Skimming the surface, while avoiding the depths
The Kansas City Star
In this season of March Madness, most sports fans know the three-second rule in basketball, limiting the time offensive players can hog the free-throw lane.
Young drivers learn the three-second rule of the road, cautioning motorists to give at least that time for safe braking to keep from hitting the vehicle ahead.
Jeff Marden believes there’s a three-second rule in Internet use.
In the last 10 years, Marden has seen a change develop in Web habits.
“If within three seconds people don’t get what they’re seeking, they’re out,” said Marden, the head of Marden Consulting LLC, an upstate New York Web marketing company.
That time limit refers to “the bounce rate.”
“People are very busy,” said Marden, who found time to talk with me at the international convention of the National Association for Multicultural Education in Philadelphia. “They have a limited amount of time for surfing the Web. The more time consuming it is, the more people leave.”
His company helps businesses reduce the bounce rate so that people stay longer on a firm’s Web pages and find what they’re seeking.
It’s a different marketing approach from Madison Avenue’s feel-and-look good method.
It’s based on empirical data and known behaviors.
It’s more science than feelings, egos and salesmanship.
The Internet from billions of site visits provides behavioral data that companies now use to keep and satisfy the people they want to reach.
“The consistent thing is the three seconds,” Marden said.
He understands why.
“People are busy,” Marden said. “Kids are screaming. The boss wants you to do something. If within three seconds people don’t get what they’re seeking, they’re out.”
He helps companies get their branding and message to people within the three seconds that folks are willing to commit. Web users seeking products, services or information assume that the ease of the website corresponds to the quality of what they are after, trustworthiness or reliability.
If a site is difficult, people think the company will be less customer friendly, too.
Marden has noticed that the three-second rule doesn’t just apply to the Internet.
He first saw Fox News use it in headlines and TV-screen crawlers to grab and hold on to people.
It since has surfaced elsewhere in communications. “That consumer style has become the consumer style of our culture,” Marden said.
It is why Twitter is successful. The limited number of characters conveys messages mostly within the three-second rule. “I believe it’s changing our interpersonal behavior in society,” Marden said.
It’s not a good or bad trend. However, Marden acknowledges that the three-second rule has affected how we communicate and what we expect in contact with others.
It’s like channel surfing in television viewing, except it’s pervasive across society. It’s particularly bothersome in education, where teachers struggle to get and keep students’ and parents’ attention.
“The level of depth people are willing to go gets lost,” Marden said.
The danger is people accept as truth the little information they’re given with no desire for deeper sourcing material. “That’s propaganda 101,” Marden said.
It leads to a less thoughtful, more emotionally reactionary society and a deep polarization, which we see today in the country and the world.
“You can manipulate people very easily like this,” Marden said. “It’s disconcerting and very dangerous. It’s nothing new. It’s just that the reach is new.”
For now, the three-second rule anchors our way of life. That may change if technology enables people to interface with the Internet internally instead of by hand, eye contact.
But while we still can, safeguards should be established to build in more thoughtfulness, more time to seek more information and less emotional reaction so we can navigate life better. We need to slow things down and ponder everything more — before it’s too late.
To reach Lewis W. Diuguid call 816-234-4723 or send email to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.