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. Clickbait is a popular style, especially among fun websites like Buzzfeed. But not everyone is Buzzfeed. Is it a bad idea for you to share clickbait? 


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. Clickbait headlines are yet another thing that make us feel anxious about what will be revealed. That's probably one of the reasons we're avoiding clickbait articles more often than we used to.

Marketers agree that clickbait isn't right for every campaign. The tone of a clickbait headline wouldn't work for a highly prestigious or important 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 noble entity, you shouldn't use clickbait headlines. 

Another downside to clickbait is the click-through rate associated with it. The general public might be trending towards avoiding clickbait, but that doesn't mean you're going to see few clicks. You'll probably get more clicks than you want when you use clickbait headlines because your visitors won't know what they're going to read. They won't know the answer to your riddle, so to speak, which means they might get an answer they don't agree with. That could be a negative thing if you're trying to get conversions. If your visitors don't react the right way, it's going to cost you. Especially if you're paying for clicks by using AdWords or another PPC application, you'll have to be very careful about targeting and make sure you understand your audience well.

And there's another roadblack associated with clickbait. 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 use a headline that misleads or creates a curiosity gap, 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. 

Firstly, just note that while Facebook will discourage it, Twitter and other sites won't hamper you when you use clickbait-style wording. That may be good news if you're not heavily dependent on Facebook.

Surprise is one of the most shareable emotions, and it's also something clickbait can create. That is, if your readers are surprised when they learn the answer to your riddle (how he actually lost 20 pounds in a week, as our example goes), they are much more likely to share your media. 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. If the subject of our example lost 20 pounds by running 2 miles a day, that story might not have the surprise impact required to generate lots of shares.

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. If your article isn't surprising, there are emotions that are as shareable as surprise to consider. 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