Facebook, Goldfish and Diminishing Attention Spans
By Samuel Greengard
Over the last several months, there has been no shortage of discussion about how Facebook is losing its luster. Social media monitoring firm Socialbakers reports that in the U.S., the number of active users has plummeted by 8 percent, or about 12.8 million users, during the last three months.
Most of us recall the early days of logging onto Facebook and connecting to our world in a far more engaging way. There was an immediacy and sense of connectedness that didn't seem to exist in the physical world. But 50 friends multiplied into 150 and then 750. People you didn't know began sending friend requests and the same cute cat pictures and jokes began streaming across the feed with the frequency of a gaudy late-night TV commercial.
Just as the once-relished "You've Got Mail" chirp from AOL faded into the background, Facebook seems to be taking the same predictable route—despite a series of redesigns and markedly better ways to sort friends and control content.
There are a couple of takeaways here for CIOs and other executives. First, any new and exciting tool, site or service eventually becomes mundane, if not a full-fledged yawn, over time. Of course, people will continue to use the tool if they perceive there's value. Let's face it, most of us still visit Facebook daily, even if we grumble that it's not as exciting or relevant as it once was.
Second, and far more important, it's critical to optimize tools and ensure that they are designed for maximum results. Since Facebook is a capitalistic endeavor, its goal is to simply maximize the number of eyeballs and clicks. However, for Facebook users, there is a law of diminishing returns. At a certain point, too many friends and too much content dilute the immediacy of the experience.
Think about this when you're building internal social media systems and tools—and attempting to reach those who have "liked" your company. These days, we're all overloaded. What was a 12-second attention span in 2000 is now an 8-second attention span, Statistic Brain reports. By contrast, goldfish have a 9-second attention span. Who knew goldfish can now concentrate better than humans?
Unfortunately, the "Build it and They Will Come" approach no longer works. Once a system hits the 70 or 80 percent threshold for useless content and irrelevant comments, people tune out. And once you've lost them, it's next to impossible to get them back.