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I wrote about click-bait. You won’t believe what happened next

We all hate click-bait, and yet, it still exists. Here’s why it doesn't pay.

We all hate click-bait, writes Hallie Donkin. And yet, it still exists. Here’s why it should never, ever be part of the content marketer’s toolbox, along with a few tips on what should.

You’d be hard pressed, I’m positive, to find a single person anywhere who is a fan of click-bait. My highly scientific research – asking a few people I know – found that no one likes it.

Even people who didn’t really know what the phrase meant, but recognised the concept when I explained – “You know when you see a headline, a tweet, a Facebook status that promises something fascinating, so you click it and find something completely dull? Or when a Facebook post says ‘Blah blah blah, you won’t believe what happened next!’, but what happened next was utterly predictable?” – cut me off mid-explanation with a groan, exclaiming that it infuriates them.

So why are marketers, social media editors and community managers doing something that infuriates their audiences? These very same people know that every audience member is hard-won. When every jump in readership or followers is celebrated, even with a small internal ‘woo!’, why risk a fall?

The answer, my friends, is laziness, combined with a sneaking suspicion that they might just get away with sensationalism because people often like or share something without ever actually reading it.

And they aren’t exactly wrong on the second point. Earlier this year during a Twitter conversation about Upworthy (groan – I must say I was very happy when people stopped positively referring to the ‘curiosity gap’ and started saying ‘click-bait’ instead), NewsCred CEO Shafqat Islam wondered how many people share an article without even clicking the link, and Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile busted in to tell the world that social shares do not necessarily correlate with content consumption. The research that Haile was referring to is here.


Shock! Horror! You mean people pretend they have read, researched and formed a well-considered argument about something, without the reading and researching bit?

While this could be seen as a boon – free bumps to the numbers! – if you are aiming for anything more than a sensational number of shares to stroke your ego with, don’t write a social post with shares prioritised ahead of content consumption. Why? Because those people who share without reading, watching or listening are not engaging with your brand in a way that will earn you anything other than the ego boost.

Let’s revisit content marketing 101. One of the purposes of the social post is to drive people to your content. The point of the content (and yes, this is cold, but warm and fuzzies do not pay the bills) is to drive people to further engage with your brand through fascinating, entertaining or useful content, and therefore further into your sales cycle. I did mention it was cold.

If someone shares without engaging, you have already lost them – they are no further into your sales cycle than they were before they spotted your content. Perhaps you never would have had them no matter what your post was; in that case they are not in your market and they don’t matter. But perhaps, with a post that told them clearly what they would get out of your content and why it would be useful to them, they would have consumed it and the snippet of your brand story that came along with it.

You might argue that the shares are still valuable, or even more valuable than one person reading the article, because a couple of hundred more people will see the post than would otherwise have. But to my mind, the people who see that shared post will go one of three ways: they will ignore it, they will share it without clicking the link, or they will click the link and, if your content doesn’t deliver what it promised to, they will be left feeling negatively, if not infuriated, about your content. That’s the content that is supposed to make them regard your brand positively.

What not to post, tweet or otherwise do

The other thing I asked people in my highly scientific research was whether there was a particular brand or media outlet they particularly hated for its click-bait style posts and tweets. Unsurprisingly, Upworthy got a few mentions. But one did surprise me.

Die-hard cricket fans (and I mean play-twice-on-the-weekend-and-once-during-the-week-then-throw-in-a-few-net-sessions-for-good-measure) mentioned Cricket Australia. Heaven forbid I succumb to click-bait’s wrinkly old cousin hyperbole, but gasp!

Of course, Cricket Australia’s content producers and community managers face a hard slog. While they can plant their front feet and hit sixes all day when Australia is playing, and even send a few over the ropes for four when the state teams are battling it out, between matches they can’t just sit in the sheds or, come next match, they would wander out into the dazzling sunshine to see that their crowd had left.

So I went and had a look at what they were doing, content-wise. It was admirable, in theory: coverage of local matches, cricket-related news, even a round-up of the juniors comps. Looking at the headlines and social posts though, I could see what the die-hard fans meant.

I’ll preface this by pointing out that the Cricket Australia Facebook account does a lot of things well. More on that below. And it’s certainly not stacked to the rafters with click-bait. There are some easy pickings though. Such as this one:


This is a story about a player in a club side in Gippsland, Victoria, who took 10 wickets. According to the report, it had happened three times in the previous season, and the bowler himself said it was just luck. Impressive? Sure. Unbelievable? Maybe not.

CA doesn’t, as I said, do a terrible job. But they do litter the majority of posts with overblown adjectives in place of actually explaining what could be found at the other end of a link and, when that isn’t enough, make sure the exaggerations are all in caps so you know that what you are about to click, whatever it is, is STUPENDOUSLY AMAZINGLY INCREDIBLY EXCITING!!! Oh, and did I mention too many exclamation points?

What to post, tweet and do

Having interrogated Cricket Australia just slightly less than Murali’s action has ever been interrogated, it is only fair to mention that they are also rather impressive at times. Take this post and article.


This is the sort of thing that would sustain die-hard fans even in winter, when the pitches are empty and the whites are depressingly free from grass-stains. Fascinatingly, it was posted during a game between NSW and Victoria, when simply posting content about the live game would be sure to knock out a few easy singles.

Then again, cricket isn’t exactly riveting – a second screen doesn’t go astray. And Cricket Australia knows its audience well enough to know that they watch the game while reading about cricket. And knowing your audience is high on the ‘do’ list.

Then you need to show them that, because you know them and what they want, you are providing it. The Conversation does this well. If you are looking for a style to emulate, do yourself a favour and have a look at The Conversation’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Since launching, The Conversation has doubled its audience year-on-year, and currently boasts 2,000,000 UBs/month, with 15 per cent of that traffic referred by Facebook.

It is doing something – or several things – right. For the moment, let’s talk about two things: firstly, being absolutely clear about what an article will deliver and, secondly, steadfastly upholding a belief in quality over quantity.

Give the game away early

The Conversation’s posts are, for the most part, self-contained. Instead of treating a post as a headline or a tease, the entire sentiment of the article is in the post.

Doing this means that people don’t disengage when your content doesn’t deliver what they were left to imagine it might and bounce right back to their Facebook feed rather than reading right through to that call to action you included at the end. It also, if this is your thing, capitalises on those lazy sharers, who are more likely to share a link if there is no mystery about what it is.

Go straight to the good stuff

We all know that quality content is the cornerstone of content marketing. The Conversation takes quality beyond the content and makes it a firm part of the social strategy.

While The Conversation’s daily EDM includes the more than, and sometimes the many more than, 20 pieces of content published on the site each day, only a handful of these get a mention on the Facebook page. In fact, no more than five score this honour.

It is part of their strategy, The Conversation’s External Relations Manager Debbie Dickinson explains, to only post the strongest or most topical of the articles they publish. If you routinely see 100,000 likes, comments or shares in a day across all the posts you create, do you want 10 posts to each garner 10,000 comments, likes and shares, or do you want to see two posts with 50,000 each?

It might not matter too much to your bottom line engagement stats. In fact, logically, it might push them down a little as you would perhaps otherwise see one person engage with up to 10 posts instead of just two. The thing with humans though is that we are illogical beasts. We see a post with 50,000 likes and are more impressed than if it had 10,000 likes. And so we are more likely to click that link.

So, the lessons here go beyond ‘click-bait is bad’. We need to create high-quality content to enable high-quality posts; after all, if you can’t craft an honest post that will make people want to click through to the content, then your content may well be rubbish. Then we need to value quality in both content and posts. The Conversation does this very well.

Finally, and this is what Cricket Australia at its best does very well: know your audience. Know what they want or need, and when they want or need it. And give it to them.

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