Opinion

How #stopclickbait will impact the world of PR

As the #stopclickbait brigade battles the ongoing stream of shouty, click-inducing articles, Agent 99 PR's Sharon Zeev Poole explains why fishing for clicks shouldn't be anyone's long-term PR strategy.

As we all know, journalists are constantly seeking to publish the first and best story, and PR specialists have always strived to provide them with the content to do so. One of the ultimate goals for publishers is to generate traffic through ‘click’ responses, and reporters utilise catchy headlines and bold images to achieve this.

Demonstrating how imperative the headline is, a recent study found that “59% of all links shared on social networks aren’t actually clicked on at all” indicating that the body of the article generally has much less of an emotional impact on its readers.

As publishers caught onto this, it manifested in the journalism industry and subsequently clickbait was born. People understand clickbait as articles that fail to offer any useful, credible or informative content to its readers. Social media is now inundated with clickbait articles, so what does this mean for the credibility of journalism, and how will this impact the future of PR?

How does it work?

Whilst readers don’t actively seek out clickbait articles, it is certainly not difficult to fall trap to them. Humans are driven by curiosity and this occurs in the way we browse the internet and ultimately make our reading decisions. With this in mind, some journalists carefully choose specific dialogue to lure readers in.

In a study conducted by BuzzSumo, they measured which word phrases and trigrams received the most engagement on Facebook. “Will make you”, “this is why” and “can we guess”, took out the top three spots respectively. These examples evidently weave in strong leading words that challenge readers to open the articles and see if they were right.

Additionally, clickbait articles work by tapping into the psyche of a reader and toying with their emotions. The use of sensational language such as “make you cry” and “is too cute”, often exaggerate the story and subsequently readers feel ripped off when the story doesn’t fulfil the headline brief.

What is happening to stop clickbait?

There have been various strategies to stop the hype of clickbait articles, mostly on social media platforms such as Facebook, as well as search engines like Google. Last year Facebook announced that it would adopt a new algorithm that ranks pages that regularly use opaque headings.

Recently, as an additional preventative mechanism, Facebook announced it would individually look at whether a headline “withholds information or exaggerates information separately.”

Similarly, Google have joined the war on clickbait, last year taking down “1.7 billion ads that violated its policies”. They have employed language algorithms that are able to decipher whether articles are in essence, just spam. However, in saying this, both Facebook and Google profit from clickbait advertising, and their measures to stop it will most likely be influenced by how much money they are willing to lose.

At a more independent level, readers are tackling clickbait on article by article basis, using the viral hashtag #stopclickbait in the comment section. The hashtag is utilised to encourage readers to disregard certain articles that they may have opened and felt that it offered no value to the reader. In addition, someone created a Twitter page @savedyouaclick which has attracted 225k in followers. Clearly, these methods to terminate clickbait have gained attention.

The PR issue?

As a director of a PR agency, one has to wonder how this will impact the future of PR. For journalists and PR specialists alike, our survival relies on our credibility. This kind of recognition is earned through developing strong relationships with audiences, clients and businesses; a process that can take years as it requires sheer determination and creative thinking.

One of the biggest concerns is that some PR specialists may be tempted to take the easy route by using sensationalised headlines to gain an immediate response. There are already an abundance of articles out there that encourage the use of clickbait, suggesting that it ‘can’ and ‘should’ be used to drive traffic to businesses.

However, fishing for ‘clicks’ is just a short cut and won’t result in retaining a loyal audience. Enticing headings should be paired with valuable content that engages the reader, and should be pitched to outlets that appreciate high quality content. Earning a press mention for your client, only to have it then branded as clickbait could hinder your client and your business’ reputation, especially in the long run if specific brand perception building is the goal.

As a general evaluation, while clickbait will most likely continue to affect the industry, a negative impact can be avoidable. As long as PR specialists steer clear of employing catchy headings that offer no depth in the article, the future of PR will most likely be unscathed.

Sharon Zeev Poole is agency director of Agent99 Public Relations.

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