Media Fatigue Is Real. Can PR Practitioners Help?
The release of the 2023 Reuters Institute Digital News Report from The University of Oxford piqued the interest of our team this month. The executive summary reveals that 72% of publishers are concerned over news avoidance in 2023, which hit an all-time high this year while engagement dipped across outlets and platforms.
Social media, news sites, print media, and streaming took off in the last two decades with a not-so-slow burn. In 2020, it all boomed. Media consumption became essential to many peoples’ lifestyles, eating a hearty slice of their time as consumers craved information and connectedness. After three years glued to an overload of wild headlines, polarizing debates, cat videos, global triumphs, and historical devastations, nearly half of consumers are exhausted by the influx of digital information.
Burnout will likely continue as social media wars and content diversification continues. It’s a very real challenge. I’ll admit it – as a consumer, I’m feeling the media fatigue, too. That said, it’s my job to continue to fuel the news cycle and work with writers to engage audiences with stories that matter. Let’s look at what’s driving media fatigue, how it’s impacting consumers, and how PR pros are helping revitalize consumer interest in media consumption.
The Many Drivers of Media Fatigue
One interesting driver of the rise in media fatigue does not translate to a dip in media consumption. The American Press Institute reports that of Gen Z and Millennials, two of the most connected generations, 90% spend at least two hours a day online, while over half spend five or more hours and nearly a quarter spend nine or more hours. Of these consumers, 30% report feeling worse the longer they are connected online, while almost half cite that consuming media involves being overwhelmed by information. Yet, they remain online.
The Reuters Institute reports that fear of misinformation and polarization is a likely culprit: Less than 40% of respondents cite that they enjoy talking about news with family and friends, compared to over 50% in 2015. Meanwhile, the same report reveals that almost half worry they’ve unknowingly shared false information, and the concerns around understanding challenging viewpoints add significant pressure to remain online and informed. This anxiety correlates to a high rate of media mistrust, reported by The Associated Press NORC, to impact nearly all adults on some level.
The massive expansion of media sources and digital communication is contributing to exhaustion, too. Over 4.9 billion people globally and 70% of Americans use social media; the typical user interacts with more than six platforms. It’s unsurprising due to these numbers that 62% of consumers have come to rely on social media as their primary news source. But, many also continue to use other news media like digital and print news outlets, podcasts, television, and streaming platforms. This information overload is overextending consumers into burnout.
Science Validates the Problem
The media fatigue phenomenon can also be explained by communication theory and psychological frameworks. Due to cognitive dissonance, people experiencing media fatigue may avoid certain types of media stories, particularly those that challenge their beliefs or carry moral weight. Compassion fatigue, which is based on a stress-response framework, can also contribute to avoidance and indifference toward news. It’s not just the overload of media that contributes to media fatigue, but also the nature of the stories being consumed. Exposure to traumatic or anxiety-inducing content can have various effects on viewers. It often leads to increased engagement as viewers seek information to help gain control over negative events or complete avoidance of the content to alleviate dissonance.
Correlations and theories aside, the widespread disdain toward media consumption makes it more challenging for PR pros and journalists to grab consumers’ attention and form positive perceptions. We’re entering an arena where our audience is on high alert. To help relieve exhaustion, we are responsible for making our content beneficial, palatable, and meaningful for our audiences.
Making News and Storytelling Resonate in 2023
The media fatigue epidemic should sound an alarm for communicators. With attention spans split between five to ten media platforms daily, it’s no wonder people are looking for a break. But the pressure to remain connected today is massive, so consumers will continue to use digital media until a better way to stay in the know comes along. Companies must mindfully use leading news and social platforms to reach these consumers without fueling the burnout drivers.
Working with PR pros can help because they understand how and why people respond to these types of content and how to navigate the content stream best to make your brand’s story resonate during times of burnout and avoidance. Here are some of the foundational approaches to combatting the issue:
#1: Know what your audience cares about
Of course, communication is always transactional. Your audience has specific needs they’d like met by the companies they support; whether it’s a product or service you’re offering, clearly communicate what your offering will do to fulfill their requests. Building customer personas can be a great place to start, but personalization goes a long way in differentiating your brand’s news and offerings.
Research and precision are essential to crafting these communications, but even more importantly, communication strategies should be based on feedback and demand. Open two-way conversations with readers and social media followers and leverage engagement to understand what they think of your brand, what you can offer them to improve their lifestyle or help them achieve their goals, and how you can best evolve the customer relationship to support them long-term.
2: Meet your audience where they are
While the fatigue persists, consumers remain hopeful about digital media’s role in society and anticipate media landscape will evolve, focusing on creating positive connections and shifting away from stirring division. With a massive audience craving a shift, the emergence of platforms like Threads, updated algorithms across channels for more personalized user experiences, and even new digital communication models have the potential to redefine online news consumption and communication.
While a transformation seem distant, we’ve seen consumers gravitate toward new media experiences in the recent past and know a renaissance is possible. For instance, let’s consider the growing popularity of videos. Reels and TikTok gained immense popularity a few years ago as people sought ways to escape reality. Since then, social media has become the preferred news source for 30% of people, with video platforms as the favorite source for 20% of the population. That said, pushing news over the wire and hoping it reaches that market segment won’t work. It is crucial to assess where your target audience will look for news content and create an integrated, cross-platform strategy if you want your message to be heard.
3: Know what is newsworthy and resonant in 2023
Global conflicts, evolving technology, economic turbulence, and social justice occupy today’s headlines. To break through social algorithms and reach the front page of media websites, your news needs to be meaningful and offer a new perspective to your audience. You don’t need to invent the world’s most innovative rocket ship or cure world hunger (although, if you’re up for it, that might be good for your company’s reputation). Still, your news should be exciting, valuable and actionable to your target audience.
Your communications should forge and nurture customer relationships: Let them know why it’s worth their time to listen to you and empower them to keep the conversation going. It is also crucial to prioritize authenticity and transparency – now more than ever. In today’s media landscape, filled with distrust and uncertainty, brands and thought leaders cannot risk compromising their reputations by bending the truth. By sharing an honest and vulnerable message, you can highlight your integrity and illuminate your story to earn customer trust.
We can’t cure media fatigue, no matter how hard we try. But how we share news and communicate with key stakeholders will determine whether our voices shine through the storm. If you’re unsure where to start, connect with Caster on Twitter (or X, if you’re into that) @CasterComm or email us at email@example.com. We’re pros at getting the word out, bringing stories to life, and navigating the ever-fluctuating media landscape.