I was riding furiously on my parent’s elliptical machine, trying to distract myself from the fact that I absolutely HATE exercise by scrolling through Facebook, when I came across a post that nearly made me fall off the machine.

It was on a politically charged page dedicated to libraries. And it advocated the use of clickbait for driving engagement. I won’t post the example this person used here. It was a provocative post but it wasn’t well-constructed. There was no image and no link for action. It was also posted by a librarian, not a library. I suspect he was just trying out the line on the fly to gauge the reaction. It doesn’t really matter what his motivation was or how it played with his audience. And to be fair, the post technically was not clickbait. Clickbait is the act of writing a headline or a post that over-promises, oversensationalizes or misrepresents whatever content you are linking to. The easiest clickbait headlines to spot are the ones that contain the words “You’ll never believe” or “What happened next will shock/embarrass/outrage you.”

What matters to me is the assertion that libraries need to resort to clickbait to get followers to like, comment, and share their posts. You absolutely do not. And in fact, you should avoid clickbait at all costs.

Listen, we’ve all fallen for clickbait headlines before. I am a sucker for those slideshow galleries of photographs that promise to show me something shocking or new about historical events.  But once you’ve scrolled through a gallery of 45 shots and realized you haven’t seen anything new or shocking, you leave mad and vow never to visit that particular website again. We do not want to cause anger, disappointment, and distrust in our users. Using clickbait in posts could do serious damage to your library’s reputation. As an arbiter and protector of truth in an era of attacks on facts, we need to hold ourselves and our social media accounts to a higher standard. Clickbait headlines might get you more initial clicks, but they won’t deepen the relationship your cardholders have with your library.

We’re all fighting to get noticed in each of social media platforms. Algorithm changes mean we have to craft every post to match the demands of that particular platform. It’s exhausting. The temptation to use a clickbait headline to get more engagement is real, and I understand why it might seem like a good option. But it is not. We are better than that.

Your cardholders are smart. Treat them as such. Speak conversationally and openly, but don’t be sensational. You’ll be rewarded by your fans in trust, loyalty, and respect. And those three things are way more valuable than any engagement numbers you might garner in the short-term thanks to clickbait.

Instead, follow these guidelines for creating headlines with examples from my library’s social media platforms. Kudos to my library’s social media team for their amazing work: Danielle, Lisa, Veronica, and Andrea!

  • Be inspirational

  • Use keywords

  • Answer questions

  • Promote facts and figures

Incorporate numbers when possible

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