The Psychology of Clickbait:
Clickbait creates headlines that omit a central piece of information about the content it is promoting, motivating people to click through and scratch the itch of their unknowing. We’ve all seen them; ‘10 people you won’t BELIEVE exist’, ‘You’ll NEVER GUESS how Kendall Jenner cut her hair’. Clickbait is so successful at getting click through because readers feel uncomfortable being presented with potential information that they do not know, especially when you give them leading information on a topic they know a little, but not too much, about. Curiosity compels them to click.
Welcome to the Mainstream:
Once a concept only known in the circles of marketers, we are now seeing our socially savvy 16-35 year old audiences recognising and calling publishers out on this strategy. ‘Clickbait’ appears to have become par for the course of the internet’s vernacular, as users comment underneath social posts, telling people the instant answer to save others the need to scan. While users feel motivated to click through to content, they often don’t feel the payoff is worth it for the information they receive, but do it despite themselves. They feel cheated, causing resent and a decline in traffic in the long term, after initial lifts.
Name and Fame: Upworthy
In 2014, Ethan Zuckerman an American author and media scholar made a public apology for his ‘accidental’ creation of the pop up ad. But, who can we hold accountable for this clickbait tsunami? In 2012, when Upworthy was a mere start up, they published a presentation, ‘how to win the internet’, referencing how they create 25 headlines per piece of content and ‘don’t give everything away in the headline’. The site grew from 35,000 fans in 2012, to close to 10 million in 2016. Other publishers recognised this success and tried to follow suit… but many did not understand the complexity of its strategy, bar this quest for clicks. Great content needs more to gain fame; the content should always contain more than the answer to a headline.
The Content Deluge:
A recent study has revealed that, on average, 21 million clickbait articles are created every month (listicles and stories intended to ‘shock’ or ‘surprise’), or 10 new articles every single second. It’s no wonder resent seems to be rising towards it as consumers feel that they are drowning in the clickbait content deluge, resulting in rising distrust of content’s quality. The more that consumers are exposed to content that they don’t feel meets their value or quality expectations, the more their barriers to content marketing rise. They become apprehensive, making them ever more resistant to clicking on quality content when it rolls around their newsfeeds.
Brand Take Outs:
So, how can brands stand out in a time of clickbait resent and the content marketing deluge?
- Fewer, Bigger, Better: The phrase less is more is applicable to the sea of content brands are competing in. Don’t prioritise populating a newsfeed with ‘quick win’ work, instead invest selectively on impactful work that is premium, worthwhile and on brand.
- Work with publishers to ensure native advertising feels premium: Brands need to partner with media companies to ensure that their content is appearing in the right ways, and doesn’t appear in a way that consumers feel they are being ‘tricked into viewing’ or who disregard it before they click through by assuming ‘oh, that’s just clickbait…’
- Curiosity doesn’t need to be killed by clickbait: The principles of clickbait appealing to human curiosity is a powerful tool, but the important element in leveraging this is presenting it in a high quality fashion that doesn’t devalue your brand, but creates positive intrigue around it.
...But the real question remains, did you read or skim this piece?