After Facebook eats Snapchat’s lunch through it’s incessant copying of features?
After everyone is stuck in Facebook’s ecosystem to share, story, filter, react, live video, chat, videochat, bot-chat, voice-chat, read, buy, and more?
After Facebook’s KPI-driven managers tell their product teams to come up with more ways to continue growing their share of audience attention, more eyeballs, more minutes, more swipes, more app downloads, all in the name of shelling out more media impressions to brands?
What comes next?
Instagram used to be my favorite app. Now it swings in phases of being downloaded and undownloaded onto my phone as I decide I want to post a photo and then find myself frustrated with how the app drags at my time and focus. I do like Instagram. Or I did. I love photography. I like having a dedicated place to share photos with friends without spamming everyone on my Facebook feed. I really like the democratization of photo-shop techniques through filters. And I love how easy it is to share moments of my life and quickly catch up with friends. But I hate when Instagram tells me to follow ex-boyfriends just because we are ‘friends on Facebook,’ and now I can’t resist clicking on his page. Or when a single click on a Kardashian results in a recommended feed of Kylie Jenner fan accounts I can’t escape. Or when I find myself opening the app.. and never leaving because there is a never-ending trail of stories and links to embedded sites and instagram videos and suggested pages and suggested friends and likes on replies and live videos and new content that happened during my scroll and..!!!!!!
I get it, Facebook and Instagram. You are trying to entertain me. But when your app makes me unhappy, when it preys on my emotions to inflate my dopamine receptors with ‘likes,’ when it’s mission is to be sticky enough to hold onto my attention when I could be doing things that improve my life like read a book or goto the gym or sleep, I am annoyed.
I know. Your app is free. Which means I am paying your engineers with my attention. But your rates are increasing. You are taking too much attention.
I blame Facebook, but I also fear for them. If they do succeed in eating Snapchat’s lunch from under them, then where will their innovation come from? Or will it need to come from anywhere? They will own the attention pie, and continue to design their product to eat a greater portion of that attention. And they will use our data and our online behaviors and even our offline behaviors to create even more effective strategies for brands to clog our brains with.
We consumers can fight back, sure. Vow to use Facebook less and live in the real world more. Attempt to demand better data privacy laws. We could even offer to pay for Facebook in dollars instead of brain capacity. But individually our pockets are not as deep as the force truly feeding the machine: brands. Brands are high on the attention Facebook and Instagram command – and who could blame them? Facebook’s ad capabilities are incredible and everyone is on it. Brands won’t stop wanting Facebook’s form of attention, until there is something better.
One problem is that people creating content are not incentivised to make it great. The loss of organic reach on Facebook means that brands cannot grow an audience by producing content people like. They can only pay for audiences. So they buy a slot on the scrolling feed, and brief their agencies to produce ‘thumb-stopping’ content. Please carpel tunnel audiences into stopping to watch this ad no one has asked for. Capture attention, tell a 5 second story (because no one watches video for more than that) and close with a CTA to eComm.
Facebook’s challenge to brands is not to hold or build attention, it is to grab it. The news follows the same model. Pull someone onto your page with a headline that sends them into a such a state of outrage or surprise that they have to click. Current politics, dumb moves by Pepsi and United.. these are the spikes that grab and hold our attention for just a minute (but enough to gain the click that means an ad impression).
The question then, are these quick bursts of attention good for brands?
A concentrated array of news headlines does make a brand manager look good. As people shift jobs faster, all you need is one Arby’s tweet and you are good for the next promotion. Someone else will take your role as attention arbiter for your brand.
But at what point does the depth of mind share start to matter more than the grabbing of it? Is a headline scan, a double-tap on Instagram, or 4.5 seconds of video really driving sales for brands?
I am not sure. Maybe right now it is. Advertising on Facebook for shallow attention is cheap and effective. Pay a little, reach many.
A single brand who balks at Facebook’s shallow attention-model will not create a change. The change will come when weary consumers get bored of the lame attention-grabbing techniques on social media and the news at large. When we demand deeper reporting and spend more time on really good pay-for content like Netflix and Spotify. It will come when a few brands build deeper, value-driven relationships with consumers beyond the attention-grabbing brands. When brands leave Facebook and own the consumer relationship outright. When brands offer value to consumers with great content and consumers pay them back with money and no one has to give up brain cells. The change will come when competitor brands become envious of those relationships. How do we be more like brand x, they will ask their agencies. Decks will get made, telling brand managers that the attention model is broken. Maybe then brands will take money out of the attention grabbing machine, and put money towards value creation. And maybe then Facebook will design its products not around minutes of attention grabbed, but around value added and connections made.
Or, Snapchat will do it first and Facebook will follow.