Earlier this week I went to the launch of a new report from our friends at Storythings.
The report, called ‘Scroll Stoppers’, shares the findings of some research that Storythings has carried out. This research looked at the ways in which hybrid working is changing our attention.
Storythings do brilliant work, and we’ve worked with them on recent projects including the National Theatre and Folger Shakespeare Library websites.
I find the work that they do around formats, audiences and attention particularly interesting and insightful.
The Scroll Stoppers research was carried out after the Storythings team noticed a surprising finding in some recent RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research) data:
“Radio’s long-reigning superstar, the breakfast show—historically the most listened to show on any broadcast station—has started losing listeners to its mid-morning counterpart. And thanks to an increase in hybrid working and, in turn, a decrease in commutes and early starts, it makes sense”
This is useful and important research for folks in the cultural sector to think about. Culture is competing for time and attention so if we have a better understanding of how people behave (and why), we can be more effective with what we do.
The report has identified six key areas or trends, I’ve pulled out some key sections of the report below, and at the end I try to summarise what I think this might mean for the cultural sector. You can read the full Scroll Stoppers report here.
“As we navigated extended periods of lockdown, many of us not only had the time and freedom to engage with more content, but as the whole world moved online, we suddenly had a lot more to choose from. Now, as our work and social lives get increasingly busier, habits like online learning, infinite scrolling, and late-night Google holes are difficult to maintain. We’ve developed a self-awareness in the way we consume content and our research points to a reliance on others to help cut through the noise.”
“We need somebody else to tell us what is interesting”
Mullet: Business in the front, party in the back.
“With many of us working and living in the same space during the pandemic, and the subsequent rise in remote and hybrid working, we’ve gotten used to quickly switching between work-time and break-time. Traditionally work-based platforms have entered our social sphere, and 78% of our respondents say they transition between personal tasks and work activities throughout the day, usually through the same screens, devices, and chat apps. […] in this strange hangover of the digital sphere adapting to mimic real-life proximity, it seems reconciling our public and personal selves is our biggest challenge. We want to make sure the right content is finding us in the right context and our research shows the development of two key behaviours when it comes to what we consume and how we interact in online spaces.”
“There is a tendency to be much more empathic. When I work from home I’m very careful with what I consume media wise.”
Everything all at once
“According to Inside Intelligence, these days we’re interacting with around 13 hours of content a day. And given that we’re also expected to work, eat, sweat, socialise, moisturise, go to therapy, and God knows what else—it seems our only option is to engage with multiple media at once. We listen to podcasts as we scroll through social media, make online purchases during TV ad breaks, and seek out ambient playlists to help us focus while we work. But as opposed to a constant need for stimulation, our research suggests this behaviour is a coping strategy. Thanks to a significant increase in remote and hybrid working, we’re getting increasingly good at finding what works for us in a variety of settings. And quite often that means creating the perfect amount of background noise or visual stimulation to recreate a traditional office environment."
“I live in an open plan kitchen and living space, and subtitles allow people to comfortably be focused on the television while there are other things going on.”
Say no faux
“…while platforms like Instagram and Facebook have transformed culture in more ways than we can mention, it seems their long reign as sources of escapism, aesthetic, and aspiration could be coming to an end. There may have been a (burning) desire for escapism during the pandemic, but when it came to social media feeds we saw a significant shift toward more authentic and relatable posts. Lockdown was a leveller for everyone and the “hashtag goals” lifestyles of the famous and influential no longer spoke to our needs.”
We've become a lot better at just sniffing out the nonsense really, you know, what's authentic and what isn't. We've got better at that.
“Our research shows audiences are facing a cognitive dissonance between being able to choose from literally any kind of content about literally any kind of subject, and feeling like they can’t be intentional with their choices. (Netflix homepage, we see you.) Unlocking our phone screens is like powering up a slot machine—we never know where the imminent sequence of events will lead. And in response we’re seeing people move away from infinite scrolling and algorithms designed to take us down the rabbit hole, and instead turn to less scrollable single-channel platforms. It seems there’s value to be found in unskippable media. When we asked respondents about the types of content they couldn’t live without, music, podcasts, and books came out on top.”
“I dislike how much control I have over my time. I feel that everything has to be such an active choice that it could get overwhelming. That’s what I like about radio—that I do not choose the music.”
Swiss Army Apps
“Instead of switching between multiple apps, channels, and screens to consume content and carry out day-to-day tasks, our research shows we’re repurposing existing platforms to better serve our needs. We’re taking meetings from our phones, using work-based platforms to socialise, and seeking news and recommendations from social media. These behaviours range from individual repurposing of channels (like searching TikTok for the best coffee machine) to macro trends that directly impact a platform’s strategy.”
“I think I get most of my information from TikTok, if I'm being honest, book recommendations, film recommendations, just like any recommendations for home, appliances—anything that I want, I go to TikTok.”
What does this mean for the cultural sector?
This research outlines some exciting opportunities.
People are saying they value curation, that they are looking for guidance from trusted but perhaps non-traditional sources, that they want authenticity and that they want enriching, enjoyable content.
These are all things that the cultural sector is great at, and - in many offline spaces - already does!
But, and there is a but, it does not always seem like the areas outlined above are a consideration or priority that feed into the creation, presentation and distribution of most cultural content.
As I’ve written elsewhere, the cultural sector often seems fearful of appearing to ‘dumb down’. So rather than meet people where they are, and use an understanding of people’s behaviours, needs and habits to shape what content is produced and how it is presented, we continue to make and share content which mostly fails to find, reach or engage audiences.
There is huge opportunity here, but it will take a shift in content strategies and priorities for the sector to be able to realise it.
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