What clickbait is costing you

Computer mouse and mousetrap

Let me paint you a picture of what happened this week. And you understand that this is a figure of speech, because I can’t post an actual picture for reasons you’ll soon understand.

A status update on my LinkedIn feed said, “Solve this, and we will offer you a great job in a top IT company.” Underneath was a simple mathematical puzzle with the headline “90% Fail answer?” These kinds of posts on social media are not new, but the numbers were. Between the ones who liked the post, and the ones who attempted solving the puzzle, a total of over 33,000 people engaged with this status update. On LinkedIn. Freakin’ LinkedIn.

So here’s what happened next. I posted a screenshot of this update on LinkedIn, along with a disparaging comment about this kind of practice, and guess what happened within minutes? You got it: people started solving the puzzle on my status update! Whether they didn’t read my disparaging comment, or the puzzle proved too irresistible, that was enough for me: I got rid of it in what seemed like a nanosecond, but was nonetheless long enough for several people to prove that they are among the 10% who don’t fail.

These posts are a subcategory of what’s known as clickbait: online content, usually containing sensationalist, formulaic headlines (formulaic enough to warrant clickbait title generators), whose sole purpose is to attract click-throughs. And it’s all about the click-through, right? And the likes? And the viral forwards?

No, it isn’t. Or rather, it isn’t if you want those clicks to lead somewhere. And it isn’t if you don’t want to lose your standing. Clickbait has no place in an effective content strategy.

So here is why there’s so much of it out there. Clickbait may owe its existence to SEO keywords (new) or to yellow journalism (old), or a bit of both, but they are based on the same thing: taking the easy – or, in my book, the lazy, and even cowardly – way. Whenever and wherever content becomes important, whether it’s newspapers during elections or, in this case, online marketing and communications, someone will try to do it with a lot less effort. “They want content? We’ll give them content!” is the catch cry.

But what kind of content are we actually talking about with clickbait? Because the focus is on the headline rather than the content of the piece, clickbait promises something exciting or interesting in order to get people to the destination, but never actually delivers anything of any substance or value when they get there.

Not all content is equal. Therefore, not all content is desirable. Particularly when it stands to cost you so much.

Clickbait has had its success stories – think sites such as Upworthy – but there is a backlash, complete with spoof sites and terminology (“baitshaming”). There is always a backlash when you manipulate people. And make no mistake: clickbaiting is manipulation made public. If you have been using it or considering it as part of your content strategy, here is what you stand to lose:

Trust. Clickbait may give you short-term success and great ROI from clients you’ll never see again, but since trust is longevity, you can kiss long-term business goodbye. Clickbait generates resentment, and a resentful client walks.

Credibility. Clickbait is all style (a very, very common, highly parodied style) and no substance. In putting your name to clickbait, you put your name to fluff. There are some who will argue that clickbait can be done well, with a valuable article to match the headline, but an increasingly jaded market may not get past the headline. Without this opportunity to prove yourself, your cred will go out the window.

Respect. Both your current and prospective clients require you to stand for something, and will look at every function of your business as a reflection of what you stand for. They will read meaning into everything – particularly your communications – so what will they think about you and your business if you spread clickbait?

Deep engagement. A lot of clickbait is well intentioned. You may believe that this is just how content is these days, and that the likes and comments are valuable. And they may be well be of value up to a point, but they are not deep engagement. Engagement means that a client has an emotional, psychological or physical investment in your product or service, and it happens as a result of top-tier quality and communication. Clickbait may drive traffic, but it will seldom drive business.

The one antidote to clickbait is regular, valuable content. No shortcuts! Even the simplest content strategy will take some time and your best efforts. But taking the time and making the effort tells your clients, “You’re worth it”. And no clickbait can ever compete with the results of a client who feels this valued.


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