I, Dana Flannery, am a deeply unhip blogger. As someone who happily pursues the creative side of content marketing for a living, this news makes me both sad and excited. You see, I am a part of an awesome blogging group, filled with some of the best personal bloggers in Australia. It’s a great place to learn about different elements of blogging, get some insights into platforms and just exchange ideas. Today’s topic is click bait.
My opinions make me a bit of a pariah amongst the in-crowd – I’m a business blogger. I am authentically, unashamedly and enthusiastically in the business of blogging. For the most part, these guys aren’t. For the most part, they’re all about cultivating ideas that connect with their audience on an emotional level. One particular blogger posted asking for advice after someone “accused her of click bait”. The reaction was passionate and it became apparent that “click bait” is a dirty word in the personal blogger world.
So, I thought I’d explore the world of content vs the world of content marketing!
The marketing value of personal bloggers
Authentic personal bloggers offer that one thing that brands can’t buy – complete trust. I emphasise authentic personal bloggers because there are a lot of “big biz blogs” around that are written in first person with quirky language but are nothing more than a corporate machine blog (see my Kidspot Fiasco Blog for more details).
An authentic personal blogger influencing their audience to make a purchase is the modern day equivalent of Michael Jordan telling the kids to “Just Do It”. The difference is that Michael Jordan told a whole generation at once, bloggers are telling pockets of highly targeted demographic – down to their precise opinions or taste in shoes/wine/children’s clothing – the authentic personal blogger also states that they’ve been told to tell them to Just Do It, and they tried doing it themselves, and it was a positive experience. In the current culture, that right there is as powerful or even more powerful. This isn’t the 80s and 90s where mega brands needed mega stature and mega budgets to keep brand value.
Click bait, content marketing and the headline debate
Click bait in blogger terms and in marketing terms are slightly different. The objective definition is anything that attracts clicks. Interestingly, if you Google the definition of Click Bait, Google returns this! Which is totally true.
There is no room for sensationalism in journalism – but is there in journaling?
The definition of clickbait was discussed in this particular group and it came down to sensationalist social media headlines, inauthenticity, withholding facts to force people to click and deception in content. The definition seems to come down to your position on the grey scale of purism in art vs brash and shameless marketing. For the record, I’m right of centre on this one.
Is all clickbait evil or is there room for it when done well?
This video (shared in the group) is a humourous, and somewhat ironic LINK bait ad for some university that explains the VERY WORST of link bait – not click bait but they’re two heads of the same goat. (IMO click bait is something shared on social media or elsewhere designed to get readers curious enough to click, link bait is something uploaded to a website that encourages people to link to it, often a study, controversial opinion or infographic – link bait is marketed with click bait – or not, let’s not get hung up on semantics)
Buzzfeed may be all that is wrong with digital marketing in one deplorable website. I am not denying that I HATE HATE HATE HATE dumbed down content for the sake of dumbed down readers. My media tastes are of the highbrow kind and I’m a former employee of the BBC World Service and BBC Current Affairs – news so dry it chaps your lips. So, in response to Buzzfeed, consider another world famous click bait site – Upworthy. Upworthy is one of my favourite sites and yet, it uses ALL the classic clickbait markers – right down to the “wait until a minute in….” so is the issue the click bait, or is it the quality of content. If Buzzfeed DIDN’T use clickbait, it would still be just as stupid. If Upworthy didn’t, it would still be just as smart, but fewer people would read it.
Rule one of content marketing is that the Click Bait Headline Catches The Worm. It’s true. It’s an undeniable truth. Headlines are a big deal. They’re the subject of constant scientific analysis – and the analysts all agree that…well none of them agree because they’re business people and they want you to trust them over their competitors. Back in the day (in the internet marketing world, that refers to two years ago) we all pushed for “You Won’t Believe What She Said Next” style tabloid media headlines. They still work (and in fact were quoted in the group this morning). In reality though, content marketing has taken a turn towards the authentic on this one. The biggest open rates in email marketing aren’t about “Sale Sale Sale” they’re humble, descriptive, succinct and sans all marketing messages – “Talk About Creative July Newsletter” will tend to do better than “You won’t believe the deals”. Funny headlines get great click through – people want to be entertained. Numbered lists are still the most read content on the internet. Copyblogger suggests a hybrid of the old style sensational grab and a more authentic voice – but Copyblogger is all about blogging for business, not for emotion.
In business, getting those clicks is at the core of your content marketing strategy – which is at the core of growing your customer base. So, what about personal bloggers? How is it different to growing your readership? Because it feels like marketing. The blog reader feels like a brand is talking to them, not a human. It hits the wall of intuitive resistance to being ” sold to” or even “sold at”. And that diminishes their trust value. In many cases with personal blogs, that’s your greatest branding asset.
Bloggers as struggling artists
You know what used to make me mad when I worked in the music biz? That an artist couldn’t be cool unless they were struggling, living on the dole, living in a share house with 500 other musicians…. sure, adversity breeds creativity but it’s a culture that, in my opinion, undermines the importance of art in society. If bloggers are the struggling artist of the writing world, then are we breeding an industry that forces them to choose between financial success and credibility? Judging from the reaction from other bloggers in the group, is the culture of the industry itself condones and encourages failure by resisting some of the core stepping stones to success.
Cultural shifts towards content marketing
Blog readers connecting via social channels are used to, and in fact encourage a little marketing in their newsfeeds – if they didn’t there wouldn’t be 25 million businesses on Facebook alone. The audience has made that mental shift. Most blogs accept some form of advertising, and the audience forgives it. Back when Michael Jordan was “Just Doing It” parents complained about the millions of messages kids were exposed to – bahahahaha, they TOTALLY didn’t see the internet coming! So, if the audience has made the shift, business is all over the shift, is it the blogging industry that is forcing itself into failure? Don’t get me wrong, I would NEVER read a McBlog – McBlogs make me McGag and the constant blatant click bait headlines of blogs like Mamamia puts me right off their brand. Moderation, balance – choosing to grow without sacrificing credibility – it should be possible.
So, what’s the problem with marketing your blog entries?
So Ms Personal Blogger is struck by inspiration. She writes an amazing blog about something that matters – the kind of blog that scares you a little bit but excites you none the less. She knows it will excite her own readers but it could appeal to new readers too. What is wrong with giving it a clickable headline in social shares? Relying on an audience to share content without actually telling them is a very very slow way to share something important. What if that blogger’s words could have inspired a person desperately in need of inspiration – but she didn’t, because her industry says that a click baiting headline is unhip and she is a sell out.
For me, as a business blogger, I am proud to produce really great quality content, and then do virulent content marketing. Just because I want you to see it, doesn’t mean it’s not good. I am not going to attempt to dumb you down. I am going to do my best to bring a valuable message to the audience that needs to hear it – if that means intentionally piquing their interest – then so be it!