Words obviously are powerful. Very powerful. The way we communicate defines our personal and professional relationships. An encouraging word can elevate the spirit. A verbal putdown or disparaging text can slice like a knife. Gossip can destroy lives.
“Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.” — Anonymous
Prestigious ad agencies charge millions for using the right words to effectively convey corporate messages. Sales seminars teach participants what to say to convince a prospect to buy a product or service. Newsstand publications, newspapers and websites rely on enticing headlines to attract readers.
In an effort to discover which phrases got the most engagement on Twitter and Facebook, Steve Rayson, director of social search company BuzzSumo, conducted a fascinating study between March 1 and May 10 of 2017. In his report, “We Analyzed 100 Million Headlines. Here’s What We Learned,” available on getAbstract, he found that “the most effective phrases in headlines appeal to human desires to satisfy curiosity, gain insight or achieve a sense of belonging.”
Rayson discovered that on Facebook, the words “will make you” — as in a headline such as “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person” – is the No. 1 phrase for grabbing readers’ attention. Other effective phrases on Facebook include “goes viral,” “most beautiful” and “tears of joy,” according to Rayson. Facebook enthusiasts are also attracted to quizzes and “list-style” posts such as “25 Things Only Teachers Will Understand.”
Interestingly, headlines that spark interest on Facebook may not work as well on Twitter. The study shows that Twitter followers like phrases that hint at useful information instead of “empty clickbait.” “This is why” and “the truth about” are good examples.
“There is no simple formula or approach when it comes to popular headlines,” Rayson writes. “You need to research and understand the headlines that resonate with your audience and industry.”
Getting a reader to click on a story or pluck a magazine from the rack in a supermarket checkout line is a huge challenge; everyone is vying for the consumer’s attention. The New York Post, a tabloid that relies on newsstand sales in a fiercely competitive market, is famous for its outrageous, often raunchy headlines. The paper’s headline writers specialize in awful puns and plays on words – notable feats considering the giant typeface only allows for a short phrase.
The publication’s shining moment occurred on April 15, 1983 when “Headless Body in Topless Bar” on Page 1 described a story in which a gunman shot and killed a bar owner in Queens and forced a female customer to decapitate the victim.
Now that’s how you grab the reader!