Should Marketers Share "Clickbait"?

The term "clickbait" is one of many neologisms, or new words, that have appeared in the past few years. The word is already recognized in some dictionaries. Merriam-Webster defines clickbait as "something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest." If you've ever wondered "what happens next!" or what "the simple trick" is, and then you clicked to find out, you've been clickbaited. Is it a bad idea for marketers to share clickbait? Not always but usually it is.


While there isn't a lot of data-backed information about clickbait effectiveness, it's pretty obvious it might be going out of style. People are tired of being made anxious every day, by the news, by clickbait headlines, by politicians, and by other things. 

Marketers also agree that clickbait isn't right for every campaign. The tone of a clickbait headline wouldn't work for a highly prestigious and noble brand. Can you imagine NYU Hospital sharing something called "You're not going to believe how we saved this lady's ovaries"? We argue that if you want your brand to be regarded as any kind of honest, sincere, or rock-solid entity, you shouldn't use clickbait headlines. 

And there's another hoop to jump through. It's Facebook...

The Facebook Problem

It's important to note that Facebook is fighting clickbait. If you share an article with a typical clickbait headline, Facebook will try to keep it away from the top spot in newsfeeds. In other words, headlines that withhold information and leave the reader wondering what the article will reveal are penalized. Examples of such headlines are "You'll Never Guess How He Lost 20 Lbs in a Week!" and "She Takes a Pen and a Pez Dispenser. What She Does Next Will Stun You." See how that creates a "curiosity gap?" If those headlines were "Man Loses 20 Lbs in a Week by Eating Only Carrots" and "She Created a Pez Gun with a Dispenser and a Pen," they would not be subject to Facebook penalization.

Facebook also tries to hide stories with exaggerations in their headlines. An example of that would be "People are Dying after Eating Purple Yams" if, in fact, there has been just one death from contaminated purple yams (hypothetical). The lesson here is that if you plan to write a headline like these examples, they might kill your Facebook reach (the quantity of people who see your media). 

The Benefits

Now that we've probably convinced you clickbait is a "no go" already, we'll talk about the few upsides to it. The first is social sharing and another is targeting. 

While Facebook will discourage it, Twitter and other sites won't hamper you when you use clickbait-style wording. Surprise is one of the most shareable emotions. That is, if your readers are surprised when they learn the answer to your riddle (How he actually lost 20 pounds in a week or what she built with a Pez dispenser and a pen), they are much more likely to share your media (video, article, etc). However, keep in mind that they must be really surprised; not just a little surprised, a lot surprised. That means your content has to be well-done. 

Another benefit could apply to you if your target consumer is the type of person who enjoys the kind of writing and style clikbait usually exhibits. It's informal, catchy, and often fun and/or anxiety-inducing, like being at the top of a roller coaster. There are emotions that are as shareable as surprise. For example, happiness is quite shareworthy. If you have a story that makes people happy, and your target market includes happy, upbeat people, share it in clickbait fashion for extra shares. In contrast, if you know your target market (for whatever reason) enjoys content with a more serious tone, clickbait might not be effective.

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David Kalla