We live in an era of democratized storytelling. Amateur Instagram photographers can take pictures like the pros and Snapchat storytellers can gain major followings. But there is no substitute for in-depth research and thorough coverage on hard news that might require more than just a pop of text.
These types of long-form stories drive daily discussions and arguments and are a crucial aspect of many individuals’ daily routines, whether it be commuting to work or standing in line for lunch. But to ensure that they are truly impactful, they must be formatted to match modern content consumption habits that on average do not exceed 15 seconds per item.
As our attention spans gradually decrease, the need for immersive, engaging experiences grows.
So, how can authors create those experiences while finding a happy medium between Snapchat and text-heavy?
Soap opera vs. dramas vs. real life
We need to stop thinking of stories as one singular piece of text and instead see them as divvied-up, attention-grabbing blocks of content that guide readers to the next part of a story, generating curiosity from one block to the next and ensuring continuity.
Soap opera scripts hold audiences spellbound, tumbling out one climax after another to feed the appetites of addicted fans. Their storylines run concurrently, intersect and lead to further developments. These stories continue to surprise and delight viewers, keeping them engaged for seasons.
Editorial teams can apply these takeaways when crafting their editorial. Publishers are constantly playing a 15-second game—from the time readers discover their stories, you have an unspoken, 15-second shot clock during which you can grab and maintain readers’ attention before they head elsewhere.
For some publishers, the answer is to simply add a “read more” button after a few sentences. This, however, is a tactic, not a solution, and it will do little to solve the problem of maintaining readers’ attention. If a reader clicks read more but receives no more value, they will quickly move on to something else, leaving the author beaten by the 15-second shot clock.
After working with several top-tier publishers to increase audience engagement, including HuffPost and Time, my suggestion is to disperse interactive blocks throughout your story to successfully pique readers’ interest and compel them to move on to the next block of content until they make it to the end of your articles.
Data from around 10,000 Playbuzz-powered stories show a significant boost in engagement within stories that encompass more than three interactive blocks, proving that you can still craft long-form content that readers consume.
Think of each interactive block as restarting the 15-second shot clock, reawakening the reader as they go from one block of a story to the next.
It’s now up to you. Open and read every article you’ve created over the past year and start the 15-second clock. If you find yourself bored, distracted, fidgety and craving more, then why would your readers feel any different?
Asael Kahana is head of innovation at storytelling platform Playbuzz. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.