What the death of clickbait means for engaging content

We have all seen headlines like the following pop up on our social media feed:

“When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions And Saw THIS… I Was SHOCKED!”

“He Put Garlic In His Shoes Before Going To Bed And What Happens Next Is Hard To Believe”

“The Dog Barked At The Deliveryman And His Reaction Was Priceless.”

These headlines – known as “clickbait” – are designed to pique the reader’s interest without revealing any details of the story, therefore encouraging them to click on the link.

Mercifully, however, the days of clickbait are numbered.

Last summer Facebook announced it was clamping down on clickbait after complaints from its users – the three headlines above are all taken from a Facebook staff blog explaining the changes.

After surveying thousands of headlines, Facebook developed a “spam filter” that blocks articles with phrases commonly found in clickbait headlines from appearing in its user’s news feeds.

Facebook’s main advice to avoid falling foul of the filters and being blocked is the following: “Pages should avoid headlines that withhold information required to understand what the content of the article is and headlines that exaggerate the article to create misleading expectations.”

Instead, Facebook’s advice, unsurprisingly, is to share headlines that inform and set appropriate expectations.

Using emotion to get clicks

While social media networks like Facebook are clamping down on misleading and hyperbolic headlines, this doesn’t mean there are no longer any “tricks” left to help you engage readers.

Research tells us that eliciting emotional responses and establishing emotional connections can significantly boost sales of products, and the same psychology is true of content: emotions are powerful drivers of reader engagement.

Using emotions in your content is different from the use of emotive words like “shocking” and “unbelievable”  seen in clickbait.

Instead, it is about providing a genuine emotional context to the story that your readers can connect with.

For example, in a NewsWhip debate on ‘Building Audiences through Emotion’, Bloomberg Global Head of Audience Engagement, Meena Thiruvengadam, said there are some topics where you should avoid an overly emotional treatment – such as stock prices falling slightly – and others that naturally lend themselves to an emotional context.

“There are some things where there are natural emotional elements like ‘This CEO went from being fired to creating this amazing business empire’,” she says.

“That speaks to aspiration, inspiration, encouragement, motivation and things like that. There it makes sense to bring that out [of the story]. But for something like the monthly job numbers, that’s going to be much harder and you can try to push it too far, which is something we try not to do.”

Reflect your audience and your brand

Writing engaging headlines is clearly a balancing act between arousing enough interest in the reader for them to click on your article, and avoiding being overly sensational.

The key to managing this balancing act successfully is to always keep the reader in mind when writing the story.

Consider what their expectations are of you and your brand, and whether the story itself and its headline reflect and meet those expectations.

For example, in the same NewsWhip debate on emotional engagement, MTV’s Senior Director of News Audience Development, Renan Borelli, says that MTV News readers don’t want political commentary and analysis, and will tell Borelli and his colleagues to “go back to playing music videos” when they try to be political.

“MTV News has been covering politics since Bill Clinton was running for president, so it’s really ingrained in our DNA,” he says.

“But we have found that people don’t want the snarkiness from us. They don’t want these dramatic and bombastic headlines. They just want us to lay things out directly and tell them why it is important.”

The four take-aways from this are:

• Know your audience.

• Know what they want from you.

• Write headlines and content that meet those expectations.

• When appropriate, try to find an emotional context for the article.

Like this? Read this post about using journalistic techniques to create content your readers will find easy to read – and share.

If you’d like to hear how we can help your business produce engaging content, get in touch today.
Email: 
office@formativecontent.com or call our team on 01494 672 122

John McKenna is an experienced writer at Formative Content and an award-winning business journalist. 

Formative Content is a UK based content marketing agency producing high quality content, live event coverage and strategic communications support for clients around the world.