It has filled our Facebook news feeds and our Twitter timelines for years. It has captivated us with ambiguity, vagueness and bewilderment. It has thrived on exaggerations, superlatives and hyperboles. Clickbait is the modern form of yellow journalism that has contributed to a countless number of viral articles, lists, quizzes and videos over the past few years. We’ve all clicked the outrageous headlines for one reason or another, but are companies considering how these headlines – and, more importantly, the content of the corresponding articles – are affecting their brands?
Jon Stewart might have best described clickbait in an interview with New York Magazine:
When I look at the Internet, I feel the same as when I’m walking through Coney Island. It’s like carnival barkers, and they all sit out there and go, “Come on in here and see a three-legged man!” So you walk in and it’s a guy with a crutch.
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Take a look at the front page of sites like Upworthy and ViralNova and you’ll notice headlines like “What She Did With These Raw Potato Slices Left Me Completely Amazed,” “He’s Obsessed With Data, And He Found Something Really Shocking,” and “You’ll Be Shocked When You See The Ingredients In Your Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.” These sensationalized headlines undoubtedly drive site traffic and thereby boost ad revenue, which has led to a recent increase in the number of companies using the tactic. However, while this technique might prove useful for turning short-term profits, companies might not be considering how this will affect their brand trust and loyalty over a longer period of time.
The aforementioned headlines and the hundreds of others like them beg for the reader to be underwhelmed by the actual content they clicked to see. Will we really be “completely amazed” by what someone did with some raw potato slices? Will we really be “shocked” to find out what goes into 16 ounces of mass-produced coffee? I suppose it’s possible, but chances are the reader will be let down.
One could argue that it really doesn’t matter if the reader’s expectations are fulfilled because, after all, they clicked, right? But clicks are only part of the equation for brands. The real drivers of success are sharing and liking (or retweeting, re-blogging, pinning, etc.) the content and ultimately following the brands’ social accounts. Sharing, liking and following will exponentially increase exposure to the content and will ultimately result in more clicks and more revenue, and with content to back up the headline, brand trust and loyalty will follow suit.
So by all means, use interesting and engaging headlines, but remember that clicks are only the first step toward developing a long-standing and loyal following. Keep this in mind for your brand … and you won’t believe what happens next.