Attention Economics: why you should audition your content  

Six out of ten people share content without reading it.

A 2016 study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute found that 59% of all links shared on social networks are not clicked, suggesting several behaviours:

  1. Sharers want to be seen to distribute knowledge and useful content for their ‘tribe’, based on assumed content from the headline.
  2. They share as part of their personal brand: the headline becomes a personal statement/slogan, regardless of the content.
  3. They want an immediate route to building connections.
  4. The content does not spark enough curiosity to fully engage the people sharing it.

IFLScience.com conducted its own experiment to see how many shares a controversial headline can garner, without being read. Entitled ‘Marijuana Contains “Alien DNA” From Outside Of Our Solar System, NASA Confirms’, the article was enthusiastically shared. It also sparked debate about whether such an assertion could be true – all without reading the article, which was about the headline being false and highlighting that people do not read content before sharing.

The article even stated: “We here at IFLS noticed long ago that many of our followers will happily like, share, and offer an opinion on an article – all without ever reading it.” It has received more than 500k shares.

Why you should ‘audition’ content

If you were a lab scientist and discovered a disease cure, would you launch straight to market regardless of side effects, or test it with rigour to validate results? The same answer should be true of your content.

The good news is that there is a way to reduce the gap between sharing and reading, and avoid sinking essential budget into a content package that yields little results. The aim is to spark curiosity beyond sharing and develop true audience engagement.

A great strategy is vital to push content that extra mile, but you can always take it one step further through auditions, by gathering social validation to inform your channel strategy, messaging and formats.

Prolific marketers are always testing their content ideas on social media, and noting what rolls in the likes, retweets, shares and commentary (as well as taking advantage of private testing modes). This should be done in tandem with site analysis and sentiment analysis, to separate the highlyclickable from the highlyshareable.

Editions Financial asks:

  • Did that content resonate?
  • Which audience or persona did it resonate with, and why?
  • Which formats are most shareable and which result in click-throughs?
  • Are people sharing for superficial brand advocacy, or are they engaging with the content on their timeline?
  • What are they saying about the content, and does it accurately reflect the ideas and knowledge contained within?

 

Gaining ground in the attention economy

There is a finite amount of attention available at any moment – and bidding in that attention economy can be a tricky proposition. Once gained, it can be diverted away at any moment. That campaign you’ve been working on for months could be superseded by a big news story or scandal, and the content you produced in an hour could turn out to be a hit.

When you have a bank of content behind you, it’s easier to test the waters and anticipate the best release schedule for maximum attention. Because the attention economy is random at best, a content suite aligned to a trending topic might not catch, and an evergreen topic could suddenly stimulate interest. The markets for attention can be wildly unpredictable. It’s also why it’s a good idea for a brand to get out in front and direct the course of conversation.

When your business is based on establishing new customer accounts and selling services / products, you are embarking on a long road. Each piece of content lays the foundations, establishing yourself as a brand to watch.

Customers need to know you before committing to a purchase, so it’s important to distribute awareness and interest content in a continuous cycle to capture the imaginations of new customers.

This steadily builds the hero, hub and hygiene content model: your hero content, which draws attention to a brand, such as a major new campaign, stunning thought leadership or must-attend event; the hub content, which can be regularly scheduled for potential prospects to draw them closer to conversion; and your hygiene content, otherwise known as the content that prospects and target audiences will search for your on site, also known as ‘help’ content.

When people want or need the product or service, your previous work will have established your credibility and built an emotional connection.

“What got you here won’t get you there”

To borrow a phrase from renowned business coach Marshall Goldsmith, the results you used to see should not direct your future. It may not be necessary to conduct split-testing on your own channels, but spending time researching trends for competitors and consumer interests (and measuring how well content landed), can be extremely informative.

You can benchmark the social activity of a competitor and draw great conclusions about the formats, timing, and wording of successful posts. Qualitative investigation of comments will help you draw conclusions on who actually engaged with posts.

Headlines and titles of webpages can be tested by simply changing them once a week to see what brings in the most organic traffic – this is some of the most basic testing you can perform.

Organic reach is much more difficult on some channels,such as Facebook, due to algorithms, so platforms such as Twitter afford an ideal medium for auditioning. Promoted content on all platforms will always guarantee more eyes, and therefore widen the possible pool of people who will interact with it.

Split or A/B testing includes emails, which is where marketing automation can really help; by dividing databases and templates to experiment with design, layout, and wording, all variables can be tested against a hypothesis.

At Editions Financial, we spend time analysing the difference between ordinary traffic and quality traffic i.e. those who visit with intent – to read, interact, and learn more. In a time of tracker links and web analytics, it is relatively easy to determine what percentage of shared content results in a click-through to a website. And in-depth analysis will reveal common factors that lead to an article being read versus being shared, such as headline, format, design, distribution channels, and audience data.

We are continually validating our strategies and navigating the fresh opportunities, collating feedback on what works and what hasn’t, so we can move a proposition in the right direction.

So, when will you audition your content?

BY Alex Burden

Alex is an experienced content specialist and qualified journalist, who is also trained in research and marketing. She’s worked as a specialist editor and marketer throughout her career, and now applies the range of her multi-discipline experience to crafting content strategy. Her favourite question is ‘why?’, and uses it to dig deep on briefs and explore new directions for clients and audiences.