Is there room for clickbait in your content marketing strategy?

Posted on December 9, 2013 11:33 am by | Content Curation | Marketing | Search | Social Media | Video

UpworthyContent marketing in all its guises is designed to attract and engage a target audience. Ultimately, you want those audiences to do business with you, but you have to find and engage them first.

Those guises included everything from thoughtful articles injected into editorial streams via native advertising schemes to clever tweets deployed during a real-time event. I’m still on the fence about DiGiorno Pizza’s stream of tweets during NBC’s live telecast of The Sound of Music. PRNewswer’s Shawn Paul Wood thought they were awesome, they actually were clever, and they were consistent with the nature of tweets sent normally by the company.

The most effective of them (a lyrical sendup of Do-Re-Mi) generated a shade more than 1,000 retweets and was favorited 816 times. I suspect that may have led a few dozen or so people to head on over to the Di Giorno website. Maybe less.

Curation and clickbait don’t get discussed much in the content marketing world, but given the success not only of Upworthy but also the numerous clones launched in an attempt to tap into Upworthy’s formula, brands might want to consider this approach.

Last month, according to a post on its Insider blog, Upworthy attracted 87 million visits; according to Business Insider, some 50 million of those are uniques, getting them close to BuzzFeed’s 75 million monthly uniques.

Among Upworthy’s 40 employees, there are curators who “comb through hundreds of videos and graphics a week, looking for the 5-7 that they’re confident are super-shareable,” according to the Upworthy Insider post. They then write a minimum of 25 headlines for each item they plan to publish and test them. The headlines get the first group of visitors to come to the site, but the real magic happens after that. Once they’ve viewed the content, a huge number of visitors share that content with their friends, mainly via Facebook, from which most people find their way to Upworthy’s stories.

Upworthy is fine with this model. Even as they admit that clickbait headlines can be annoying, it’s just a step in a process that depends primarily on quality content people will want to share. “To share,” the post asserts, “they have to love what they see.”

Those curators spend more time looking for “really great stuff people will want to share with everyone they know” than writing those clickbait headlines. And it’s working, with Upworthy generating over 18,000 social interactions per article. Number two on the list is Mashable, with around 2,200 interactions per article. Clearly, Upworthy is on to something here.

Upworthy engagement stats

Upworthy’s success has spawned a group of imitator like Distractify, a 45-day-old site that in its first month earned 21 million unique visitors, with 90% of its traffic originating on Facebook. Even the venerable Washington Post has launched an Upworthy-like blog, KnowMore, which in a mere three weeks became the Post’s biggest blog.

In her BI piece on Upworthy and its clones, Alyson Shontell points to a strategy these sites share in common: “They don’t care how long you stay on their websites, if you type in their URLs directly, or if you even know their websites’ names. They aren’t trying to build brands. They’re trying to earn traffic from social media referrals instead of through SEO or direct visits.”

It’s a sustainable trend that content marketers don’t seem to have caught on to.

In addition to other content marketing tactics, why not a viral site—or even better, curated viral content on a company content portal? For any company or brand, there are bound to be amazing, inspiring, entertaining videos and other material that your audience would just love to share. By studying the headlines that work on sites like Upworthy, you can start crafting your own clickbait with the goal of motivating those who view the content to share it.

For example, let’s go back to Di Giornio Pizza, which invested so much time and effort riffing off bits and pieces of The Sound of Music. Why not share the video from Prank vs. Prank in which unwitting passersby open a box for a slice of free pizza, only to be greeted by a zombie lunging from the box? Or Jon Stewart’s rant in defense of New York pizza? How about a video demonstrating how to make a breakfast casserole with leftover pizza?

Just as Upworthy’s goal is to get people watching and sharing videos (and viewing other content) addressing social justice, Di Giorno’s is to get people sharing and talking about, well, pizza. I don’t know about you, but I loved all three of these videos. Just apply Upworthy’s rigor to headlines that will attract that initial click cohort and watch the shares multiply as people make a beeline to your site. And imagine if following the clickbait brought you to a content portal with lots of other great pizza-related content.

If Upworthy has proven anything, it’s that clickbait doesn’t have to be a dirty word. The only question is whether business communicators and marketers will figure out that it has a place in their own content marketing mix.



  • 1.I love the idea of a currated content stream by a brand. I think too many people play it safe with their content and I see too many companies newsjacking which I think is just polluting the social web with pointless rubbish. However, if you actually used your brand to share other people's content that is likeable that would work for me. I might have to speak to my team and see if I can get that idea incorporated into what we do here in the UK.

    I love your show btw and have been listening since 2007.

    Chris Norton | December 2013 | United Kingdom

  • 2.Thanks, Chris, for your comment AND for being a listener! You're right -- brands play it too safe and report limited benefits from their content efforts while finding great content with a connection to the brand could produce great returns.

    Shel Holtz | December 2013

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