By Gary Frisch, Founder & President, Swordfish Communications
Facebook recently announced it would tweak its timeline algorithms to weed out obnoxious “clickbait” posts. This is long overdue, as no doubt we’ve all become jaundiced from reading those breathless headlines that populate our screens, even if we don’t actually go for the bait and click through.
But reading how, exactly, the social media giant plans to do this offers an enlightening look at what qualifies as annoying to the vast number of people…and what communications pros and business professionals of all stripes can take away from that.
Headlines matter. Subject lines matter.
That’s nothing new. PR pros in particular know your headline or subject line must grab attention. But at the same time, they shouldn’t be coy, and shouldn’t leave readers scratching their heads. Nor should the story itself be unsubstantial, scarce on facts, incomplete or high in sensationalism. Because when you get right down to it, it’s not really the clickbait headline that so annoys us, but the fact that when you do click through, the article fails to deliver on the promise. That memory of having been burnt is what has turned us off to all such headlines.
Facebook classified and ranked clickbait headlines in an attempt to eliminate the worst offenders, those that make us all shake our heads and think, “who really clicks on this stuff?” Things like “This Athlete Wore a Hijab in her Olympic Competition, and You Won’t Believe the Reaction She Got!” or “A Man Sits at Denny’s for 2 Hours and Orders Nothing. Then He Stands and Does the UNIMAGINABLE…”
According to Facebook, those offenders will have ALL their posts placed further down in the newsfeed, effectively “decimating” traffic to their websites. The hope is this will enhance the user experience for Facebookers. That doesn’t mean these baiters can’t redeem themselves with meaningful, non-spammy headlines.
The upshot of this news is it gives us another reason to think about our headlines, the value propositions we make in them, and how important it is to deliver on those promises. Because the more often you create enticing headlines that just don’t deliver the goods, the fewer readers you’ll get, or the more likely your e-mails will be deleted without being read.
Here are some specific things to keep in mind:
•The headline/subject line should be relevant, and generally as short and sweet as you can make it. Take a look at headlines you read in legitimate media outlets, and borrow the best techniques you find.
•Your headline should intrigue, and can even tease, as long as it doesn’t cross the line into hyperbole or spam, and as long as the text fully clarifies it. And don’t use exclamation points.
•Use question marks sparingly. Interrogative headings and subject lines have their place, but choose the words carefully and be sure that if you’re asking a question up top, you’re answering it down below without playing games.
•It’s okay to be cheeky in your headline, but not if your subject is too serious. For example, if you’re writing about Disney’s PR response to that tragic alligator attack, don’t use gator puns or make reference to shoes. Raising eyebrows is good; raising hackles isn’t so good.
•Think like a Facebook algorithm. “Grade” your headline after you write it, word-by-word if necessary, to make sure it meets the goal of getting people to read your content rather than driving them away. Does it succinctly sum up your text, or make people want to find out more? If not, rewrite the headline.
First impressions do count. Don’t squander yours by sounding like a Facebook public enemy in your headline.