Here’s the thing — most publishers assume you’re stupid.
And maybe they’re right.
We often fall for the most obvious traps, rendering our attention worthless in the interim.
Clickbait, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “something designed to make readers want to click on a link, especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest”
We’ve all fallen for it at some point or another, but I have a theory. We’re becoming smarter consumers of information these days.
Or at least, more mature. At least, I hope so.
(see product life cycle)
And so, it’s only a matter of time before ambiguous titles fail to have the same effect on us as they once had.
We’ve in essence, become inoculated to the bullsh**.
And thank God.
Because these fake marketing ‘gurus’ have been at it far too long.
Charlatans that come in the form of copywriters and content ‘creators’ fill the crevices of our world wide web with fodder and meaningless trash.
Their time is nearly up.
As supply of information increased, and demand for quality decreased; an opening emerged for conveyors of deception to slip through our attention filters undetected.
The regular checks and balances of information sharing are breaking down, as institutional giants like cable TV and large newspapers begin to give way to newer platforms like YouTube, Netflix and Twitter.
Information is becoming decentralized. But, like any emerging market, lack of widespread understanding in the growth phase leads to a rise in counterfeits and frauds whose only mission is to game the system for personal profit.
Or even Tesla stock.
Disinformation is used by those in power to impact the perceived value of a good or service. The less people are in the know, the less competition one must endure in that space.
Not to mention, if you’re a big oil company or a government that mints a fiat currency — then the arrival of these new ideas to mass consciousness are inversely correlated to your potential for revenue.
Of course you’ll spread rumors that Elon Musk is a madman, or that Bitcoin is a bubble.
You need people to believe that, or else — the business you’ve invested in for the past few generations will become questionable at best.
Imagine being the number one seller of horses at the time Model T’s became commercially viable.
That’s about how it looks for companies like GM of Ford, who still choose to produce internal combustion engines at a point in history when electric vehicles are becoming the new norm.
It’s not their fault per se, they’re just too invested in the old paradigm to see the new one clearly — and so they act the only way they know how, in a manner that preserves their cash cow.
The frauds aren’t “bad”, in fact, they are probably good people, just trying to feed their families. But they are (like us) slaves to the market.
Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t altruistic saints, but they do serve a purpose.
To prevent unnatural swings in valuation.
The original Tesla, Mr Nikola himself, had a quote about such phenomena;
If the genius of invention were to reveal tomorrow the secret of immortality, of eternal beauty and youth, for which all humanity is aching, the same inexorable agents which prevent a mass from changing suddenly its velocity would likewise resist the force of the new knowledge until time gradually modifies human thought.
Like a spiderweb, our value oscillates by rotating around a central point where supply and demand converge — creating a sort of ‘target zone’ — in time, as we get closer to the center, exaggerations are less tolerated, and the structure becomes more impervious to these falsehoods.
Basically, as we (the market) get smarter, so does the content.
Sensational headlines dominated newspaper clippings since the 20th century. Online journalism is now well on its way to disrupting an age-old industry, though in its initial adoption, it used some of the same tactics as it’s older siblings to successfully soften the blow of a sudden change in market sentiment. Can’t change everything at once.
Problem is that online publications have a greater potential reach, and competition from thousands of alternative outlets.
Include the new toy of 21st century relations in social media, and the impact of loud headlines become exacerbated. Soon, our collective desire to cut through noise will prevail.
Titles that often have little to do with the ‘content’ (ads) that hide behind hyperlinks, will become extinct.
Like a pendulum swinging back and forth, each call for moderation and responsibility forces the weight of media and their outsized influence to draw back to the middle — but as we all know from watching grandad’s clock — momentum will always carry the weight straight to the other extreme.
Therefore, equilibrium is often short lived and unimpactful in the grand scheme of things. That is, until now; because the pendulum is slowing down.
Online media, rather than creating this beast has only exposed it.
Many of our less than ideal habits have been put on display for all to see, a propensity to half truths not being the least of which — so, the internet became a rather effective tool in accelerating our collective recognition of mankind’s utter depravity.
But fortunately, it doesn’t end there.
Because where old forms of media were unassailable for us regular folks, the online world has now leveled the playing field to such a degree that anybody with an internet connection and a cell phone can contribute to the larger cultural conversations with virtually 0 barriers to entry.
In 1950, this was impossible. Your perspective literally didn’t matter, and so most citizens were rendered passive consumers of information that would never think to take an active role in creating the stories that paint reality.
Now, we’ve got the power.
Comment sections have become a hub for unadulterated truth tellers where people can reveal and debate the genuity of a story upon publication, thereby creating a feedback loop where there wasn’t one just a few decades ago.
It’s this loop that forces accountability.
Now, if you want to gain and keep a following of loyal readers, your best bet is to cultivate a reputation of honesty — which was not always the case.
Even up until a few years ago, the dominant strategy was one where provocative headlines stole the show, while well thought out stories were often left unread simply due to a lack of titular flare.
The tides are changing. Slowly, but surely.
There are still those who rely on archaic means to steal your attention, but their days are numbered.
News media is in the midst of a grand redistribution, and in an industry where centralized control has long been the norm, many organizations are reeling.
I say it’s time for the people to place their foots firmly on the gas pedal…or “go” pedal… (sorry Elon), and accelerate this process, forcing the big wigs out of their respective attention seeking schemes, once and for all.
How do we do this?
I’ve got 10 suggestions.
Take what you will, leave what you won’t.
1. Pay for good journalism
Look for smaller teams of committed individuals who don’t have an explicit political agenda. As a sports fan, I’m big on The Athletic.
Qz.com is another place that could be a major player in the next iteration of our news consumption habits.
2. Support people, not brands
This is an extension of the previous point. In my experiences, individuals are less likely to lie to you. This is in relation to a corporation, where blame is usually diffused and accountability is nonexistent.
People have to pay for the repercussions of their dishonesty more directly. Reputation is all we’ve got in the emerging world of personal branding.
3. Don’t reward flashy titles with engagement metrics
This one is easy, just don’t click on dumb headlines, and people will stop making them.
4. Begin to value quality over quickness
I get it, we all want the latest scoop — but what often happens is that we tend to conflate what is new with what is important.
Get into a habit of finding quality stories that can be understood and applied across multiple time periods, and you avoid this problem.
Quality may not be as “juicy” but, it lasts.
5. Use a machine learning system to help you discover new stuff
There are some interesting tools that are coming into the fray of how we experience our news coverage. Software like SmartNews are good starters in a world where we control what we see.
They are really good for discovering articles around topics that interest you, as well as saving them for later to better fit your reading and sharing habits.
Similar to Pocket — but better (in my opinion).
6. Ads are an indicator of shoddy work — avoid those who use them
One rule I’ve found that helps me make purchasing decisions in general, the more ad’s I see for your product, the less likely I am to buy it.
To me, it only signals incompetence and shows me that you’re willing to spend more money on commercials than you are investing in development.
Neither are a good look.
Besides, if it’s a cool product that I really want, chances are someone else makes them — and they’re only a Google search away.
7. If they require you to pay upfront, it’s probably not worth it
I’m often cynical of institutional players, doubly so when they require i pay a fee before reading their content.
This is why I don’t support the New York Times. Or Chicago Tribune for my Illini readers. Both are in the business of making more money, and aren’t particularly concerned with giving you quality coverage. My opinion.
But, anyone who won’t let you read until you pay is usually hiding something.
8. Books are undefeated
Personally, I’m partial to older texts that have stood the test of time — but most any book is a step above the condensed and often rushed conclusions found in a 2,000 word article.
Yes even this one.
Especially if your goal is true understanding (& it should be).
9. Determine your parameters for quality, then measure continuously.
Most won’t do this one, but if you’re a nerd like me… it helps knowing which sources are more trustworthy before-hand. It acts as a sort of guardrail against accidentally peeking at information that doesn’t meet your threshold for attention.
This is an ongoing process, and self-perfecting.
In theory, as you continue to refine standards and measure quality, you’ll end up being exposed to better and better content over time.
10. Share salient quotes or opinions found in an article, instead of relying on a headline to do the work of creating engagement.
Sharing is caring.
It stimulates real discussion, plus I’m 1000x more likely to read something suggested by a friend than something suggested by a search engine.
Only one thing, show me you read it first. Few things are more irritating than someone who shares content that they themselves have yet to engage.
It shows that they were taken by an agreeable headline, also that you weren’t ready to spend time discovering whichever arguments were being used to uphold the conclusion they’ve decided to espouse.
And that’s all folks.
Thanks for reading.
Now, go and find something else worth your time.