5 Things You Can Learn From Clickbait

5 Things You Can Learn From Clickbait – #3 Will Surprise You!

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Do you know that your dog or cat may be asking for help, but you can’t interpret their non-verbal attempts to communicate? Or the one thing that all liars have in common? How about the greatest plot twists in movie history?

These are the questions asked by clickbait – euphemistically known as “sponsored content” – headlines on just about every news (or news-like) website you visit on a daily basis. Although many people love to hate it, or hate to love it, clickbait is on the internet to stay for the simple reason that it works in getting visitors to click on the link and drive traffic to the sponsor’s website. Isn’t that what you’re trying to do for your site?

We’re not suggesting that you take the clickbait route in creating content for your website or blog, as it has the mostly deserved reputation for being light on facts and attribution – that is, reliable sources to which the information can be verified. The type of content that gives clickbait its bad name is misleading – promising something fascinating and/or worthwhile, but not delivering. Or, worse yet, is filled with factual errors.

Building trust with your target audience and a reputation for integrity requires being truthful and establishing credibility. What we are suggesting is using the tricks of the clickbait trade, but applying them to quality content.

Lesson #1: Do you know the secrets of headlines that get attention? The experts tell all!

Writing for Inc., Justin Bariso – author of EQ Applied – relates how he had a choice of two headlines for an article about how bosses can increase employee engagement (also written for Inc.). They were as follows:

The 1 Company Perk That All Employees Crave (and It’s Completely Free)

How Praise and Commendation Increase Employee Engagement

Bariso went with the first (obviously), and reported that the piece turned out to be one of his most-read articles.

Let’s look at why that headline was so successful. First, it hooked into what’s known as the “curiosity gap.” It’s your desire to know the answer when a headline – or any statement – raises a question it leaves unresolved. So what is this perk, anyway? You feel compelled to read the article to find out. As a bonus, the headline contains the magic word “free” – which bosses definitely want to know more about. Just think, you’ve been spending money on gift cards when you could give your employees something they’d value even more, at no cost to you! How could you possibly not read on?

Lesson #2: Give your audience a reason to keep reading – here’s a master class from a clickbait classic!

Going back to Braiso’s example, imagine the tone you’d expect of his article had he chosen the second headline. Sincere and informative, but dry. Now how would you expect it to read based upon the headline he used? Informative yes, but also lively and entertaining.

As an example, we turn to a clickbait classic that went viral and continues to be shared on the internet. Commonly titled “The Green Thing,” it purports to be a true story about an encounter between an elderly woman (sometimes identified as Dorothy) in a supermarket checkout line, and a young cashier who tries to shame her for insisting on plastic bags instead of using eco-friendly cloth bags.

Supposedly recorded by someone who was on the scene, its source has never been identified or verified. We highly suspect it’s a work of fiction, yet the story gained popularity because it speaks to a greater truth. Again, in the interest of keeping your business’s reputation credible, we don’t recommend making things up. But the way in which the unnamed author gets and keeps the reader’s attention throughout is worth emulating.

The setup – The story’s basis is generational conflict. Your own story may not be so dramatic, but there’s surely conflict between your target audience and the problem your product or service can help them solve. Bring that to life!

The characters – Although Dorothy is old and somewhat frail, she’s fiercely independent. The audience is rooting for her already. What are your business’s admirable qualities? The cashier sees Dorothy as representing the generation that doesn’t care about the planet’s future and left Gen Z with big problems to solve. What do you think your customers and potential customers are frustrated about? What are their pain points? The author also cleverly draws shoppers waiting in line behind Dorothy into the story. Who is cheering on your business?

The hook – After the cashier takes Dorothy to task for not caring about the environment, Dorothy calmly replies that her generation didn’t have “the green thing” – then proceeds to list the ways in which members of her generation were actually “greener” than today’s. Is there a message about your business that your target audience needs to know? Does your business recycle or source materials carefully? Or is there another positive message about your company that you feel isn’t reaching your audience?

Lesson #3: Gradually reveal the details to keep your audience reading

Dorothy begins by telling the cashier that in her day, people returned glass milk, soda and even beer bottles to the store, which sent them back to their respective plants to be washed, sterilized and reused – over and over again – in effect, recycling them. Dorothy’s summary line, “But we didn’t have ‘the green thing’ back then,” is her refrain for all succeeding similar examples.

Dorothy’s on a roll! Don’t you want to know more? Are members of your target market just as eager to learn more about your business?

During the course of schooling the young cashier, Dorothy compares her experience of hanging laundry on a clothesline, washing diapers, using a push mower, mixing batter by hand and walking short distances to get around with today’s energy-consuming and eco-unfriendly conveniences. But, of course, she didn’t have “the green thing” back then!

People in line begin listening to Dorothy’s speech, and the story relates when they nod in agreement or smile. They don’t mind waiting a little longer, as they’re caught up in the points she’s making, and enjoy seeing her take on the cashier who tried to shame her. They want her to continue. Is your audience hanging on your every word? Find ways to make your product, service, or processes interesting enough at each step to keep them engaged!

The article also makes generous use of stock photos to move the story along, which adds visual interest and humor – as well as glimpses of mid-20th century life. People enjoy photos, graphics and videos. Does your content use them to engage interest?

Lesson #4: Payoff!

After Dorothy’s speech, she finds that she’s made her point, and leaves the cashier “flabbergasted” at her reaction. Dorothy is the one who’s ultimately surprised when she learns that another shopper secretly recorded her entire impromptu speech and shared it online, where it promptly went viral!

While this is all most likely fiction, the story does make valuable points about taking action to reduce our carbon footprint and respecting our elders who really practiced instead of preached. What should members of your target audience feel they’ve gained from reading your content?

Lesson #5: Second that emotion!

Now imagine that Dorothy’s story had been written as a straightforward article contrasting how our elders’ lifestyles were more eco-friendly than our own. Emotion made the difference! There’s conflict, a heroine, villainess (sort of) and well-wishers, which concludes in the villainess seeing her error and the heroine being rewarded with worldwide recognition and admiration. As our blog post – “Scheherazade Meets Instagram – Using Digital Storytelling in Social Media” – covers, storytelling is essential to creating content that gets results.

But don’t forget that call-to-action!

Not all clickbait articles end with a CTA – probably because clicking on the link to read the article was the action the sponsor wanted you to take. That curiosity gap headline was itself the CTA! Because you want your now-engaged and motivated readers to do something – like sign up for your newsletter, schedule an appointment or buy something – be sure to conclude with a strong CTA. Yes, we have a blog post about that, too!

The take-home message and our blatant self-promotion

Using the tricks of clickbait for good can help your content get read, and even get shared more. It all comes down to connecting with members of your target audience in a way that lets them know you understand their needs and concerns, and can help them. Perhaps an upcoming post on our humble blog will be “5 Ways Your Target Audience Asks for Help.” Just kidding. Or maybe not!

If you need help in crafting quality content that gets the job done, our Virtual Stacks Systems team provides full-service social media marketing, website design and redesign, SEO, PPC and much more! Contact us today!

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