Published on August 21, 2014
Unless you've had your head in the sand for the last couple of years, you will have probably noticed that the likes of Buzzfeed (of which there are now many) are taking over the social web. What is their secret? Why is this happening? Why do I suddenly seem to care enough about a baby wombat being photoshopped into every conceivable scenario that I feel the need to share it with everyone else? Read on and we'll try to get to the bottom of this.
For most of us now, the social web has finally settled down and grown up. These websites that we used to marvel at and clamber all over have become little more than online services we use to communicate. Of course, they’ve always been this – but we’ve all been a bit blinded by the social media phenomenon for a few years. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, whatever, the social network is nothing more than somewhere we discover and share content. Our attention is very thinly spread and for that reason only the most compelling content is going to get our attention amidst the myriad game requests and private messages.
The formula is quite simple. You need a piece of easily digestible content and a title/headline that is irresistible. It doesn’t even matter what it’s about, as long as that headline makes us think this is content we can’t live without. The usual rules apply here: play to the desires/fears/hearts of your audience; hit them where they are going to feel it.
This formula has been demonstrated perfectly in what can only be described as a Buzzfeed spoof, Clickhole, from old school news satirists at The Onion.
Why are they doing it?
It’s quite simple really. We, the reader, want to be distracted. Even for a split second. And if we want something, and we think we can get it for free, we’ll devour it without a second thought. This presents an opportunity for the likes of Buzzfeed who can serve us with easy-to-create content surrounded by the ads that pay for it and keep them in profit. Everyone’s happy.
Like it or not, if you’re producing online content and using social to get your content out there to the people, Buzzfeed and co. are your competitors. They may not be a competitor in the business sense, but they are all over your audience and you’re going to have to work hard to break through their noise. I’m not suggesting an overnight change to serving clickbait content but there are two lessons we can learn straight away from the masters of viral content.
Less is more
Most viral articles are short, contain lots of images, and can be fully digested in seconds. If content is long form, it’s harder to hold the attention of the audience and as the excitement of the headline wears off, we become less compelled to share too. Where possible, keep it short. Keep it visual.
Your title is perhaps the most important factor of content made for social. If anyone shares your post over social, it’s most likely that they will use your title, particularly if it’s a share from a “tweet this” button or similar. If that title doesn’t reach out and grab you, it’s probably not going to grab anyone else. Language is important here. If your title looks like the title of something long and boring, people won’t pay attention to it in a social update. If it looks like something the audience needs, and something that can be read quickly, it will get more clicks.
Which would you click on?
“5 simple steps to becoming a better person” or “Life isn’t simple – undergoing metamorphosis“
It’s also very important that your title accurately reflects the post that follows. Getting clicks is one thing, getting people to hang around after they’ve clicked is another thing altogether.
The social web will continue to get noisier and the Buzzfeeds of this world will continue to flood our audience with distractions. So it’s fair to say we can’t beat ’em. We can join them, though. Although not all content needs to be viral, it doesn’t hurt to give yours a better chance of breaking through the noise.