What This Guy Has To Say About Click-Bait Internet Headlines Will Blow Your Mind
January 17, 2014
If there's a saving grace for radio in the avalanche of competition that has left it with practically no response other than to look for another 5% to cut from the budget, it's that a lot of other people are as in the dark about the future as radio management is. I was reminded of this during Yahoo!'s International CES presentation, which featured Katie Couric, websites like "tech for people who don't like tech," and an app that delivers news summary digests twice a day. Yes, it's 1998 all over again.
I've been in "new media" (when does "new" no longer apply?) for longer than most people in the business, and, consequently, I've watched conventional wisdom change from year to year, from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 to Web whatever.0. No sooner than we'd finally taught every CEO in America to crave "viral" (and given rise to the idea that one can "make a viral video," as opposed to making content that then clicks with the public and goes viral) than we became SEO-obsessed, and now, it's all about the Upworthy/BuzzFeed/ViralNova headline. You know what I mean by that, right? No? Go check your Facebook news feed right now. I'll wait.
Okay, welcome back. You can see how posts on websites are given headlines that encourage people to click and share, even if the posts themselves are intensely lame. Right this second on Upworthy (the biggest offender), for example, you'll find these:
"You've Never Heard A Cover Of John Lennon's 'Imagine' Like This One." Is it really good? Really bad? Why do I even care? It's probably not anything THAT special, but the breathless headline makes it, you know, clickable. And shareable.
"I Don't Usually Like Parody Songs, But This One On The Traffic Scandal Hits All The Right Notes." First of all, who's "I"? And why do I care that you don't usually like parody songs? Maybe you're humorless and I shouldn't... oh, all right. And, look, it's the same Jimmy Fallon/Bruce Springsteen video everyone else posted. You got me.
"9 Out Of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact." Turns out that it's not mind-blowing. But they got us again.
"Watch The First 54 Seconds. That's All I Ask. You'll Be Hooked After That, I Swear." No. Just no.
And so on. And then there are the listicles -- BuzzFeed's lists that "borrow" other people's work and art, put them in "13 Top Whatevers" lists, and troll for clicks. This is all an extension of the way the Huffington Post discovered that nobody wanted their actual news coverage or celebrity blog bloviating so much as they wanted scandalous photos and screaming celebrity trash headlines, thus collecting clicks. And that's the current conventional wisdom on how to Make Money On The Internet, with apologies to
"The Simpsons""South Park" (hey, up against deadline I know Underpants Gnomes AT LEAST I KNEW IT WAS ANIMATED leave me alone):
1. Slap Suggestive, Detail-Lacking Headline On Someone Else's Lame Material
Except that "????" has been replaced. Now, it's "Convince Advertisers That Clicks Equal Sales." The concentration is on mass numbers of clicks, so you'll get more and more Upworthy-style headlines (want to make your own? There's a website for that.) and more and more BuzzFeed listicle clones and more and more SEO-soaked, information-free posts with links and keywords galore. Clicks a-plenty! The future!
But what happens when it becomes more clear that those clicks aren't delivering customers to clients? What happens when the clients finally make the distinction between someone clicking to see a video a friend shared on Facebook, then clicks away without seeing that banner ad or paying attention to the pre-roll? What happens when the ROI on those ads becomes clear, and it isn't as impressive as the raw click numbers would have people believe?
Well, that'll be an interesting turn of events. And that's when traditional media might have a story to tell that new media will have to scramble to match. Talk radio, in particular, whether broadcast or online or podcasting, has a particularly compelling answer for all that, but it will take traditional broadcasters thinking differently from their present mode to accomplish. Here's the thing: Traditional stop-sets, 4 or 5 or 6 units of advertising (or more, Lord knows) breaking up the content is not the most effective sales driver. That third or fourth spot is not positioned for maximum effect, and you know about tune-out. But a live read? Commercials that seamlessly blend with the content and then back into the show again? You can't get that in print. Television used to do it (Don Wilson walking into Jack Benny's living room with a box of Jell-O and a pitch) but now just uses product placement (easily ignored) or jarring on-screen promotions covering the lower third (drawing active hostility from viewers). Websites try it with "sponsored posts," but those come off as unnatural and easily skipped.
But talk radio? From Arthur Godfrey and countless local hosts over the years to Howard Stern, who mastered the art of the live spot that integrated with the show and kept listeners hooked throughout, to podcasters who today slip right into a Carbonite or Squarespace spot before a listener even notices, that kind of advertising is foreground, isn't skipped, and isn't tied to content that people encounter casually from calculated headlines and search results and in which they have nothing invested. As it relates to Pandora, iTunes Radio, Rdio, Spotify, and other customized streamers, it uses talent and integration with content that those operations don't offer. And for broadcast radio, it's one kind of spot that has always fetched premium rates. So, let's recap: Unique to the medium. Takes advantage of talent and relationship with audience. Significantly more effective. Can charge premium rates.
Yeah, that'll help.
Anyway, that's enough free advice. I have to get back to writing other stuff. Let's see... "You'll Never Believe What This Talk Host Said About...."
And while we're on the subject of clicking on provocative headlines, try All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics for things about which you'll want to talk on the radio. (Was that even grammatically correct? Whatever.) Find that here. The Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item. It's all free. And there's "10 Questions With..." the co-host of last week's interviewee; this week, it's syndicated "Life As You Own It" co-host Mark McDougald, with his own take on real estate radio and the housing market.
And follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and visit the other site I edit, Nerdist.com. And pmsimon.com is back in action with a new design and irregular updates, so come on by.
Just a note: If you sent me email at allaccess.com in the past couple of days, I might not have gotten it due to what we'll call "technical difficulties." Feel free to resend. It should be working now. Thanks....