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The feed mindset

Today’s consumer lives in their feed: Scrolling and scrolling ... and scrolling ... through an infinite amount of content with the flick of the thumb.

Facebook and Instagram are two of the leading feed forces.
Facebook and Instagram are two of the leading feed forces.
David Ramos/Getty Images

In less than 18 months the percentage of mobile traffic to websites has increased from 50 percent to now greater than 70 percent. And the singular design and delivery experience is now the feed.

Today’s consumer lives in their feed: Scrolling and scrolling ... and scrolling ... through an infinite amount of content with the flick of the thumb. This new behavior, unheard of four or five years ago, is synonymous now with a modern internet built around the content feed. And the mobile feed design and user experience is increasingly influencing the desktop experience.

There were many forerunners to this change. You could point to the rise of search engines that made all information reachable from one interface, the birth of RSS or even the introduction of the iPod click wheel, as developments that made the news feed possible, or inevitable.

The three horsemen of this seismic shift to the feed are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The three horsemen of this seismic shift to the feed are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. These were the three main-event platforms that conditioned users, advertisers and publishers into making snackable content that could be consumed within this new feed-driven design paradigm the instant norm.

The modern tipping point toward feeds came when companies started to push mobile as the main content experience. In 2010 the average web publisher saw approximately 20 percent of traffic on mobile. In the later part of 2013, time on mobile devices overtook desktop for the first time. This device consumption change coincided with Facebook making mobile its singular priority, ramping up its mobile revenue dramatically.

The Facebook shift to mobile has been extraordinary. In 2012, mobile accounted for about one-eighth of Facebook’s third-quarter revenue. Two years later, that figure was two-thirds. Today, it’s more than 80 percent globally. Such is Facebook’s influence that the mobile moment for Facebook became the mobile moment for every consumer.

If there was ever a question, 2013 was the year the feed won. That year, the Top 20 news sites and the Top 5 largest social platforms were all feed-driven.

Three years on from this, the feed isn’t just a style of organization any more, but a force of change that has created a completely new consumer.

The in-feed mindset is driving an insatiable appetite for content

Rather than being a symptom of modern content abundance, the rise of the in-feed mindset actually helped drive this content explosion. The feed has allowed for content to be consumed with unparalleled velocity. Inside the New York Times app, I can direct my eye at pace through one stream of news, where on the desktop, content exists between different planes and axes. It is a slower experience.

This has driven new behaviors — we skim headlines, we look only at photographs, or stop on an autoplay video — while increasing our appetite for more. When Sharethrough surveyed over 300 millennials about their content habits, 91 percent said they discover content mainly through the feed, and one-fifth said they read headlines exclusively. The design paradigm of the feed provides only one way to navigate, promoting constant engagement through an endlessly refreshing stream of content.

The feed is driving change faster than we realize

The rise of the feed, in tandem with the dominance of mobile, has driven change at an incredible rate. What Facebook has done with Instant Play Video is the perfect example. If a consumer was told even a year ago that videos would soon appear in the Facebook feed and start playing automatically, they would have revolted. At a glance, it seemed too interruptive.

Our research at Sharethrough has shown that the opposite happened: 79 percent of millennials we surveyed said that they found instant-play videos convenient. Any other experience now seems like a waste of time, requiring another click while you navigate the feed. Now the Facebook feed allows for text overlays on top of silent video, to better help deliver brand messages. It seems like just yesterday it was introduced, but not only is autoplay video expected now, brands are already optimizing for it.

In the feed, every small detail counts

The pace at which people move through content in their feeds, alongside the massive amount of content available, means the battle for consumer attention is unparalleled in intensity. With users merely glancing at content for a fraction of a second, every detail counts. It’s much harder to capture user attention now. Smart brands must optimize for headlines and video thumbnails, with smaller components now carrying considerable creative weight. The simpler time of optimizing for a trailer or a tagline is over.

In the feed, brands have to do more with less

The feed mindset has produced its own form of content ADD, which brands need to optimize for. The content funnel has shrunk so much that grabbing attention with longer content is harder. Brands, agencies and content creators must realize a lot can be accomplished in three to six seconds. A decade into paid search, the search mindset proves brands can do impactful things with 95 characters of text on Google, and 140 characters with Twitter. Brands today still say, "I need 30 seconds with a consumer." "I need a completed view." With today’s consumer, 10 seconds is the new 30, and you can still make extraordinary impact.

Native is the only sensible way to monetize the in-feed mindset

On mobile, traditional advertising methods promote terrible user experiences. The infuriating need to thumb-press X to exit out of an interstitial ad has become the mobile norm. Given the shift to mobile and the feed, few advertisers are thinking about the user experience of their ads. Advertisers have myopically focused only on guaranteed views, guaranteed success and instant conversion, over brand experiences.

The feed has created a completely new consumer.

Unequivocally, the best brand experience on mobile is a native in-feed ad unit. More than 80 percent of millennials surveyed by Sharethrough said in-feed ads offered a good user experience.

The future possibilities for what can be done with native mobile video are endless. The native mobile in-feed ad unit is most respectful of the delicate three-pronged ecosystem of consumers, publishers and advertisers.

Patrick Keane is the president of Sharethrough and an operating partner at Stripes Group. A former Google and CBS executive, he was CEO of Associated Content and led the sale of the company to Yahoo in 2010. Keane was most recently on the board of Bleacher Report, a digital sports company sold to Turner Broadcasting in 2012. Reach him @phkeane.

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