this is leading to a reader that, more than ever, skims through news rather than stops to think about it.
Also, because we are continually multitasking with different streams of media, we are focusing less attention on any one stream. As consumers, if anything demands too much of our attention we are more likely to turn to a new and more novel source. And, according to one expert, the more channels of media we use, the worse our ability to filter irrelevant information, switch between tasks and use our short term memory.
The internet is epoch changing, but it is being dominated more and more by marketers and organisations that try to profit. A fragmented and distracted mind is easily targeted by communication experts. News organisations need to learn from these marketers and copy their techniques, and adapt them. They need to learn how to provide informative and instructive content to an audience with a fragmented attention, it is only then that they can hope to connect in an effective way.