How to Create Headlines That Go Viral With Social Media
Are you struggling to get more clicks and bookmarks on your articles? Possibly there is one area in which your content is letting you down. Even the best blog post writers sometimes make this mistake.
One aspect of your writing requires a great deal of effort getting right, and it is so obvious it is commonly overlooked. What is the first thing a social media user sees?
“I glance at the headlines just to kind of get a flavor for what’s moving. I rarely read the stories, and I get briefed by people who probably read the news themselves.”
George W. Bush
“It has been found that the less an advertisement looks like an advertisement, and the more it looks like an editorial, the more readers stop, look and read.”
Yes, you guessed it. It’s the headline.
Without a compelling headline, you will not attract attention, and your article will not spread as easily. If you do write a killer headline then you will get more clicks, more bookmarks, and your readers will be compelled to share it with their friends and contacts.
Creating Compelling Headlines
Take a look at the last article you wrote that did spectacularly well (or if you do not have a great example, choose a disaster).
- Does it grab attention? The first job you have to get right when producing a new article is to get it read, and your first task toward getting your article read is grabbing the reader’s attention.
- Will it target a particular audience? We are largely driven by self-interest and our brains are wired to look out and listen for any message that addresses us. If your headline identifies a target group specifically, then that group, if they have an affinity for it, will take notice. Be careful though, this can backfire!
- Is it specific? Highly specific approaches work much better to draw attention and create belief than generic and vague statements that can come across as untrustworthy. Rather than say “get great results” say “achieve 147.2% increase in profits with this simple tweak.”
- Are you generating a great deal of curiosity? What is going to get the reader not only to take notice but also take action? You need to give him or her a good reason to keep reading past the headline into the full article, and this is where curiosity comes in. Create a feeling of incompleteness; hold off on the punch line, so the reader has to find the answer to feel satisfied.
- Is the headline promising powerful benefits? Does your headline answer “So what?” Above all, there has to be a payoff. Your readers need to know what is in it for them, why should they care.
5 Types of Headline
The standard social media headline types tend toward the following categories:
- News—Particularly breaking news, is very popular. Announce something, share a piece of gossip, and let people know what is happening now. Social news has made traditional news media look slow and dated because by the time the news has spread around the social sites, mainstream media is only just picking it up. The downside of this, of course, is that your content is not going to be perceived as evergreen—there will always be something newer, shinier, and trendier. For example: “Breaking News: White House Moves to Ban Bacon”
- Goals—Offer a way to achieve a goal, get more, be more powerful, wealthy, attractive, healthier… whole magazines are full of this stuff. Just take a look next time you are at the supermarket checkout. For example: “101 Tried and Tested Dating Secrets to Win the Partner of Your Dreams”
- Problems—The flipside to the goal is the problem. Fear sells just as well as positives; just ask the newspapers. The economy, health, worries about global politics, you name it. For example: “Finally! Make Your Computer Virus-Free With Open-Source Software”
- How-to—Share a technique, tutorial, recipe or formula to achieve something practical and beneficial. It is kind of the same as the goal, but rather than a dream, it gives you the steps to create something in reality. For example: “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
- Entertaining—Social media is full of pure entertainment. It might be a funny video, a cute picture, a joke or even a link to an accidentally funny forum thread. This is the coffee break content that social media was built upon. For example: “Nasty or Nice? Take The Ultimate Personality Test”
Most of all, you need to trigger an emotional reaction. Remember we do not just want “interest,” we want the reader to take an action—even if that action is just to hit the vote-up button.
Emotional Hot Buttons
If you want to really draw attention and get your readers to take action, even if it is only to comment or pass along your link to their friends, you need to grab them where it counts: show empathy and make them feel. Can you get your reader to laugh, cry, or shout at their screen? Take a tip from Hollywood and move your audience emotionally using these hot buttons.
- Boost and Slam—What is the best/worst/most/least? Compare and contrast, particularly if you can combine with Contrary (see #10).
- Laugh, Cheer, Snigger or Cry—Human interest that tugs the heartstrings always works. Especially when you combine weep, snigger and cheer. Just ask Susan Boyle.
- Outrage, Anger, and Righteous Indignation—Listen to talk radio or the talking heads and their jabbing fingers on any cable news network.
- Fear, Scams, Problems and Looming Disasters—Be afraid, get clicks.
- Sexy, Cute and Attractive—Sex sells. Lust draws attention.
- Divide and Conquer (Us versus Them)—Polarize your audience, get attention. Many of the chain letters you get asked to pass on are all about supporting one side of an argument while attacking another, particularly when it comes to politics.
- Shock and Awe—Take someone by surprise, present something as outrageously and wildly different.
- Curiosity, Confusion, Riddles and Puzzles—Make readers have to read just to get your idea out of their heads.
- Caught in the Act—People love it when the rich, powerful and famous are caught doing something they shouldn’t, especially when it is against their accepted brand or persona.
- Contrary, Contentious and Devil’s Advocate—Challenge accepted wisdom, deep-seated stereotypes and assumptions.
10 Headline Formulas That Work
To get you started creating compelling headlines, use the following “fill in the blanks” headline formulas.
- Do You Make These ________ Mistakes?
- The Secrets of ___________
- What ______ Can Teach Us About ________
- Everything You Know About _____ Is Wrong<
- How _______ Made _____ and You Can Too!
- If You ________, You Can ___________
- Finally, No More _______
- At Last! _________
- Learn How Millions of ______ ________
- How to Get More/Better/Cheaper _______
If you like these headline ideas, make sure you click here to download the free PDF 102 Proven Headline Formulas now.
Over to You
Share some of your best headlines with us in the comments!
Chris Garrett is co-author of the book Problogger, professional blogger, Internet Marketing Consultant, new media industry commentator, writer, coach, speaker, trainer and web geek. Other posts by Chris Garrett »