Multiscreening, Multitasking and Capturing Attention in a TikTok-Distracted World

By Paul Neto, Measure Protocol

It is truly the era of multitasking – at a level we’ve never seen before. As attention spans continue to drop, and people attempt to do more and more activities simultaneously, advertisers are left with very little time and opportunity to truly engage their audiences. But this reality is more complicated than it may sound, with subtleties that should be noted in order to come up with impactful strategies.

First, let’s acknowledge that mobile phone usage is ubiquitous. While Americans alone spend upward of seven hours per day on screens (with Gen Z sitting at nine hours), nearly half of that time is spent on their phones. Understanding exactly what people are doing on their phones is essential – after all, they’re spending a vast amount of time on them.

TikTok usage: a case in point

To better illustrate some of what is happening in the digital landscape, and the multi-screening trend – we examined some recent data on heavy TikTok users. TikTok, a phenomenon in itself with usage surging and expected to reach close to a billion users by next year, is a good place to start understanding mobile phone usage, especially for the powerful Gen Zers.

We found that heavy users, spending more than 18 hours per week on the platform, are perilously close to reaching their “available time” ceiling for consuming media. Our 2023 data from nearly 10,000 individuals indicates that these heavy TikTok users are also spending slightly more time than light TikTok users (two hours per week) on a variety of other apps as well. We concluded that these heavy consumers are likely employing multiple screens, often concurrently, while using various apps and services.

As a side note, it was also interesting to see how people are actually using TikTok – and it does vary by audience. For example, Gen Z interacts with the platform by commenting, searching and sharing – watching an average of 5,400 videos per month. In contrast, Millennials are watching around 1,600 videos, and clock more live views than their younger counterparts. We also zoomed out (by six whole minutes) to see what people were doing on their phones immediately prior to and after sharing on TikTok. Our findings suggest that the already fragmented digital landscape continues to fracture across services and activities.

In any case, as TikTok continues to take up more and more of people’s time, it is worth examining these users to better understand how they are engaging across the digital ecosystem, as discovery and consideration metrics are developed across services in the consumer journey. It can give us a window into slices of consumer experience, what happens in sequence, or before and after a behavioral event, and can be the first step to deeper understanding of target audiences.

So how can we reach these distracted consumers?

Multitasking actually impacts brain function, so audiences that participate in this behavior are actually thinking differently. According to Lifespan, a health company, “individuals rated as high media multitaskers (number of hours using multiple devices simultaneously) showed poorer attention on cognitive tasks.” This makes an advertiser’s job increasingly difficult.

The mantras of authenticity and consistency still ring true, along with more tactical approaches such as clear calls to action and captivating design. But at the heart of a good strategy lies deep understanding. And that means data that can help provide holistic views with mobile insights into consumer attitudes, behaviors, and purchasing habits that extend beyond individual apps, and instead can paint a picture of individuals’ complete mobile lives.

Once marketers and advertisers understand their audience’s activities across various digital domains, including things like social media, streaming, gaming and shopping apps (and TikTok of course!), they can use this intelligence to capture waning attention in the most effective way possible.

About the Author

Paul Neto, co-founder and CMO of Measure Protocol, is a pragmatic technologist and a market researcher, with a rich and varied career history in research technology, data analytics and advertising effectiveness measurement. He co-founded Measure to solve the challenges he saw in the digital data collection space, developing innovative technologies and fundamentals that offer new opportunities for data and analytics.

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