O now, who will behold
The royal captain of this ruin’d band
Walking from watch to watch, from tent to tent,
Let him cry ‘Praise and glory on his head!’
For forth he goes and visits all his host.
Bids them good morrow with a modest smile
And calls them brothers, friends and countrymen.
In this excerpt from Shakespeare’s Henry V, King Henry disguises himself as a commoner to walk among his soldiers on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt. He does so to learn the unvarnished truth about their morale and preparedness, knowing that if he were to tour the camp as king, the information he’d receive would be quite different.
Access is always accompanied by risk. When powerful people make themselves more accessible via social media, they risk losing privacy, focus, efficiency, and even likability.
So why do they do it?
As it turns out, there are three main reasons powerful people weather the risks of accessibility.
1. Escaping the echo chamber
The truth is valuable, but it often doesn’t reach the corner office. Information is filtered through several layers of career-minded subordinates and corporate groupthink. And passing through these layers takes time, degrading the usefulness of the information. As I write in my book:
The higher someone’s status, the more other people say what they think the person wants to hear. When reality finally pierces the wall of optimism and flattery, it’s often too late—this powerful individual has simply made too many decisions based on false premises to right the ship.
Information from social media acts as a counterweight to the polished and presentable information powerful people receive from their teams.
2. The “direct line”
Social media gives powerful people direct, instantaneous access to the masses. No airtime or ad space to buy. No press conference to arrange. This makes PR staffers and in-house lawyers cringe, but the allure of a direct line is too strong for many elites to ignore. This access can be used to promote products, events, and causes (Richard Branson is a great example of the latter), shape public opinion and perception, and defend when attacked. Take, for example, this tweet from Rupert Murdoch, which addressed the News Corp phone hacking scandal and received 30 retweets:
@ rathacat. Family agony awful, but caused by deleting voicemail and raising hope. NOTW wrongly accused of this by Guardian who corrected.
— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) June 2, 2012
Many of Murdoch’s tweets could be easily dismissed as nothing more than rants. But what I find remarkable about them—rants or not—is just how little they are scripted. Here you have one of the most famous billionaires in the world talking directly to whoever will listen, without the “prior restraint” of minders and copyeditors.
“Should I use my personal account or company account to engage with influencers and the press?” It’s a question that comes up a lot when I speak to groups about using social media. My answer is always, “People like talking to people.” Despite the Supreme Court’s affirmation of “corporate personhood,” the idea of brands acting like humans is a bit absurd, especially when you think of all the rotten things humans do. And businesses don’t have feelings or worries or hopes.
But that’s not to say there’s no value to making brands more approachable, sincere, and quick to respond—these are all positive human traits that brands can use to their benefit. It’s not a matter of mimicking humans, but of letting the humans behind the brand shine through.
Company leaders can have a big impact on internal and external perception of a brand and its leaders. For example, the 2013 BrandFog CEO Social Media Survey found that, among employees “83.9% believe that CEO social media engagement is an effective tool to increase brand loyalty.” The same survey also revealed that 68.7% of employees “definitely” or “somewhat” agree that “C-Suite social media engagement make[s] a brand seem more honest and trustworthy.”
A powerful mindset
Powerful people have already made it. They don’t need to use social media. Both of these are true statements. So is this one: Mark Cuban could retire today and still be fantastically wealthy for the rest of his life. One more for you: Katy Perry could drop off Twitter and still sell out concerts around the world.
My point is simple. Powerful people do things to grow what they already have. It’s this “extra step” mindset that got them there in the first place, and social media is quickly becoming the extra step of choice for the world’s most successful people.
What will be the next step in the evolution of social media? What is the number one “unique social media marketing tip [I] would give to an intermediate social media marketer?”
These questions were submitted by the 4th and 5th winners of my signed book giveaway! I’m still accepting entries, and all you have to do is ask me an interesting question for a chance to win. OK, on with the show.
Amira Fahoum asks:
As social media continues to evolve and change how we interact with each other–both personally and commercially–what will be the next step in the evolution?
I call it “universal convergence.” Channels, devices, data—these elements of communication are all being woven together. Think single streams, seamless experiences. What we formerly called “In Real Life” (IRL)—the physical world—is increasingly inextricable from the digital world. IRL is now digital, social, and physical rolled into one.
And in a similar way, identities are converging. I’ve worked for people I’ve never met beyond digital channels. I have deep friendships with people I met first on Twitter, and some of those relationships spilled over into face-to-face conversations over barbecue, professional collaborations, etc . I’ve even mourned the deaths of a handful of people whom I only knew through social media, and it felt no less real. At a certain point, we’ll replace phrases like “my Twitter friend” with simply “friend.”
Commercially, we’re seeing a convergence of brands and people. In other words, we’ll be buying from brands because we value the people behind the brands, and a lot of that determination will be based on our encounters with those people on social media. We’re also seeing an intolerance of any disparities between a brand’s social persona and every other part of the brand presence. That’s because the social presence will be decentralized, and not holed up in corporate HQ. If I tweet a hardware question to a hardware store, I want people with hardware knowledge to answer it—not marketing people like me. So, I’m looking forward to systems that put that power (and responsibility) in the hands of select front-line employees.
Whitney Denney asks:
What is the number one unique social media marketing tip you would give to an intermediate social media marketer? Don’t tell me something I can find 20 articles on in Google. I need something fresh and motivating!
Oy vey, so demanding, Whitney! OK, I’m game.
Stop trying to make your brand likable. Most people don’t want relationships with most brands, and loyalty is now sustained only by utility. Useful sells. Likable merely amuses. Most money in social media by companies is spent on being likable, while usefulness is neglected.
Reverse the order! Focus on delivering relentless utility through your brand’s social presence to win the wallet.
That’s it for the second batch of book giveaway winners! Remember, you can still enter to win your own signed copy. But if you just can’t wait and you’re into sure things, buy a copy today! If you’ve read the book, please leave an honest review on Amazon.
How can smaller companies keep up in social media? How will influencer engagement change? Are infographics here to stay?
These three questions were submitted by the first three winners of my signed book giveaway! Entries are still open, so submit your question today. Now, let’s get some answers on the board.
Ryan Swindall asks:
I work for a smallish company that’s constantly trying to keep up and look larger on social. How would you recommend that we keep up with bigger and better funded companies on social media when we can’t (or won’t) go for another round of funding?
Lots of big companies have really stupid social strategies. That’s your advantage. For example, take a look at the average Fortune 500 corporate blog and tell me if they’ve really got it down! Likely not.
Social media is great for smaller companies because engagement can’t really be bought. The barriers to entry are low, so you can even the playing field by focusing on things that don’t require a lot of personnel and funds. If your big competitor hires ten writers to crank out so-so content, create a content array that relies more on curating great external content to deliver a greater amount of value.
There are a thousand ways to become a resource—it’s not all about creating word count. Don’t go head-to-head on things you’ll never be able to truly emulate (like headcount), and find better ways to make your company useful.
Joel Widmer asks:
What will a successful influencer outreach campaign look like in the next 5 years? How will influencer engagement change?
I’m going to focus on the second part of Joel’s question. There’s a story in my book about a party I attended at a tech conference where supposed influencers were given the sponsor’s latest model mobile phone. I was one of those “influencers,” and they made it really clear I was on some kind of list and I should feel super special about it. I wasn’t ungrateful, but I was perplexed. First of all, I’ve never blogged about consumer electronics, and I’m not one to really tweet about the space either. On top of that, even if they were going for highly influential people in general, I’m certainly not one of them (as compared to some of the people at the party who didn’t get free phones, including a few friends of mine). No, I was on that list for one of three reasons:
1) Someone at the PR agency handling the party recognized my name from something completely unrelated to consumer electronics.
2) The data they used to ascertain attendee influence was the wrong data to use in the context.
3) The data they used to ascertain attendee influence was simply inaccurate.
In the next five years, we’re going to see less of that. Influencer identification is getting more accurate, granular, and contextual. People using these tools are getting better at it. And—this is the thing that sometimes drives innovation more than anything else—the budget owners for these programs aren’t going to tolerate so much speculative money wasting. They’re going to ask for results and proof and optimization plans. The money won’t be coming from the experimental budget in five years, so everything it’s spent on will need to perform. If there’s one corner of the social media space that needs that kind of scrutiny, influencer ID and engagement is definitely it.
Are infographics just a fad or are they here to stay?
I take it from Derek’s question that he isn’t impressed with the bulk of infographics out there, and he thinks people are getting away with producing low-quality work because the medium happens to be hot. Or maybe I’m totally projecting my opinions onto his question, because that’s totally how I feel.
It’s hard to find an analogous medium that might guide a prediction here, but take something like online presentations (i.e. slide decks). Slides are flooding the web because slideshare makes it easy to share and embed them. But does better technology—essentially, a better container—lead to better content overall? Judging by the mountain of yuck on slideshare, I think not. And will the rate at which that mountain of yuck grows slow down anytime soon? I don’t think so, because, like a landfill, there aren’t really any penalties for contributing to it.
So you have a similar thing going on with infographics. Technology is driving the costs of production and distribution down. The medium is trendy, as you point out. Everyone wants in on that game, and now everyone can get in on it.
But there’s yet another force moving infographics and slide decks along roughly the same trajectory: impressions-based journalism. As long as ad revenue supports online media, and as long as what outlets charge for that ad space is based in whole or in part on impressions / pageviews, they’ll embrace formats that allow them to quickly churn out page after page of content. Every time you see a slideshow where an article should really be, it’s not because the journalists and editors felt that was truly the best way to convey information to readers; it’s because it’s easy to throw those up with little effort and they can count every slide advance as a separate pageview in order to charge advertisers more. You don’t have the latter issue with infographics, but you certainly have the appeal of easy pageviews and reduced costs associated with original content creation.
As long as someone can embed an infographic on a page, bookend it with a few intro and conclusion sentences, and call it an article, they medium will be extremely popular.
OK, now everyone thinks I hate infographics. Nope. The truth is, well-done data visualization is really incredible. People like David McCandless and shops like JESS3 and Column 5 put out extremely good work. When you have actual data to convey, and that data is interesting, infographics are the bee’s knees! I think infographics will get more interactive as HTML5 and other technologies are widely used. They’ll look more like the data journalism you see over at the Texas Tribune and The Economist.
That’s it for the first batch of book giveaway winners! Remember, you can still enter to win your own signed copy. But if you just can’t wait and you’re into sure things, buy a copy today!
Ever wonder how you can stop being such a social media mooch? Or why gatekeepers still have their jobs? Do you know what my weird Twitter handle @be3d stands for? I’ve got answers.
I’ve been doing a lot of Q&As about the book, and today I’m going to share three of the questions that got me thinking (and my answers). Before you dive in, I have a request for those of you who have read the book (and those of you reading it right now): Please consider leaving an honest Amazon review right here. Each review really helps the book’s visibility. Now, on with the show…
From Successful Blog:
How can people find and open their own side doors in social media?
Realize that side doors often open gradually. For example, every time you leave a comment on a CEO’s blog, or tweet a piece of intelligent feedback to an influencer, you’re opening that side door up an inch or two more.
Think about the goals of the person whom you’re trying to reach, and reflect on how you can help them get there faster. You can do things like introduce them to other influential people via Twitter, interview them on your blog about a project they’re promoting, or help them find information they’re after.
Relationships are still the basis for almost all of the value created in social media. Social media makes it really easy to answer the question, “what has this person done for me lately?” As such, you’ll hear “yes” far more often when you’ve provided value before an ask, or in conjunction with it.
Who are the gatekeepers?
Anyone or anything that regulates access to people or power is a gatekeeper. Human gatekeepers come in all forms, but are commonly executive assistants, recruiters and HR professionals, publicists and agents, and anyone else tasked with reducing access to someone else. I made sure to point out in my book that gatekeepers aren’t trying to ruin your day. They have an important job to do, and it’s probably pretty thankless. But ultimately we need gatekeepers, or else important things won’t get done. When I first got into the corporate world, someone told me that the second most powerful person in any given company doesn’t have a fancy title or a corner office. It’s the CEO’s executive assistant, so make sure to be kind to him or her. That’s still true, and social media can help you get to know — and sometimes win over — the gatekeepers.
People sometimes feel they need to play a part when using social media, and I totally understand the impulse. I also agree it makes sense to tailor your use of a network to its particular “culture,” like engaging more professionally on LinkedIn because it’s “the business network.” But I think these lines are extremely fluid and flexible. Ultimately, people like doing business with and hiring people they genuinely like. And if your social media presence doesn’t convey a true sense of who you are, you’re really just cheating yourself out of meaningful relationships. So “three-dimensional” means the complete package, not a cardboard cutout of who you want others to think you are.
From Vocus Blog:
Why not an email followed up by a phone call?
If that’s working for you, there’s no reason to stop. But it’s easier to stand out where you have the least competition, and where reporters aren’t as used to getting pitched.
Credibility and name recognition are transferable. I think phone calls and emails are great for long-form and later-stage communication, but every time you bring value to a journalist through social channels, the chances increase that he or she will open that email or take that follow up call.
That’s what being three-dimensional is all about. Starting out, this person is completely unaware of you—a blank canvas where his or her mental image of you should be. Then you engage via one medium, and this person forms a kind of mental outline of who you are, but it’s still easy to ignore. Every additional engagement, especially those that happen on new channels, fills in detail to that sketch.
Keep it up, and this person will have a 3-D model of you in his or her head. You’re not just that person that tweeted at them once; you’re that person that gave them the interesting angle on the story over Twitter, then sent additional information over email, and invited you to connect on LinkedIn a week later. Every additional dimension makes you harder to ignore.
Have any questions of your own? Ask them in the comments, and I’ll answer.
The following is a guest post from reader Landon Fears. Landon was the first reader to successfully use the 1:1 Facebook ad targeting technique in Chapter 10 to get my attention, and we’ve had a nice back-and-forth on Twitter. He’s the creator of Salesvamps, “a story about vampire salesmen.” Check out the special landing page he made just for the ad, the cool embedded call-to-action at the bottom of this page, and follow him on Twitter: @landonfears. -Ian
As soon as I finished reading The Social Media Side Door: How to Bypass the Gatekeepers to Gain Greater Access and Influence, I immediately thought about the memories that a side door brought to me.
Every time my family or a family friend had a barbecue, I’d enter the backyard through a side door. The door was never pretty. The doorframe’s paint was peeling, a stray nail stuck out of the hinge, and an army of ants would march in between the dirty cracks of the threshold. But once I entered the backyard, the party began. I’d eat hamburgers, usually getting barbecue sauce on my clothes. I’d join in a game of football – I’d drop the ball multiple times because I’m clumsy. As I finally left the barbecue, you know what I was? Sweaty. Like, drenched. But more importantly, I was care-free. I was among friends and family.
I never carried this care-free attitude into my professional career, much less social media. Like the people Ian describes in his book, I was one of the miserable spending all of my energy trying to open the front door wider. At one point in my career, I was a door-to-door salesman. It was an excruciating three weeks. Do you know how I felt every time I had to knock on a door to sell whatever it was I sold? Yes, sweaty. But really, I was stressed. The complete opposite of how I felt in those backyard barbecues.
Yes, I learned a lot of technical things from Ian’s book. I’ve already implemented a few Facebook Ads, and plan to experiment with Twitter Ads. I am working on strategies for creative ways to use Tumblr and Google+. But the biggest takeaway I got from the book was to approach social media – and my career – with a social attitude. Have fun. Simply get to know people. When I log into my account, I want the same frame of mind as I had going through that grungy side door to a fun outing. I’ve gotten too used to waiting in line and staring at a front door – while much better-looking than a side door, it is a front door that may never open, but also a door that brings little joy as I approach it.
Chances are you have a side door in your life that leads to an entertaining get-together. If you’re normal, your get-together involves barbecue sauce, but I guess it’s okay if it doesn’t. Regardless of what your idea of care-free is, bring that mentality to your social media space. Have conversations with who you want, play around with who you want.
In the space of a few days, Mark Zuckerberg has seen my ad 7 times. Marissa Meyer, Yahoo’s CEO has seen another ad of mine 39 times. This has cost me nothing. Zero dollars, zero cents.
That’s an excerpt from my new book, The Social Media Side Door: How to Bypass the Gatekeepers to Gain Greater Access and Influence. When I learned the technique I’m about to share with you (via Mike Merrill and Dennis Yu), I really didn’t believe it. But I tried it anyway, and proved that it works in several different tests (as detailed in Chapter 10). Just in case you haven’t quite fathomed the potential of this extremely well-kept secret trick, it’s the ability to reach anyone with an eye-catching, hyper-personalized Facebook ad with 100% accuracy. If someone is on Facebook, you can reach that person. Private profile? You can reach that person.
Instead of just walking you through how to do it, I’m going to show you how to reach me. Ready? (Set up your FB ads account if you haven’t, then come right back).
1. Find my profile.
I actually have two. Long story. Use either one.
2. Grab my UID.
A UID is a Facebook user id. Even if a profile is private, you can use a simple trick to get the UID–and it’s not hacking. Just take the URL my profile, remove “http://www.” and replace it with “graph.” You’ll be taken here. It should look like this:
3. Create a Custom Audience
Open up an Excel doc and paste my UID into cell A-1. Save it as a CSV file. Go back to your Facebook Ads Manager. Open up Power Editor. Click “Create Audience.” Upload the CSV you saved, filling in whatever you want for the “Audience Name” and “Description” fields. Make sure you choose “UIDs” under Type. It should look something like this:
4. Create the ad.
Using Google image search, find an image of me and save it to your computer. Head back to the ads manager. Click “Create an Ad.” Enter the URL to your LinkedIn profile or Twitter profile. Use whatever you want for the headline and body text. If you want the ad to show up in my feed and not just on the sidebar, connect it to your Facebook page. Don’t worry, your other fans won’t see it since I’m the only one in your target audience. Here’s an example I used for my webinar with Vocus:
5. Choose me.
Buy The Social Media Side Door here!
Reporters and other media pros are typically easy to reach, but much harder to influence. Their livelihoods depend on being accessible to people with tips, angles, and stories, so many of them even publish their email addresses and phone numbers in their Twitter bios, etc.
But! Repeat after me: reach does not equal influence. Here, in case you’re a visual learner like me:
To journalists, the cost of accessibility is being constantly deluged with garbage like bad PR pitches, weird attention seekers, and anyone else trying to get their 15 minutes of fame. So, journalists develop selective attention. They become experts in quickly sorting signal from noise, trash from treasure. They also pay more attention to names they recognize. Chances are, unless you’re already a known quantity among reporters, they don’t recognize yours. Mine either! No matter how great our tips, angles, and stories are, we’re starting with a disadvantage. So, we need to stand out.
Let me pause here to emphasize that there is no substitution for longterm relationship building. That should always be the priority, and it will yield way more quality coverage than things like Facebook ads. But Facebook ads are one interesting tool in the outreach kit, and especially useful when you have a fresh, informed angle on a hot story the media already cares about. I worked with my publisher on the infographic you see below to promote my just-released book, The Social Media Side Door: How to Bypass the Gatekeepers to Gain Greater Access and Influence. It covers a lot more than Facebook ads, but that’s the thing people keep asking me about, so I figured it would make a great lede for this post. If you share it on Twitter or Facebook, please use the hashtag #tsmsd. Also, I’m doing a webinar with Vocus on October 16th on this very subject, and I’d love to see you there!
There’s money to be made in convincing people that exceptional marketing comes easy, but it doesn’t. I’ve been thinking about marketing’s “hard truths”—those essential but sobering realities that tend to reveal themselves through failure. Maybe the only way to learn these marketing truths is to experience what happens when you contradict their wisdom. Or maybe you’ll read this in time to avoid some particularly thorny terrain (that’s what I prefer to believe). Here we go:
Thought leadership is in the eye of the beholder. It’s always earned, and never bought.
Your audience decides your fate. You can’t produce thought leadership—it’s not a type of marketing. It’s an earned state, and a temporary one at that. You are a thought leader when your audience considers you a thought leader, and not one minute before. You can buy a lot of things that thought leaders tend to have—a six-digit Twitter following and a place on the best sellers list, for example. But these are typically the results of being a thought leader, not the things that get you there.
I was once paired with someone at a small speaking event whose name I wasn’t familiar with. Odd, I thought, because this person had over 100,000 Twitter followers, claimed to be a marketing expert, and also lived in Austin. How had our paths not crossed? After our Q&A session, I asked some friends of mine here in Austin—actual marketing thought leaders—if they knew him. None of them did. After a few minutes perusing his followers, it was clear most of them were fake. Gaming the social proof might have fooled event organizers, but the audience clearly wasn’t impressed with his portion of the session. They decided he wasn’t a thought leader, so he wasn’t.
Utility is never ignored. Make yourself (and your marketing) useful.
People don’t shut you out when it’s clear that you’re helping them. Most marketing points to some help that the audience will get in the future…if they do X, Y, and Z they don’t really want to do. But the best marketing is itself useful. Every page on your site, every tweet, every email you send to prospects—every one of these is a chance to provide something useful.
And guess what? If you give away something useful, people will want to share it. They want to be useful, too. They’ll also come back for more. Jay Baer wrote a whole book about the concept of utility in marketing, and it looks really…useful!
Buzzwords, jargon and superlatives fool no one.
What’s the difference between the “ground truth” and the “truth”?
Would you rather be “enabled,” or simply “helped”?
Why do customer service reps always put that “do” in between “I” and “apologize,” like “I do apologize for that, Mr. Greenleigh.”
When was the last time you read a company boilerplate and believed they really are “the leading” company in whatever space they play in?
Marketing is like a yearbook where seniors write their own superlatives.
No one buys any of this nonsense. Buzzwords and superlatives can make us feel smart, relevant, part of the tribe, and in control, but they alienate just about everyone else.
Write and speak like the people you want to reach and influence. Even if they use buzzwords, resist the temptation (using buzzwords doesn’t mean one responds to buzzwords).
Show, don’t tell. Marketing should deliver—not promise—value.
“Show, don’t tell” is an old writer’s saying. It means don’t rely on exposition to carry your story forward. Rather, have the story telegraphed through things your characters do (or don’t do), say, their appearance, etc.
Marketers love to tell you about value. They focus a lot on offering things, but not enough on providing them. Here’s a concrete example. One of the transformations I led at Bazaarvoice was taking the blog from promotional to useful. When I arrived, we were still talking about how great our data was, about how much we knew about consumers—and here’s a blog post to promote a webinar where we’ll tell you some of what we know. That kind of thing. I wondered why we shouldn’t just share some of what we know on the blog, and use that content to generate leads. No one objected; it just wasn’t the model my colleagues were used to. Once we got the hang of it, and saw all the right indicators going up and to the right, it seemed so ridiculous that we had focused on offers at the expense of delivery. Take a look at your company blog right now and be honest with yourself: which are you focusing on?
Question: What other hard truths of exceptional marketing would you add to this list?
I celebrated the addition of Facebook hashtags, and even picked a fight or two with naysayers in some of the reactionary threads you see whenever Facebook does anything new. But Facebook hashtags just aren’t working.
To illustrate, let’s compare hashtags on Twitter and Facebook. Say a big story breaks having to do with Syria. Hop over to Twitter.com, and there’s a good chance it will be already featured in the Trends box. Or, just enter #syria into the search box , and you’ll get something like this:
Want all tweets in a purely chronological order? Just click All, and you get something like this:
Here’s what happens on Facebook when you search for (or click on) a hashtag.
Famous names, popular posts, some posts from regular people with seemingly no logic as to why their content is featured. Not in chronological order. No ability to change anything to do with what or how content is displayed.
Hashtags are one of the ways that Facebook is trying to strike more of a balance between the social graph and the interest graph. That makes sense, because we’re not only interested in what people we know are doing, what they think, etc. We want to follow things and people that interest us personally—regardless of whether our friends care about the same things and people. This is one reason that Twitter has been successful. It capitalized on the interest graph early on, and incorporated ways to connect people to what interests them, not just who they already know. Hashtags were one of the masterstrokes that made Twitter “the interest network.” When news breaks about Syria, like in the example above, do you really want to rely on people you knew in high school (Facebook) to relay it to you? Facebook saw an opportunity to move into this territory, and started rolling out features like the ability to follow celebrities without actually knowing them (although you’re only getting their public posts). Hashtags were another move in this direction.
But they stripped hashtags of perhaps the most important factor in their popularity: real-time. Without displaying content in chronological order, without including more “unpopular” content from regular people, Facebook made hashtags into a static popularity contest.
One of the other big issues is privacy. Because most Facebook users post content privately (to their friends), you will only see hashtagged content from public posts and your existing Facebook friends. Twitter, however, is asymmetrical—you can see someone’s updates even if they don’t follow you back (unless they’re in the 11.84% of users that have protected accounts).
Facebook was late to the game with hashtags. They’re not used to being the underdog, and in at least this one way, they are. But to change that, they’ll need to quickly improve the experience, make it real-time and customizable, and educate users.
What do you think of Facebook hashtags? Is there any hope? Share your POV in the comments below.
Here’s a simple question with a not-so-simple answer, courtesy of Quora:
Do headlines matter as much as they used to?
The poster clarifies: “I ask this because it seems people are becoming content aggregates, blindly sharing the content of their trusted brands. What do you think?”
My mind immediately went to the concept of signal versus noise and the increasing difficulty of separating the former from the latter. Hillary Read summed it up:
I would say they matter a lot more than they used to. You have roughly 10 words to hook people, period. Attentions spans and patience have dwindled, and your headline has to stand out in a LOT of volume/chaos to get noticed. No good headline, no readers.
I was about to leave the question alone because Hillary and others had already posted an answer I agreed with. Then I switched tabs to TweetDeck and saw a YouTube video floating down the page within a column, followed a few seconds later by a beautiful photo from another user. Content is reaching us whether or not we engage with it. So I penned my answer:
Yes and no. The only thing that prevents me from offering a solid “yes” is the increasing prevalence of “previewable” content. Take the way videos and images are being natively featured within Twitter and Facebook, for example. If these platforms forced users to click on links to view all media, headlines would be exponentially more important. But users don’t rely on the headlines alone, because they don’t have to. They get “content clues” like who has liked or shared something, the description, a representative image (if it’s a video), and other information. Or, as is the case with Twitter and many images, they see even more than a preview of the image, they see the full image in their stream. The other element of this is a kind of diminishing opportunity cost. If I need to leave the page or experience I’m currently enjoying to consume content that I might have interest in (based on a headline or tweet w/ link), I might decide it’s not worth disrupting the experience I’m enjoying. But now that more and more media is viewable within experiences, I don’t feel I’m risking anything (except time) by playing it or reading it.
Jesse posted a great follow-up question, excerpted here:
I believe the “content clues” you’ve mentioned have a growing weight in this “headline equation.” If a friend, person, or brand we highly value shares something and the headline is (literally) “A thing” – I feel like we’re still going to share it. Factoring in the content clues, we see ”A thing” by [person or brand we like] and it has social proof (people sharing and commenting), why would we not click it?
…I was wondering, as you’ve mentioned the growing development of preview-able content, do you think a headline (such as “A thing”) will perform better since we can only rely on the surrounding clues (author and social proof)? Do you think we have more of an urge to click on something click this to put our uncertainty to ease?
Here’s me again:
That’s a good question. I think information overload dampens the urge we have to resolve mysteries. I also think hyperbolic “linkbait” / “clickbait” headlines are conditioning audiences to not expect payoffs once they click through. The cliffhanger headline format has been abused to the extent that its effectiveness is at risk. Bottom line is–and I think this is ultimately a good thing for readers and content creators–you have to deliver the goods, up your game, and constantly respond to marketplace needs.
Wikipedia defines linkbait as “any content or feature, within a website, designed specifically to gain attention or encourage others to link to the website.” Lately, the term is also used in reference to bold headlines or posts that drive clicks, visits, and shares.
But I generally use the phrase pejoratively, as in “I can’t believe that linkbait headline tricked me into clicking on this trash.” You know the feeling, right? You expect something from a headline and the content falls far short of what was promised. This kind of linkbait borrows its tactics from tabloids, scare journalism, and other forms of sensationalism. Pick your poison:
Here’s an incredibly stupid (but all too typical) example:
The article doesn’t deliver the goods. Half-Life 3 has not been confirmed. Period. But wait!
Here’s what users see if they click “View Summary” right under the tweet:
That’s right: additional content clues, a meatier preview, and a look at the real headline, which, unlike the tweet itself, does not blatantly lie to users.
This is the direction social media is heading: experiencing content in uninterrupted experiences. Twitter’s summary feature is not just a preview of the content it references, but of the direction our media consumption is heading.