Capturing the attention of doom scrollers on social media

November 10, 2021


Doom scrolling on social media is the act of spending an excessive amount of screen time devoted to the absorption of negative news. On this episode, Laura Devinsky shares her perspective on how to hook users while they’re scrolling with killer creative. We answer questions like:

  • What is “doom scrolling”?
  • How can marketers stop users from doom scrolling?
  • How will paid ads on social change with rising ad costs?
  • What campaigns have done a good job capturing attention? (
  • What would doom scrolling look like in the metaverse?

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John Tyreman:  Hi gang. Welcome to The Digital Marketing Troop, where we go in the trenches to make sense of digital marketing topics and trends. I’m your host, JohnTyerman. And I am here with a recurring guest, Laura Devinsky, Creative Strategist at Silverback Strategies. Laura, how are you doing today?

Laura Devinsky:  I’m good. It’s good to be back.

John Tyreman:  It’s good to have you back. And we have a topic today that I think is going to be of interest to our listeners: capturing the attention of doom scrollers on social media, and I’m curious… I like to start off these podcast episodes with a quick icebreaker. I’m curious, what are your top social media platforms that you like to visit?

Laura Devinsky:  Oh man, I am an unfortunate soul who’s been sucked into the depths of Tik Tok and Instagram. Tik Tok, especially during the pandemic, but before it, I just was like, “No way. I’m not going to get into that”. And then, you know, the pandemic gave me more time and wanted escapism and all of that good stuff. So, you know, I’ll spend… I’ll get the pop up that’s like “You’ve been scrolling for too long” every so often. I’m like, “Oh, I should go do something else”.

John Tyreman:  Hey, at least they’re looking out for you. Right? 

Laura Devinsky:  Yeah. 

John Tyreman:  Cool. Well, let’s dive into our topic. I know that icebreaker was related to our topic at hand today, but let’s start here. What do we mean by Doom scrolling? What platforms do you find yourself endlessly scrolling through? You mentioned Tik Tok and Instagram. Are there others?

Laura Devinsky:  Yeah, so doom scrolling is really, you know, looking at negative news. Just the consistent basis of trying to get answers to things we’re afraid of. Especially with the pandemic, everyone’s been doom scrolling in the sense they’re just trying to find answers. Like, when is this going to end? You know, when was the vaccine going to come out… all of these things. You just want answers and the news doesn’t always give you exactly the answer you’re looking for. So people just keep scrolling and hoping to find something. And it’s similar to you know, if you’re sick, and you know, it’s not just a cold or something, you have other symptoms or something and you go to WebMD, and you’re having these health issues and like of course you fill out the survey like what hurts and like what’s wrong, and then everything like points to you have cancer, even though it’s not anything like that in the slightest. So that’s kind of what doom scrolling is. You’re looking for an answer and absorbing this negative news, but you’re just, you’re just afraid at the end of the day that you know, we’re all afraid of… this sense of fear in life.

John Tyreman:  Yeah. WebMD in my opinion, just shows which diseases have the best SEO.

Laura Devinsky:  That’s a good analysis about WebMD.

John Tyreman:  And fear is good for the social platforms, you know, that keeps users engaged. And so I guess it’s this, I guess, whatever the opposite of a virtuous cycle is, I guess an invirtuous cycle of fear breeds engagement breeds looking for more fear. So how do we combat this? Like, what are some ways to stop people from doom scrolling?

Laura Devinsky:  You know, there are apps for this. And I don’t have any of these personally. But there’s something called the Good News Network, and it’s literally only positive news. And it’s the polar opposite of doom scrolling. It wants you to… these heartwarming, feel good stories of what you know, the community helping someone or just like, you know, a new science discovery that’s gonna, I don’t know, end cancer, whatever it is. Like something like that. It’s solely for that. So things like that. And in a world, like Instagram, you know, you’re really curating most of your own feed. They’ve changed that a bit in recent months, but for the most part, you’re curating your own feed, and if you’re following things like Upworthy, and like these wholesome or like puppies, like you’re gonna move away from doom scrolling, and like really only be entrenched in your echo chamber of whatever that looks like to you. But at the same time, if you’re scrolling like CNN, New York Times, like a lot of these like traditional news sites, their system is so that, as you scroll, you just keep getting more news articles. So it keeps populating. You never like reach a bottom of like just a website and there’s a particular name for that. It’s called an infinite scroll. But, you know, it’s all about marketing. That’s, that’s what it is at the end of the day. So to stop people from scrolling is.. you know, you have to take them on like, “Oh, I need to know…” like how Tik Tok reminds you, like you should go take a break and like, go drink some water. So, I think that was like a really smart move on their part to create that. But I don’t know any other app that does something similar. 

John Tyreman:  You should stop scrolling, take a break, take a drink of water. Brought to you by Dasani right?

Laura Devinsky:  That would be really smart advertising, but they don’t, at least as far as I’ve seen, any of those pop ups are only just like, “Whoa, you’ve been scrolling for way too long”, like you should like to take a walk or whatever. And I know plenty of people who ignore that but it always is a nice reminder to me. I think it usually pops up after about an hour, which is funny because you didn’t like, you know, an hour flies by when you’re scrolling through the internet sometimes.

John Tyreman:  That is so true. Well maybe outside of like doom scrolling per se, and you know applications that prompt you to take a break, take a drink of water, like as marketers who put social advertisements out there, one of our jobs is to stop people from scrolling, whether they’re doom scrolling or just checking their feed quickly. How are some ways where we can capture users’ attention on social media?

Laura Devinsky:  We kind of touched on this one of the last times we spoke and it’s that first five to six seconds. That’s when you want to hook your user. And you know, you can do something, you know, either promising a story, you’re offering a surprise, you know, a promise of a solution to whatever their problem is. You’re not going to show your logo in the first five… I mean, it can be in the corner, but like that’s not gonna be like the thing that captures you, you know, as a user, and a great instance of this and people are like “Wow, five or six seconds isn’t so long”. It’s not but you had Vine and Vine was only six seconds and obviously Vine was like the initial iteration of Tik Tok in my opinion. But you know, you could… These users would tell stories in five or six seconds, and that was it. And so, if just, you know, random Joe Schmo can do it, a big corporation can totally do it and hook you in in five or six seconds and make you watch a full 30 second video. It’s definitely possible. And I know I’ve, I’m sure you as well, have been hooked in by just that first five or six seconds like, “Oh, I want to see the story” or whatever it is.

John Tyreman:  Personally, I’m not a big user of visual platforms. I’m mostly on LinkedIn and Twitter, but the same principle applies. I follow a marketer by the name of Dave Gearhart. And one of his mantras is that the role of your first line of copy is to get the reader to read the second line of copy. The role of the second line of copy is to get the reader to read the third line of copy. So I guess the same principle would apply here where you know, that first five to six seconds you want to hook the user to the point where they’re interested in taking that small next step. You’re not going to get a sale probably right then and there in the feed, but you may pique their interest enough to watch past that six second mark, watch the full minute long video or however long it is or click through to your website. Laura, so in that same vein, I guess these ads on social, you know, it’s really like a war of attrition, where you want users to see that same ad over and over again, so they come up with some sort of familiarity with your brand. I’ll give you an example. A few years ago, I was on Twitter, and there was this one company called Leaf Filter, and they kept advertising to me. It’s a like gutter shield technology. Right? And it only lets water through. It doesn’t let any other debris through to your gutters. And I am a homeowner. I live in the woods and I’ve got 100 foot oak trees right around my house. So like acorns and leaves, they all get piled up in my gutters. But I saw that ad like five or six times in the span of a couple of weeks. I’m like alright, I actually clicked through and booked an appointment and the installation guys came out and they installed it on my house. So it works. I guess with social advertising, the cost of social advertising is just steadily going up. I mean, the cost per 1000 impressions on Facebook is just starting to get astronomical. How do you think this will impact paid ads on social media if you can’t rely on that war of attrition as much?

Laura Devinsky:  I think you’re gonna start seeing higher quality ads. You’re not gonna see these little… You know, and that also means that these little mom and pop shops aren’t going to be able to compete with these like huge companies – think Shein or Shine – however you pronounce it. But companies like that who can shell out all the money they want to do just as many ads as they want. So I think you’re really going to see either a sense of higher quality ads, or you’re going to also see fewer ads for these smaller mom and pop shops, you know, these single person owned businesses because they’re just not going to have the money to compete with these bigger organizations. So it’s definitely going to shift the field but I don’t know if it’s necessarily for the better.

John Tyreman:  What do you mean by higher quality ads because in… from what I observe, and I could be totally wrong, but it seems like advertisements are moving towards the direction of actually becoming more raw and low budget and it seems like you know, you could film a video with an iPhone of you talking into an iPhone and it’s just as powerful as a studio produced advertisement. So what direction do you see that going?

Laura Devinsky:  So definitely, you know, these big groups, you’re gonna see like, you know, Johnson & Johnson, they’re still gonna pay that studio production level budget, just because that’s their brand. They’re not going to go to just like someone using an iPhone or whatever their phone is. It is great quality these days. You know, even five years ago, you would not have necessarily seen such high quality ads come from solely an iPhone video or whatever it was. So I definitely think it’s going to shift while the user who’s absorbing whatever the advertisement is. I think you know, the demographics are shifting. Gen Z is getting older and millennials are getting older. Boomers aren’t really on social media except maybe Facebook. And you know, grandma’s like “Look at my grandkids” and embarrassing you know, their grandkids who are millennials on social media, but, you know, it’s gonna… it’s shifting as the demographics are shifting. So you’re gonna see these high studio budgets, especially for TV ads, but they might repurpose some of that footage, and, you know, tweak it to be on social. So I think it’s really going to depend, moving forward.

John Tyreman:  There’s these companies –  even did a Superbowl ad. And then they took that ad and put it on LinkedIn where their audience is and they repurposed that ad on social media. I just thought that was a really cool use case especially because you don’t really get to see a whole lot of B2B tech companies advertising in the Superbowl. So that was noteworthy from that perspective, but yeah, I love how these companies are getting creative with how they’re repurposing TV ads on social, and it’s a very cool time to be a marketer. Speaking of like… Are there any other – what campaigns or projects have you worked on or have you seen out there that have done a really good job of capturing the attention of folks who are scrolling?

Laura Devinsky:  So I worked on, a few years ago, this was pre-pandemic, back in 2019. I worked for an association called the National Demolition Association. So as one can imagine they’re into demolition. And so their video was, it was for their conference, and it’s like, people don’t really use the like old school wrecking balls anymore. That’s like, not a thing as much but it’s still – when you think of demolition, that’s what a lot of people think of. So it was this wrecking ball like going through the text of you know, Demolition 2019 or whatever  – like the title of the convention. And it was so cool. And how many people reached out from from the association both who were like on the board, or just like a member who were so amped by this because it was just this like, really like, there was this like hardcore rock music behind it. And it was just like, there was something about it, and then it went into like, “Oh, this is why you should attend” and like what will be there. But like that first five seconds was just like in your face, like crashing through and everyone was like, “This is awesome”. And the videographer that I worked with on that was like super excited about that one as well. So, which was awesome.

John Tyreman:  That is super cool. Do you have a link that you could share? So that our listeners could see that video? 

Laura Devinsky:  Yeah, I think I can dig that up. 

John Tyreman:  Awesome. Yeah, send it to me and I’ll put it in the show notes for this episode. I’d love to see that. Here’s a fun one. By now, we’ve all heard the news, Facebook is renaming their parent company to Meta. I believe they’re going to retain the Facebook name on the platform. Do I have that right? 

Laura Devinsky:  Yeah, you do. 

John Tyreman:  Okay. Well, it sounds like from what I can gather from Zuckerberg, is this Metaverse will have a big social component to it. And there’s a ton to unpack with that topic, a whole podcast’s worth. But for the sake of this episode, if we’re thinking about doom scrolling on traditional social media, how do you see that evolving in the metaverse?

Laura Devinsky:  I have a lot of strong feelings on this change to Meta, just as a general thought, and that’s a whole other, like you said, a whole other podcast. But you know, like I said before, these platforms that Meta owns… (It feels weird saying Meta now instead of Facebook), but it’s you know, they own WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Oculus as well, and whatever else is coming down the pipeline. And they’re all social platforms that you really curate yourself and yes, Facebook and Instagram suggest to you what you should you know, like, “Oh, we see your following like all of these puppies. Like here’s another one”. So, you know, they suggest things based on what you’ve curated for yourself already. So in terms of doom scrolling, again, if you’re curating for yourself, these news outlets that are producing a lot of more negative news, people are just gonna… like you’re gonna get prompted like, “Oh, we see you like this. You like the LA Times? Oh, here’s the New York Times” or so on and so forth. So I think you’ll see more of that as well. But it also is just gonna be user dependent. I know in my feed, like I get suggested, lots of like tattoo artists, suggested like Pitbull variation, you know, Instagrams. And so I’m not necessarily getting fed news articles, but I might still scroll, like, constantly like looking just at puppies because I think they’re adorable. So it’s really going to depend on what the user is curating for themselves.

John Tyreman:  That’s interesting. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my mind around what the user experience would be in the metaverse, I guess is what it’s called. 

Laura Devinsky:  Yeah, the whole Metaverse is definitely going to be interesting to see evolve because you also have WhatsApp which is just really a messaging platform at the end of the day and Oculus which is really just a gaming platform at the end of the day. So while there are ads, you don’t get fed the same kind of like news or whatever would allow you to doom scroll like Facebook and Instagram will. So I’ll be definitely curious to see what happens and also if they keep the name Meta because that’s a whole other patent thing that’s happening right now, behind the scenes. There was another company called Meta that they are trying to buy the name from and they did not accept the terms. So we’ll see how far that goes.

John Tyreman:  Well sounds like we may need to have a future conversation around Meta and unpack that a little bit more.

Laura Devinsky:  That sounds good to me.

John Tyreman:  Well, Laura, thank you so much for coming on our podcast today. Hopefully you don’t get lost doom scrolling later today. I’ll try my best to stop myself from doom scrolling as well. If listeners want to connect with you and learn more, where can they find you?

Laura Devinsky:  They can find me on LinkedIn at Laura Devinsky or you can shoot me an email at

John Tyreman:  All right, Laura, thank you so much. 

Laura Devinsky:  Thank you.