I have had the pleasure of working communications roles in several industries over the years. During this time, I’ve seen the rise of a dubious campaign metric commonly referred to as “Stop the Scroll” (or “Swipe”). This metric has conscientious roots. Online communications strategists have less than a second to grab a potential donor, stakeholder, or client’s attention. Good strategists have read Craig McClain’s paper, as a great visual will make your thumb quiver before scrolling on to a video of dogs doing literally anything. In this light, stop the scroll seems like a pretty good metric for individual post efficacy. Time is the currency of experience, after all.
Can we count the seconds people spend learning untrue facts as progress towards our campaign? Or change the campaign goals to justify a resource-heavy shit post?
However, “Stop the Scroll” is used for evil when it is the only metric for the success of a post. There are many super effective and horribly disingenuous ways to get people to stop scrolling. Some top offenders are wildlife harassment, wildly untrue statistics, or the lizard-brain trifecta of V(iolence)N(udity)S(ex). I’ll never forget a campaign meeting from several years ago when I was working with a marketing firm for a shark cage diving company. They produced a video to raise the online profile of the brand, but it was terrible. I mean really awful with some animated shark, bad info, and terrible music – it was the worst birthday party ever. When I said I thought the video was trash for our brand and wouldn’t appeal to our target audience, I was met with “Well it gets views/stops people from scrolling.” I couldn’t argue with that – but being so horrible people have to stop and watch wasn’t the goal of the campaign.
This is where the ugly hindsight justification of “Stop the Scroll” reaches its final form. It’s when an outlet makes a false/unethical/unfounded or just frankly bad post that gets exposed for being false/unethical/unfounded/bad. Supporters are quick to point out that at least “it stopped people from scrolling.” Their argument is an ignorant audience is worse than a misinformed one. Can we count the seconds people spend learning untrue facts as progress towards our campaign? Or change the campaign goals to justify a resource-heavy shit post? Ethical, long-term communication strategists will say no. Mercenary strategists will say yes.
Countering “Stop the Scroll” untruthful posts is difficult. As the old adage states, a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. Nowadays, a lie travels around the world and is already forgotten about before you can get out the w- in well actually… In this environment, continuously presenting the truth (supported with supplementals and great visuals) is a more effective approach than calling attention to the wrong. This is because these posts are evergreen and pop up for years after spawning. Arm your audience to counter the posts themselves as they arise rather than throw rocks at every shit post that barks.
The next time you are involved with a communications campaign—and this is not as niche as you think, everything you react to online is your involvement in a communications campaign—remember the red flag of Stop the Scroll justifications. If you are a communicator, use shit posts as opportunities to talk about the truth in a new way – with great visuals.