We bet you'll share this article without even reading the whole thing
Can you convey everything you want to about a story in just a title?
With only a few words, can you get your point across with all the context and intrigue readers want?
If not, you better get used to it. For we are in the midst of an increasingly headline-driven culture.
Nearly 60 percent of people don’t read what they share on social media!
A survey from Columbia University and the French National Institute last year found that 59 percent of links shared on social platforms have never been clicked. That means people are sharing articles based on headlines alone.
But, can we really fault readers? After all, attention spans are dwindling at all of eight seconds these days – even shorter than a goldfish! – thanks in part to today’s texting culture, Twitter’s 140-character limit, Boomerang’s mini video loops, Snapchat’s often sub-10 second clips… the list goes on.
In fact, hats off to you, if you’ve even read this far!
Headline sharing put to the test
To test the headline-based sharing phenomenon, IFLScience.com conducted an experiment with its article: Marijuana Contains “Alien DNA” From Outside Of Our Solar System, NASA Confirms.
The post, which garnered hundreds of thousands of shares, didn’t actually have anything to do with what was in the headline.
Instead, it was simply a social experiment to see how many retweets and reposts it could receive based on the title alone because IFLS “noticed long ago that many of [its] followers will happily like, share, and offer an opinion on an article – all without ever reading it.” The nerve!
Yackler did something similar, and even NPR put up an April Fool’s post last year to spark commentary from those who hadn’t read their “empty” article, Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore? And, it did not disappoint, inciting passionately ironic comments from its loyal “readers.”
These experiments, alongside the far-reaching dissemination of fake news we’ve witnessed in the last year, are powerful illustrations of the influence headlines have in today’s world. Without people investing the time to read beyond the title, the influence of an article often lies just with its headline.
And, as Forbes contributor Jayson DeMers notes, “In a read article, headlines are one of the most powerful contributors to performance, and in a non-read article, it’s the only contributor to performance. As a result, headlines have become almost like articles in and of themselves.”
Old hat for PR pros
But, for public relations professionals, this is old hat.
PR pros live and breathe this headline culture day in and day out as, with every pitch, they attempt to capture a journalist’s attention in just a few words. This makes crafting an email pitch subject line a real art craft – and, not an easy one at that!
In fact, PR Couture and BuzzStream found that 85 percent of publishers open pitches based on the subject line alone. And, to be fair, writers have to find some way to cut down on time since they’re receiving hundreds of pitches a day, particularly for lifestyle, entertainment and tech reporters, as the three most pitched industries.
So, subject lines need to be snappy and interesting, but also short! 55 percent of journalists prefer subject lines between six and 10 words while another 20 percent want them to be less than six entirely.
Are you still with me?
All of this ultimately begs the question: With all the brevity and simplicity of social media, and our growing headline-based culture, are we ultimately creating a less-informed society? Perhaps this is a plea to people everywhere to read articles before sharing them so that we avoid creating increasingly less-informed populations.
Because, without reading articles in full, it’s quite possible that people can manipulate readers with headlines of a certain bent. And, I say “people” intentionally here – not just journalists. Since, we’re all self-publishers now, thanks to social media and the blogosphere, we all need to be cautious about the way we represent facts, news and stories through headlines.
Some saving grace
While 59 percent may share articles on social media just based on the headline, conversely, that must mean that 41 percent are still clicking through to the article – and maybe even reading it! Maybe.
And, those will likely be the readers you’re trying to reach anyway, instead of ones just looking to push content out to support an image (as the NYT found) or possibly even spread fake news (unintentionally of course).
What do you think, can you make it through reading an article in full before sharing it? Did you make it through all 775 words of this one? ?
Meredith L. Eaton is a Vice President at March Communications, focusing on driving awareness and engagement for technology innovation brands in cloud, telco, security, infrastructure, AI and IoT markets. By aligning her clients’ business objectives with PR initiatives, Meredith has helped companies – from large, public brands to niche startups – execute business-critical, integrated campaigns to capture competitive market share and shift brand perceptions. Follow her on Twitter.
Photo via Pixabay