Facebook is cracking down on clickbait. Again. So what will make your social media audience click now?
As kids we would be excited about the “Did You Know?” section in books and Ripley’s Believe It or Not in the papers. Not much has changed except now we get excited about headlines like, “His reaction is priceless!” or, “You’ll never guess what happened next!”
The golden yardsticks of success in social media used to be sharing and engagement figures. However, these have proven to be just vanity metrics.
If people think you are wasting their precious time (and bandwidth) like in the example above, you’re staring obscurity in the eye.
Facebook has started penalizing content that doesn’t keep readers glued to their site for a long time. If your content falls in this category and fails to engage your audience, you can be in trouble.
The new science behind clicks
There are many theories, theses and hypotheses on what makes people click. One of the most common culprit turning up in most of these theories is the “curiosity gap.”
However, this curiosity gap is closing with every passing day; click baiting is a gray area and can eventually lead to trouble.
What’s worse, you just see positive benefits at the outset, and end up creating more and more crap, without realizing that the damage is irreversible.
A quick way to find out if your social media posts are clickbait or engaging, benefiting or hurting your brand, is to try sponsoring your posts for a while.
Create an A/B or multi-armed bandit test with and one without cliffhanger headlines.
However before you start the campaign, make sure you implement the basic tactics that help increase your CTR. This will ensure that you get a sizeable audience (statistically significant base) to run your test on, so you don’t end up spending a lot of money on inconclusive results.
At the end of the testing period, you’ll find that your clickbait posts might get a click spike and warm response in the beginning, but your gains will eventually taper out as the social media platform starts punishing your post, as well as your account page.
On the other, your engaging posts might not exactly start a fire, but will reward you with more visibility over a longer period of time (more about this later).
So instead of hankering after clicks, learn how to increase your engagement rate.
The new science of clicks is very simple – create great content, use relevant images at the right places, use phrases that create a sense of urgency, and most importantly, don’t insult your readers’ intelligence.
The rise and decline of clickbait
The days of curiosity-inducing stories are numbered, if we are to believe Adam Mosseri, the VP of product management for the Facebook News Feed. Facebook has been battling clickbait spam since 2014, but this time their update promises to ban publishers and content farms who thrive on spammy content outright.
For those who live by clickbait, the writing on the wall is clear: when algorithms become smarter, when your audience becomes more discerning, what then? Barring clickbait articles, do you have the remotest idea of what makes your social media audience click?
When Facebook asked people what sort of content they preferred to see in their News Feed, an overwhelming majority of the respondents (80%) said they preferred headlines that were clear and unambiguous indicators of the content of the article.
Users don’t like to be misled or disappointed, so instead of inducing curiosity before they click through, induce awe and respect after they start consuming your content.
And it seems, Facebook is hard at work already. My Facebook feed seems magically cleansed, with no BuzzFeed, Upworthy, or other “viral” content plugging my feed.
The future of social media: best practice
I’d like to dissect a few posts from my Facebook as well as Twitter feed in an attempt to understand what kind of headlines and content will work in future.
This post is from BBC. I admire the fact that they haven’t used clickbait as a crutch and spoiled the emotional moment. The sheer use of raw emotion and disregard of any hashtags by BBC Sports as well as BBC News speak volumes about the changing science of clicks.
Look at the reactions and comments they’ve got, despite ignoring the so-called “social media rules.”
Want to know how Facebook rewarded this post?
It is no secret that most posts live for only five hours on Facebook (it takes longer for food to be digested).
But look at the time on the above post closely. It was floating about in my feed an astounding 12 hours after it was posted!
This is the benefit I was talking about earlier. “Good” content may take time to catch up, but it will be eventually rewarded by social media users and platforms alike.
The 140-character limitation is a blessing in disguise for Twitter users. Thanks to this restriction, the Twitter feed is comparatively less spam-free. What’s more, Twitter users are a more discerning lot (I’m open for a debate on this opinion), which ensures clickbait doesn’t have a chance to survive.
But just to be sure, here’s a tweet from NY Times about their Rio Olympics Issue, which clearly spells out how your social media posts should be like:
The most dominant swimmer in the pool is Katie Ledecky. The question isn’t whether she’ll win, but by how much. https://t.co/WKoAbRiZhN
— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 8, 2016
The tweet is clear on what the article contains and promises not to insult readers’ intelligence.
Now compare it with the following and imagine being at the receiving end of such mindless tweets:
Everyone Knows What Katie Did But It’s NOT What You Think
Did This Swimming Sensation Strike Gold Or Nah?
Is Katie Ledecky THE Most Talked About Athlete In Olympic History?
No words, right?
Another great point about this tweet: note how the snippet provides further information on what the post talks about. It’s clear someone will click on the article only if this stuff interests them.
Here’s another example:
— Ad Age (@adage) August 8, 2016
Ad Age is not always particularly bright on Twitter, but this one pretty much sums up how to respect your audience on social media.
One glance and you know the tweet is about the latest Ikea ad, it is funny, and that it has been chosen by their team as a “Creativity Pick,” which means it would be good.
All in all, it’s a given that if you click on this tweet, you won’t go “Meh.”
We’ve seen some shining examples of how to respect your audience. True, you may get fewer clicks on your posts, but those clicks would be from people more likely to read your content from start to end and with a propensity to be loyal readers down the line.
In the future, this is what it will all boil down to. So stop obsessing over clicks and just worry about the quality of your content.
And if you have more examples or ideas on of how to engage your audience without a “churn and burn” attitude towards content or clicks, see you in the comments!