An old story keeps on making an appearance – a survey by Microsoft stating that technology and social media has ruined our attention span and that the average Canadian (for it only surveyed Canadians) now has a shorter attention span than a goldfish.

This one has been doing the rounds for a little while now (in fact, since May 2015), but appeared once again in the New York Times’ opinion section in January this year. And this attention span myth, especially relating to social media, has been bugging me for a while. So, here are my top four myths relating to social media and marketing in the semiconductor sector.


Counter-intuitive perhaps but long blog posts are shared more than short ones, even by engineers

Myth 1: Engineers hate social media

I’ve heard it bandied about quite a lot, that there’s no point marketing to engineers via social media channels. Indeed, there’s the old (very old) joke that an extrovert engineer is one who stares at your shoes when he’s talking to you.

So with this in mind, here’s a quick question… how many social shares did blog posts from just three semiconductor companies get in the first 10 months of 2015?

  1. over 100,000
  2. over 250,000
  3. over 500,000
  4. over 750,000

The correct answer is d. Or more accurately, 761,199. From just three companies.

And no, not one of those posts are about cats (well, ok, the most shared one was about an RFID enabled cat feeder, but I don’t think the cat caused the spike). In fact, they’re almost all technical, informative pieces that are hosted solely on the websites of Atmel (519,348), NVIDIA (134,951) and Samsung’s semiconductor division (106,900).

The figures come from our research into the semiconductor industry’s use of social media and which companies are doing it well. It’s well worth a look, with good information on what works, who should be copied and what sort of content gets not only seen, but acted upon… and contains some interesting (and in several cases, surprising) findings.

Myth 2: Tweets will not improve my profit margin

So, what’s in a share?

As John Wanamaker, a 19th century merchant, philanthropist and oft-quoted marketing ‘pioneer’ (Wikipedia’s word, not mine) is often quoted as saying, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Of course, the ultimate goal of (almost) any marketing collateral is to generate profit. But, attributing an individual advertisement, article, press release or piece of media coverage to a spike in sales is exceptionally difficult. Here in the UK, the Cadbury Gorilla (chosen by the public as the best TV ad of all time) led to a 10% rise in sales. This is for an advertisement (well, campaign if you include the social sharing and the countless column inches that arose about it) that was running constantly in exclusion to almost everything else. But, how do you know if the advert had no effect when placed on ITV or Sky or C4 and therefore how do you spend wisely.

The same is true for technical collateral, targeted at a small subsection of people, where there may only be a few thousands (in some cases a few tens) of people that it will be of relevance to, how do you measure the effect of key types of marketing activity. Advertising value equivalency (AVE) won’t work, as you’re not advertising – and an advert in the New York Times, or Le Monde will cost orders of magnitude more than an advert in EE Times or Radio Electronics, yet have fewer readers that will buy your product. And, it also ignores content put out via your own channels.

Instead, one of the best ways to monitor the effect of an individual item of activity is through the number of social shares it gets. By measuring this, you are putting a quantitative value onto the number of people affected by the marketing enough to share it, and by categorising it you can measure what works and what doesn’t. And adjust the campaign.

Myth 3: LinkedIn is for business content, Facebook is for cats, Twitter is for pictures of your dinner

Not every platform is equal. But the myth that engineers will only be looking at LinkedIn is simply wrong. Going back to the research done in November, Facebook sees twice as many shares for engineering-related content as the other platforms combined.

On average, blog posts from the top 40 semiconductor companies received 175 Facebook shares, that’s three times as many as LinkedIn shares (52) over eight times as many Tweets (21), over 13 times as many Google + shares and 175 times as many Pinterest shares (albeit, I’m more surprised that Pintrest received one share on average).

The extent that this myth has taken hold can also be seen in the focus each of these platforms is given. Despite having just 13% of the audience of Facebook (and a level of engagement that’s an eighth of Facebook’s), the greatest level of corporate activity comes on Twitter. In fact, half (50%) of all social activity undertaken by the companies is on Twitter, that’s more than double the activity on LinkedIn (23%) and more than three times the activity on Facebook (16%).

A slight readjustment is needed, I think.

Myth 4: Information shared on social platforms should be short because people don’t have the time or the attention span to read long copy

And we’re back to the one that triggered this rant blog post. How many times have you been told that people don’t have long attention spans anymore? Here’s a good quote about the Microsoft research in the US IT title Information Week:

“In slightly over a decade, the human attention span has dropped 25% — from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013 — and is now 1 second less than the attention span of a goldfish.

“The main culprits are social media, smartphones and other mobile devices, and digital streaming. In fact, at the average rate of the human attention span, and human reading speed, you moved on to something else as soon as you read that first sentence.”

And, taking the opposite tact, how many times have you been told that people may sit around to read a beautifully produced and weighty magazine… but won’t hang around to read more than a few sentences online. The people who say this always (I generalise) ignore the facts that ad revenue for b2b print media is shrinking in many sectors, that technical articles are moving online and, those beautifully produced and weighty consumer titles (if you’re a cyclist you may know Rouleur or Cyclist), are nearly always still in pristine condition in exactly the same position as they were a month ago – on the coffee table gathering dust.

What our research found is that it’s actually the opposite. Longer articles get shared more.  We broke our research into four main categories – 0-1000 words, 1-2000, 2-3000 and 3-10000.

For Facebook, the number of shares was roughly equal for the first two categories, and then dropped significantly if it was over 2000 words. But, for Twitter, the number of shares rose as you got closer to 3000. And for LinkedIn, over 3000 was ideal.

Ergo, for shorter (sub 2k) articles, focus your effort to promote them on Facebook. And for longer product sheets and technical documents, concentrate your time energy on promoting them via LinkedIn

And we’re not the only ones to notice this correlation between article length and shares. Hubspot recently produced some fantastic research into post length and its effect on sharing (albeit not breaking it down by platform), inbound link creation and on organic search. Their results again suggested 2000-2250 words will deliver the greatest number of shares and inbound links to an article. And 2250 to 2500 words will deliver the greatest results for organic search.

In reality this is not necessarily surprising. As my high-school English teacher once told me (and it’s probably one of the few things I can remember from his lessons) “It’s possible, but it’s incredibly difficult to tell a great story well in few words.” While he was probably referring to the likes Heller, Bronte, Shakespeare and Tolstoy – one only has to look at the various lists of the greatest books of all time (Time, The Guardian, Greatest Books) and, with the exception of the Great Gatsby, they are they’re all well over 300 pages – it’s equally true in technical and marketing content too. A piece should be as long as it needs to be.

This also goes back to the teachings of Claude C. Hopkins, one of the early marketing greats, and the writer of Scientific Advertising, a book that is still relevant 93 years after it was first published.

In Hopkins’ work for companies like Palmolive (soap), he constantly used long copy in adverts, crucially making sure it was relevant to the reader, giving calls to action and using incentives, such as coupons, to drive people to the shops and ways to measure success.

That said, just because a long post gets more shares, it may often give a greater reach per dollar to sacrifice shares on an individual post and create two 1000-word pieces instead.

What this all means

Will the article length really dictate the number of shares you get? Well, that depends on how you interpret the data and what is cause and what’s effect.

Going back to the HubSpot data, which also analysed words in the title, an article with the word ‘Infographic’ received on average twice as many shares as one with the word ‘how’. Similarly, posts with a number in the title typically received more shares than the average post about marketing. To me, these are more indicative of the fact that people are more likely to share a good infographic or listing, than it is about the headline itself. Indeed, from our social media analysis of the semiconductor industry, infographics received, on average, nearly twice as many shares (306 per blogpost) than how-to articles (187). And lists (1058) being the most engaging content of all.

The same, I think, can be said of article length. Engineers want good, engaging content that helps them do their job better. For some articles that will be 2000 words that explains the mean time to failure of a power component, for others it’s a 7000 word article (or a specific section within it) on 5G wireless detailing its technical specifications and the regional variations in legislation that limit bandwidth, frequency and power.

Long copy is fantastic as long as the reader will find it useful. And by trying to dumb down a subject so it can be contained within 600 words (half a magazine page), the copy will miss out almost all the good information required by the engineer, and will often do more harm than good as a result.

In short, write for the engineer who doesn’t have the time to search for lots of sources, and who will appreciate a reliable source of information. Write simply. Write engagingly. And, since online there is no hard word limit, write it to the length required by the subject matter, telling the complete story (yes, if it’s a complex issue, pick one aspect and tell this well). If you do this, it will be shared more, cited more and drive more returning traffic to one of the best sales portal you will ever have – your website.