Tag Archives: New York Times

4 Clickbait Questions You Were Afraid to Ask—The Answers May Surprise You!

ClickbaitWe’ve all heard whispering and grumbling about the proliferation of clickbait, those irresistible, attention-grabbing headlines that have become an inescapable part of the social media landscape. But where do you draw the line between marketing and something more sinister? Should clickbait-y concepts be a part of your own strategy? We know you’re curious—let’s get right to the answers!

What is Clickbait?

Coined a few years back, “clickbait” is a pejorative term for curiosity-inducing headlines designed to generate as many clicks and shares as possible on social media channels. You know it when you see it—web sites like Upworthy and BuzzFeed made their names with shareable headlines like “What’s One of the Worst Ways to Motivate Someone? Hint: You See It All the Time.

Titles like these beg the reader to click through to reveal the answer or to uncover the supposedly shocking twist. Most of these sites take the bait a step further by suggesting that you share their content, generating likes and conversations on social platforms in the process.

Is Clickbait Actually Effective?

There hasn’t been a lot of empirical research done regarding the efficacy of clickbait-style headlines, but the evidence speaks for itself. In November 2013, Upworthy was outpacing CNN.com with twice their total social shares, even though CNN had twenty-six times the amount of actual content.

Take one look at your own Facebook news feed and you’ll likely spot dozens of shared articles; unsurprisingly, the majority of them have headlines that make you want to cringe and click through all at once. All of the evidence suggests the same thing: clickbait is working, and it’s here to stay.

What’s Wrong with Clickbait?

Detractors have pointed to an influx of low-quality, sloppy content on the other side of the click; some critics have even called clickbait unethical. After all, if the content is good and they’re telling the truth, why do the authors have to “bait” you into viewing it?

Of course, there’s always another side to the story. Content generators must seek out new and novel ways of driving readers to their sites—their business model depends on it. At the end of the day, no one is forcing users to share, click, or “like” anything. It’s an organic process, often more of an art than a science, and the best writers at Upworthy have discovered effective methods of funneling users toward their articles—what’s wrong with that?

Should I Be Writing Clickbait-y Headlines?

There’s no catchall answer. Rather, the strategies you utilize should derive organically from the content itself. As Neil St. Clair, writing for Forbes Magazine, puts it, “[clickbait as a marketing tactic is] neither right nor wrong; it’s simply a matter of your business model and audience.” An austere, self-serious publication like The New York Times doesn’t rely on sensational headlines because it doesn’t mesh with their identity; likewise, the fun-loving BuzzFeed depends on clicks and shares to survive, and they have no qualms about using headlines that have been proven to succeed.

There you have it: clickbait-inspired titles are everywhere you look in today’s online world, and this particular trend shows no signs of slowing down. Content generators continue to value these headlines because they’ve been effective at grabbing social media readers’ attention in the past.

But that doesn’t mean you have to use them yourself just to keep up—that will depend on your own unique goals. Sometimes just knowing what you’re up against is the best place to start.

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Big Companies Can’t Change and Newspapers Can’t Do the Internet!

More and more, I see large companies failing with new technology. Condé Nast is struggling to publish digital content to tablets and newspapers can’t figure out their own websites! Where to start?

Let’s start with Condé Nast. I recently read Nitasha Tiku’s article “Condé Nast Is Experiencing Technical Difficulties” in The New York Observer, and it brought to mind the inflexibility of large companies. While Condé Nast is one of the leading print publishers of many popular titles, it has struggled with offering its titles in a digital format. For many at Condé Nast and other print publishers, they think that taking a static print design and putting it on a screen constitutes a digital version. But what is the value in that? I would rather read something static in printed format so that I can feel the pleasure of throwing it in the recycling bin when I am finished (or sick of the boring type). A digital version is something that can offer much more than print. I want to interact with it, gather more information on the parts I like, and ultimately share it with my friends on social media to see what they think, too. Pictures should turn into photo albums and videos streams, text should link out to related content, and it should look different on everything, optimizing the content for the screen it’s being displayed on. If it has none of that, no one will see the value in spending more on the digital version, or even buying the device to begin with.

The whole problem boils down to people. The suits empowered with making decisions are old-school corporate big wigs used to pasting headlines on a cover and passing that collage off to one of their designers. These designers––who have primarily only print design experience––are laying out the print file and then trying to repurpose it for the digital version. This is the most common mistake: trying to convert the static print version into a digital version without making a substantial amount of changes. The digital version should be treated as a totally separate element, not a hybrid from the print version. It’s OK to start with the text and graphics from the print version as your base, but you have to reengineer the piece to add the value consumers expect from digital media. It’s not about taking the old and making it new, it’s about starting with good content and making two separate pieces for two totally different markets.

Next we have the newspapers. The inspiration for this section of the post came to me from “Why Newspapers Suck at the Internet!” on Gizmodo. Since I was a little boy, I have been reading the newspaper––and then promptly using it to start a campfire! I actually grew up living next door to the owner of our local newspaper in Erie, PA. I was, and still am, fascinated by how quickly a newspaper can acquire a lead, write a story, and get it on the newsstands the next morning. But they are all dying a slow and painful death. Over the past five years, hundreds of newspapers have gone out of business. One may ask why, and I would answer: the almighty Internet. Why would anyone wait until the next morning to get his or her news when it’s free and available online immediately? Unfortunately, the newspapers were slow to react to this, and when they did, they didn’t take the time to do it right. They have the best reporters and the best process to push out good news quickly, but they didn’t make it user-friendly or profitable. Just this year, The New York Times, for the tenth time, put up the pay wall, and it actually might be working now, let’s wait and see. But they are one of the few who have done something to capture their falling profits from the decline in printed subscriptions. Hopefully all the others will jump aboard Apple’s Newsstand and go from there.

Here is that graphic from Gizmodo depicting the user experience with newspapers’ websites.

Gizmodo's Newspaper parody

So what is the lesson from these three failures? Its attention to detail, living and breathing that 99% right is 100% wrong. Making sure that when you execute technology, you do it right and to the fullest potential of the medium. We are for the most part smaller companies who can be flexible and agile in these turbulent times. Now is the time to shine above the rest and show the big guys what we are really capable of.

So, what do you aspire to do with new emerging technologies?

Author: T. John Mehl