Anything for a click: when is clickbait damaging, and when does it help?

“You’ll never believe what these people do to save money!” For months now, the social web has been teeming with headlines like this. And they have proved to be a great success. But does clickbait also work in B2B marketing?

For many marketers, a high click-through rate is all that matters. In the past few years, US media websites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy appear to have found the formula for success in this respect. By attaching emotional headlines to content that is often mundane, they draw in the clicks. It’s a simple concept: grossly exaggerate, rely on the reader’s curiosity, and leave out the simple facts. That’s how to ‘cast’ clickbait. In Germany, is the website that uses this tactic the most.

The fine line between beneficial and superficial

In the B2B environment, emotional, sensationalist writing is rare. In fact, it is frowned upon. At the same time, managers and employees are driven by worries, hopes, and fears, and effective marketing communications can directly address these emotions. But how far should you go? At what point is a text still adequately provocative without becoming superficial? Here is a brief overview.

Clickbait is damaging when:
  • The content is too weak. Every headline makes a promise that the body copy must fulfil. Ask yourself whether your content is unique. Does it help your target audience or is just comprised of advertising messages?
  • It does not suit your brand voice. Generally, the tone of voice on the social web should be more casual, and may touch upon debatable points. It’s common sense that lawyers or insurance agents are better off not using emotional wording such as “this story brought a tear to my eye”.
  • Your target audience value your restraint and objectivity When Heute – a news show on German television channel ZDF – experimented with clickbait, it didn’t come across very well at all. This is hardly surprising seeing as viewers of public broadcasters expect neutral reporting. For the rest, there is privately owned commercial broadcasting.

So whoever uses clickbait without careful consideration isn’t doing themselves any favors. But neither are those who avoid it completely. BuzzFeed’s content is shared around six million times a month on Facebook alone. No other media website in the world generates more. Established, reputable brands can also use clickbait to spread their message.

Clickbait can help when:

(When I saw number 3, my jaw simply dropped!)

  • Your offering is similar to that of the competition. The less that a brand can use product features or pricing to differentiate itself from competitors, the more important effective marketing communications become. Or can you remember off the top of your head which brand of detergent “washes whiter than white”?
  • Your content is of high quality. The majority of businesses consider their content to be relevant, useful, and exciting, but the target audience rarely share this view. However, if your blogpost, brochure, or success story is genuinely interesting, it will stand out from the crowd. Inspiring headlines are often exactly what is needed to draw attention to quality content.
  • Your primary aim is to reach a large audience. Sometimes it’s all about the numbers. If you want to generate as many page impressions, clicks, likes, and comments as possible, then a headline which arouses curiosity is often the best option. But be careful not to make promises that you can’t keep.

Staying on the right side of this fine line requires experience and a feeling for your target audience. We can help you with this

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