A “social-media-first-then-seize-the-day” mentality
What do you do when you wake up every morning?
Chances are you roll over to turn off your alarm clock, but in the process of doing so, end up grabbing your phone from the bedside table. Then you start absentmindedly scrolling through your various social media news feeds in an attempt to mentally prepare for the day ahead, right?
(Go on, admit it).
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. One after the other. A constant stream of updates let us know what’s happened overnight; what we have missed in those few blissful hours we are genuinely offline and our bodies go into power-save mode.
As a society, we have become so dependent on our devices that it seems natural – almost inevitable – to fall into this sort of routine. But have you ever stopped to consider, what drives this behaviour?
Is it the desire to feel connected, or merely a neurological urge that must be satisfied? And are we really in control of our technology use, or do the demands of modern life present us with no other option than to be slaves to our smartphones?
Changing online dynamics
These sorts of platforms with their instant uploads, character-limited statuses and multi-second views have fundamentally changed how we interact with information. To say we live in an age of information overload would be stating the obvious.
Now the preference is for content “snippets,” in lieu of the more in-depth analysis we used to get before Web 2.0 really took effect. The barriers of entry have been lowered in terms of content creation and consumption, opening the proverbial floodgates with no signs of slowing down.
This overwhelmed feeling is further compounded by the blurring of our personal and professional lives, with an increasing number of colleagues infiltrating our social networks or sending emails after hours. There’s an expectation that we’re available all the time, and, in some ways we are – just the click of a button away.
Your daily mobile usage might surprise you
Recent stats would suggest we touch our phones 2,617 times a day, which equates to roughly two hours of mobile screen time – and that’s just for your average user. The same source has found if you fall towards the top 10%, you’re more likely to interact with your phone 5,400 times a day (or about 225 daily minutes).
That’s huge. Imagine if we committed the same amount of time to study, or learning a new skill…
These interactions, or “touches” are comprised of every tap, swipe and click on our phones, with most of them falling into short, frequent sessions, rather than periods of extended use. This points to another problem when it comes to our digital dependency – namely, our diminished attention spans (but we’ll get to that later).
As a general rule, we tend to underestimate how much we rely on our devices.
For instance, a number of studies have found people self-report to checking their email once every hour, while covert observation has revealed they refresh their inboxes closer to once every five minutes.
In this sense, there’s a noticeable disconnect between our perceptions and reality. Are you addicted?
The science behind our tech addiction
To some extent, this reliance on technology is not our fault. Our lives have been migrated online by forces largely beyond our control. These days, you risk being excluded from social events, pop cultural references, international news and important business developments if you’re offline for too long.
That’s when our so-called FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” really kicks in. Yes, such a thing exists – and living off the grid just isn’t a viable solution anymore.
We’ve been conditioned to crave this sort of online gratification, whether it’s in the form of ‘likes’ on one of our posts or even just stumbling across interesting content.
From a psychological perspective, this is what’s known as variable interval reinforcement. We are compelled to keep checking, because we never know what we’re going to find when we log on.
Every time we see an unread notification or hear a new message alert, we get a rush of dopamine in the pleasure centre of our brains. This neurochemical reaction is responsible for all those warm, fuzzy feelings we experience at the hands of technology that keep us coming back for more.
Let’s face it, depending on the device you’re currently on, chances are you’ve already opened a couple of other tabs or checked your phone in the time it’s taken to read this far… And who can blame you? For most of us it’s become an unconscious habit, simply a product of the times we live in.
Interestingly though, the latest clinical trials indicate it’s actually the anticipation of receiving this sort of reward, rather than the reward itself, that produces the highest levels of dopamine. So our need to continually check different platforms and seek out new information becomes somewhat of a self-perpetuating cycle…
What are the costs of constant connectivity?
The negative impacts of too much technology have already been well documented in terms of work-life balance, general anxiety and strain on interpersonal relationships.
But, as if that wasn’t enough, the term “digital detox” has now become a socially acceptable expression (and that’s how you know we’ve really got a problem).
While the different social media accounts we have will vary from person to person, it’s fair to say that email is largely universal.
From the first message sent by computer programmer Ray Tomlinson in 1971 (a profound mashing of the keyboard to reveal the message: “QWERTYUIOP”), flash forward a few decades to today, when handling this sort of correspondence is the norm in every household and workplace.
Now 85% of emails are typically responded to within the first two minutes, while, statistically speaking, it can take up to 64 seconds to “recover” from one.
Your concentration is dwindling…
The ease of email communication has meant that every day we have to deal with a relentless barrage of questions, ideas, appointments and attachments, which exert a significant influence over our productivity.
No wonder most of us are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of incoming and outgoing messages. This constant back and forth contributes to the all-too-familiar feeling of having so much to do, and seemingly so little time to do it.
Our modern day tendency to multi-task requires mentally recalibrating based on each new job at hand and can often leave us struggling to complete tasks from start to finish. Because we are pulled in so many different directions, our attention spans are also much shorter than they used to be.
In this way, technology assists us but simultaneously acts as a constant source of distraction. It’s even been suggested that trying to concentrate on a task while you have an unread email can reduce your effective IQ by up to ten points.
Skim reading and the “spam effect”
The world wide web, by its very definition, has democratised information like never before. Over the years though, this has resulted in a trade off between accessibility and privacy.
Our personal data can now be exploited by savvy marketers, with targeted pop up ads and unsolicited bulk emails two of the main offenders.
When it comes to detecting this sort of spam, it’s a pretty clear red flag if you haven’t registered your details with a company and you’re asked to click and claim a prize… You’d also have to be pretty naive to believe you’re the “lucky 1,000,000th visitor.”
But while marketing techniques and user algorithms have become more and more sophisticated, the notion of “spam” itself has evolved too.
Now the act of “spamming” someone has come to mean anyone who sends an excessive number of emails. This is no longer restricted to B2B or B2C communication either – so your friends, family and co-workers can be equally guilty.
Think about it.
Before the advent of email, you had to invest time in writing to someone. You were naturally more selective about what you said, and, because it took so long to send, you didn’t expect an immediate reply.
These days, the disinhibiting effect of online communication and its inherent accessibility means you can send as many messages as you like about whatever comes to mind (for better or worse).
Being inundated with emails makes it harder to determine what’s actually worth reading, and has profoundly changed the way we engage with online content.
Most of us rarely scroll the whole way through a message – and the proportion of those who make it halfway is even less (ironic given the length of this article, I know). Instead, we tend to skim read online, looking for the main takeaway points.
Embracing your new role as a “prosumer”
It’s easy to criticise our borderline unhealthy relationship with technology, and even easier to feel disheartened by the situation.
The truth is, if you understand the twenty-first century context in which you’re operating, you can assume more control as both a producer and consumer of content.
All levels of business need to be able to communicate effectively if they’re going to draw on one another’s skills and collaborate towards common goals. That means breaking through the digital clutter to convey the information that really matters, but how?
Open rates are a precursor to employee engagement (surprise surprise, people actually have to open your emails to get any benefit from them); and once they’ve done this, the next challenge is to boost your click rates – so people are responding to the requests within your message.
Top tips for writing compelling emails that actually get read
So how do you stand out when you’ve got something to say?
Nobody wants important communication to get lost in their inbox. In order for your messages to translate into tangible engagement, you should always:
- Keep it concise (the TL;DR movement has proven once and for all that “less is more” if you really want to capture attention online).
- Make it personal (automated emails that include personalisation have higher open rates than those that don’t).
- Have your audience’s needs in mind (if the email seems irrelevant, chances are it won’t be read. Aim for a catchy, clickable headline and only include content that relates to them specifically).
- Add value where possible (how can you visually enhance your message to ensure clarity? Or embed content that enables some level of interaction?)
- Consider timing (avoid sending emails after work hours where possible… We all need a break).
Mobile-first strategies are the way of the future
There’s no denying that emails are here to stay. You would be crazy to assume otherwise (even if you do get frustrated at people who misuse the platform).
Worldwide, 2016 saw a 28% growth rate in sent emails compared to the previous year. More crunching of the numbers indicates our email use will continue on an even more accelerated upwards trajectory.
But what about the growing role our preferred mobile devices play? Researchers suggest 86% of us check our emails on-the-go, meaning we should start to focus just as much, if not more attention on this method of delivery for work purposes.
(Is your phone within reach now? Case in point).
One device, infinite possibilities
Text messages tick all the boxes when it comes to how we like to consume information – in short, snackable form (rarely exceeding 160 characters).
It’s presence in our day-to-day lives means we are willing to engage with it more readily too. It’s thought that a staggering 95% of text messages will be read within the first three minutes, and responded to within 90 seconds…
It raises the question from a management perspective, why isn’t SMS used more strategically?
It’s clear we are embarking on a new frontier in terms of employee engagement and for someone who knows how to tailor content for mobile vs desktop platforms, it represents a huge amount of untapped potential.
Now you can initiate calls-to-action via text message and drive engagement with different information or feedback forms, all with the aforementioned benefits of mobile functionality.
Actimo is one way of leveraging this sort of organisation-wide mobile-first strategy to generate employee traction.
Ctrl+Alt+Delete your bad email habits
Even though work has assumed somewhat of an intrusive influence on our private lives, when mobile phones are used more thoughtfully, most of us would have to concede the pros of this sort of connectivity far outweigh the cons.
Plus, could we really go back to a time without phones? Or do we just have a tendency to romanticise the notion of a tech-free existence?
In this way, it’s up to us to be more discerning when it comes to how we use the communication tools at our disposal and not let these devices dictate the terms of how we live…
The number of subscribers you have or clicks you get are no longer key metrics for success. Instead, the focus should be on delivering value, no matter what.
So, before you next hit send, consider how could you convey your message in a more humorous/informative/clear and, therefore, memorable way?
Perhaps the key to navigating this sort of digital landscape comes down to something as simple as acknowledging how you feel when you receive an email, and resisting the temptation to send quantity over quality.