Let’s talk about clickbait.
In the past few years, a certain type of internet journalism has become more and more prevalent in certain Generation Y circles. There are numerous sub-genres of this trend, but they all fall under a category that for simplicity’s sake I’ll refer to as “Clickbait Articles”. With titles like “22 Reasons Why Having A Quiet New Year’s Eve Is Secretly The Best“, “America Could End Homelessness in One Year by Doing This“, and “23 Food Things Only Chinese-American Kids Would Understand“, these articles reflect the changing nature of internet writing and the way we share information.
The reason this kind of article is written is for the most part, internet authors are paid for the amount of visits their article page receives. This means these articles need eye-catching, attention-grabbing titles and shareable content, to grab and multiply visits, or clicks. This ties into the concept of the internet as an information niche market. People want information customized to them, to their interests and likes, and will click on and share pages they believe suit them and their internet persona. However, since there are so many person-specific niches, these articles tend to be broad in appeal and have minimal content, often to the point of lists: the author makes a point in a sentence or two, adds an accompanying picture or GIF, and moves on. As such, these articles are often short, light on content, and are in essence disposable. Buzzfeed.com alone sees a turnover of dozens of articles a day.
This kind of directed content sharing springs from multiple motivations and thought processes, but there are three main thought processes that stand out: “This is so relatable/worth sharing”, “This is something the world needs to know about”, and “This describes my niche demographic”. This is obviously a simplification, but in essence these are the three motivations that tend to stand out.
Articles that are relatable tend to have subject matter regarding large demographics the author has ascribed certain common experiences to. For instance, articles relating to the experience of being a 20-something woman in NYC are common, as well as others listing reasons why Jennifer Lawrence is a wonderful person. These articles will often be shared with comments along the vein of “So true” or “Too real”, which in turn lead followers and friends to click on the link to see if they too relate. The problem with these articles is they tend to lack any real content, and are akin to horoscope predictions or zodiac signs, which seem to be very specific to you, but in fact are broad statements that almost anyone can apply to themselves.
The second type of shared link are those that take up some sort of cause or social issue. This type of article isn’t new, but rather the positioning of the internet cause article is very removed from pre-internet articles, especially in the way they are titled. These post authors have perfected the art of writing a title that gives away next to nothing about their content, but demands viewer attention. Examples include, “A Fashion Designer Uses Her Mannequins To Send A Message That Hurts” or “A Gut-Punching Ad Shows 2 Perspectives On Your Last Years. Which Describes Where You’re Headed?“. These titles give the user a reason to click, and once they absorb the content, they share it. While effective, a critique of these methods might show that this positioning may lead to an alarmist tendency, as well as misleading content. One of the articles mentioned above claims to have found the cure to homelessness if only America would listen. However, it is simply an article on how houses can be built from plastic bottles, and doesn’t show how those houses will be built, who will build them, or how this solves a homeless problem on any spectrum except that of “more houses”.
The third type of article targets a niche demographic with content related specifically to the experience of that demographic. For instance, I am an American of Chinese decent, and I grew up in suburban New York. Therefore, the above article about experiences Chinese-American kids share involving food was immediately applicable to me, and I shared the article with the rest of my friends and family who also had those experiences, and the article resonated with all of them. The drawback of this sort of article is it can marginalize the members of the audience who don’t belong to that niche. For instance, no one outside of my demographic understands the rite of passage that is learning how to use chopsticks, or that my Grandmothers’ jook is better than anyone else’s and I will defend that statement to death. These are exclusive articles that can only be written by those who have directly experienced the subject matter, and as such cannot be applicable to large audiences.
In essence, this type of article is one of the most popular formats of current internet content, and it’s not going anywhere for now. Like all forms of journalism, this format has its drawbacks, but also appeals to a great number of internet users, and it will be interesting to watch Clickbait Articles and how they evolve in the future.
What Sparks Our Fire: Emerging forms of journalism exclusive to the internet are extraordinarily interesting, especially to those of us in advertising, where it is our job to watch trends.
Do you enjoy these types of articles?