This underhand method for getting the attention of your audience comes with a lot of downfalls, yet somehow, it never fails to draw us in in precisely the ways intended.
So… why does clickbait work so well? Especially when we’ve all been bitten by it so many times? Well, in today’s blog post, we’re going to find out.
Now, this wouldn’t be a bad thing if what came next was as good as the headlines suggest, but very often this is not the case, and that is why clickbait is so frowned upon.
But, as we’ve already pointed out, despite being perceived as such a cheap move, it almost never fails, and there are a few very interesting reasons behind this, the first being that clickbait preys massively on our emotions.
Emotions are very powerful things, and carry a lot of weight when it comes to decision-making. More to that point, the more extreme an emotion is, or the more strongly it is felt, the more likely someone is to click on the story or video that made them feel that way. This wouldn’t be so bad, but as you’ve probably noticed yourself, many examples of emotional clickbait don’t tend to lean towards making us feel happy, or excited. Instead, they prompt outrage, or suggest that there is quite a significant upset waiting in the content that follows.
This is because as well as being creatures driven by emotion, human beings also experience something known as negativity bias (https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-bias-4589618), which basically means that even if we have positive and negative experiences in equal measure and intensity, we focus more on the latter. As such, it’s not hard to see why clickbait relies so heavily on getting us riled up, because statistically we’re more likely to act when experiencing negative emotions.
And, surprise surprise, clickbait preys on this as well. Not knowing stuff really causes us great discomfort, but it’s not just a simple case of lacking knowledge because you don’t know what you don’t know. What we do know, and are often very aware of, is gaps in our knowledge; where we have pieces of the puzzle, but are lacking a few bits here and there that would complete the picture. This is what clickbait uses to get our attention, because it proposes that it might fill in those gaps that we so desperately crave to know more about. And the thing is, it doesn’t have to be life-changing information for it to have this impact – simply knowing that the gap between what we know and what we would like to know exists is enough to make us pursue an answer.
For example, let’s say we uploaded a video titled “A COMPANY POSTED THIS UNCUT INTERVIEW AND YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT”. What you know from the title is that a video was published, and something happened. What you don’t know is the exact details of what went down, and that is the sticking point. And even though you know in your heart of hearts that what happened was in all likelihood not scandalous at all, you want to click to confirm that for certain.
Clickbait relies a lot on numbers and lists because these are two things that we take great comfort in when taking information on board. Lists are a very organised way to present lots of information because they break it down into easily-digestable points. When paired with numbers, they stand out more, but also present the audience with a predetermined end point, so if someone’s on limited time – and let’s face it, everybody is – they already know before they dive in roughly how long things are going to take. Knowing what kind of investment is required from them is something that will drive your audience to click through, hence why everybody loves a list post, or a countdown video.
Now, the one thing we have failed to point out up to now is that all of the above reasons for why clickbait works never operate in isolation. There is always one thing that all three work alongside, and that is anticipation.
Human beings will accept a lot of disappointment provided every once in a while, they get the pay-off they expect. Of course, we never know where this is going to come from, and this is the basis on which gambling addicts exist, and it is the sole reason why clickbait continues to catch us out time and time again. We are just suckers for punishment!