actual lessons learned from clickbait. seriously.

  • SumoMe

Untitled drawingOn principle alone, I am against clickbait headlines.

I did, however, see potential in way that these headlines generate clicks. They cause users to click these links, often times against their better judgement. On the other side of the spectrum, people often need to be directed to attend training.

David Godsall, from the Hootsuite blog, had a pretty good breakdown of how the tempting headlines are structured and it starts off with a curiosity gap.  Learners who attend training usually need to have identified a gap in the skills they have and the skills they need and then seek out content to fill that gap. Clickbait does this on it’s own. It identifies a gap for you.

“You won’t believe #4…”

“What happens next will shock you…”

“Her response is jaw dropping…”

Readers weren’t even aware that there was a piece of information that they were missing! Thank goodness this ad showed up. Similar to crack, this method is cheap and popular in certain circles. I’ve talked about the use of the curiosity gap before because it’s a valuable tool. A teacher could open a class with a bold and audacious claim to get the learner’s attention. With a bit of fancy footwork they can keep that attention until the end.  Movies might open with a scene that shows a main character in a compromising position or even dead, and then you want to find out how it happened.  The Usual Suspect is a terrific example of this and of several other things, too. Really, it’s just a great movie. The point is to show the learners a magic trick and then tell them to stick around and show them how it’s done.

The next thing Godsall points out is The Strange.  

“Win her over with this one weird trick…”

“Millennials are ditching delivery because of this strange food hack…”

This invokes the idea of something new and unexpected.  Our brains are hardwired to seek novelty and finding it gives us a little dopamine boost. Who doesn’t love that?  It also makes you think that someone else has found a solution you might not have.  You want to find that persons competitive advantage. It’s unusual, bizarre, and unconventional. And most importantly, it’s something you don’t know. Until you click.

There are a couple elements that Godsall doesn’t breakdown but they are tactics I frequently see employed. Headlines can feature some figure of authority to lend the headline credibility.

“Warren Buffett says this one tip will….”

“This old law has police in [your city here] fit to be tied….”

“Scientist discovers the trick to six pack abs…”

Afraid of a dubious claim? Surely it’s not some random joker banging out a stupid little story and then including an image of a stack of money or a busty celebrity, but in fact an official source. It’s Warren Buffett, for Christ’s sake! You’ll be rich in no time!

The last identifiable characteristic that I can spot is numbering.

“14 Celebrities who…”

“6 Money Saving Tips…”

You get the idea. Listicles are clearly defined.  There is a promise to the reader of what they will find on the other side of the jump.  No more or less than the number of things in the headline. The reader doesn’t need to do much heavy lifting when they read the article, they just need to scroll from numbered header to numbered header and decide if they want to read more.  It’s a limited commitment since a reader can easily skim and spend only the time they want. That’s hard to argue with.  With so many links to choose from a level of certainty is reassuring.

The headline to all of this questionable content operates on the same plain as a resume.  It only has two criteria, be a catalyst to action (invitation to an interview, or clicking on a link) and to not set an unrealistic expectation. Most of the time, people are better off having attended training so getting them there on their own power is appealing.

How can we apply a few of these tactics?

I’m sure there’ll be something in there that learners won’t expect.  If they knew what the training consisted of, they wouldn’t need the training.  I’m not saying they’ll be speechless or will have their faith in humanity restored but there’s hope that they’ll see something new. BLAM! Dopamine party.

The concept of authority could come from a SME or regulatory body. Not really a ‘blam-appropriate’ situation but it makes sense.

Listicles could easily apply to the number of objectives a training session has. “Four tips to make your job easier…” or the like.

It’s not a perfect fit, but there’s value in being able to generate interest in a communication.

Here’s the big kicker.  While I think clickbait is little more than a dirty trick, I managed to find an Upworth blog post that made me rethink my position. (This came as close to leaving me speechless as any story about a puppy could.) Based on the Hootsuite article, along with what Upworth had to say about their own stats, Upworthy.com has a particularly strong hold on the viral market. They claim the reason for this is amount of effort they put into finding quality content.  A good headline only get’s people to the site but if the user finds high quality content, they share it and drive the viral effort. Upworthy uses the following three questions as guides to the content they curate.

1. Is the content substantive, engaging, and maybe even entertaining?

This is something that any presenter should consider in everything they do. Eulogy, sales pitch, process training; they should all have substance, be engaging and entertaining.

2. If 1 million people saw it, would the world be a better place?

Now, I’m not sure that people would say that training and facilitating is making the world a better place, but it should definitely make the attendees world a better, more productive place.

3.Does the content actually deliver on the promise of the headline?

Lastly, the headline clearly plays a role in it, but only insofar as it’s about delivering on a promise.  This link will be worth your time. I think trainers should be proud of the work they do and confident in the idea that their session will be worth the attendees time.  If it’s not, then you owe it to the attendees to fix the training or adjust the promise.

All three of these are good questions for developing and communicating content.  I intend to use three three Upworthy questions to, on some level, guide future efforts. And then I’m going to eat my hat.

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