Made you look?

You wouldn’t be the first to be drawn in by a hyperbolic headline.

‘Clickbait’ has been a topic that has piqued the ethical sensitivities of content marketers for some time.

And why? Because clickbait headlines so often fail to deliver on their promise.

Jon Stewart, in an interview with the New Yorker summed it up pretty nicely:

“I scroll around, but when I look at the internet, I feel the same as when I’m walking through Coney Island. It’s like carnival barkers, and they all sit out there and go, “Come on in here and see a three-legged man!” So you walk in and it’s a guy with a crutch.”

In August, Facebook announced a crackdown on clickbait headlines. Buzzfeed later claimed that it never uses clickbait.

But don’t we get it? Ok, so we may be disappointed not to discover the secret to eternal life or who shot JFK when we click through, but we know the trade off, right? How many of us are really surprised to discover that what’s behind a clickbait URL is usually utter rubbish?

Shouldn’t we too, be less pious about what we do?

I love to write. That’s why I love what I do.

But I don’t do it for love.

I do it to raise clients’ profiles. To arouse interest in their perspectives on the world. Ultimately, to generate leads and sales.

We can get misty eyed about the art of storytelling, but the hard truth is that storytelling is typically about ego or making money. Those first time novelists? How many haven’t dreamed of that big fat advance cheque? Even Shakespeare worked for commission.

Of course, there’s integrity involved. And of course many writers spill blood, sweat and tears over their individual tours de force.

But isn’t it time for a little more honesty? Aren’t we too writing for the click?

Just this week, Peter Oborne, former chief political commentator for The Telegraph wrote an explosive blog about the inner workings of his former employer.

The allegations around journalistic integrity to one side, what’s most interesting is the insight it gives into the changing dynamic of the editorial process.

Where we content marketers are spending our time hashing out our newsroom strategies and re-badging ourselves as brand journalists, it appears the real newsrooms may be heading in the opposite direction – removing the editor, focusing more on content – and yes, writing for the click.

Whether editorial is influenced by advertising has long been a conversation in the PR boardroom – and the response is a tough one for many ethical journalists, particularly those in b2b markets hamstrung by tightening budgets and reducing advertising revenue. It’s understandable that in this climate, clicks, which equal advertisers, which equal revenue are a tempting proposition.

Shouldn’t we then cut the clickbaiters some slack? As Charlie Warzel at Buzzfeed says in his excellent blog on the relatively new movement of ‘helping the Internet to be less terrible’, @SavedYouAClick, aren’t we spoiling the fun by being overly critical?

And shouldn’t we be more honest about what we secretly like to read? (Speaking personally, I find many of the clickbait articles in my Facebook feed a welcome break from the tedium of the vanity updates.)

Shouldn’t we too be confident in our audiences that they know the difference between the well thought through, valuable content we produce and clickbait fluff?

After all, we may be able to trick them to click, but we can’t trick them to act on what they’re reading.

(For a bit of fun, try this. My favourite? ’59 things only short women will understand’. And yes. I clicked.)

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