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The Future of Headlines? You'll Never Believe How People Reacted to Clickbait

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The Future of Headlines? You'll Never Believe How People Reacted to Clickbait

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Amid an almost limitless amount of news options, more news organizations are turning to “clickbait” headlines in an attempt to entice and engage audiences. But how do audiences really feel about these headlines? In this presentation from the American Copy Editors Society's annual conference, the Engaging News Project share findings from testing whether headlines written using varying levels of uncertainty prompt different reactions.

Amid an almost limitless amount of news options, more news organizations are turning to “clickbait” headlines in an attempt to entice and engage audiences. But how do audiences really feel about these headlines? In this presentation from the American Copy Editors Society's annual conference, the Engaging News Project share findings from testing whether headlines written using varying levels of uncertainty prompt different reactions.

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The Future of Headlines? You'll Never Believe How People Reacted to Clickbait

  1. 1. Joshua M. Scacco, PhD (@joshscacco) Assistant Professor, Purdue University Faculty Research Associate, Engaging News Project The Future of Headlines? You’ll Never Believe How People Reacted to Clickbait
  2. 2. ENGAGING NEWS PROJECT To provide research-based techniques for engaging online audiences in commercially viable and democratically beneficial ways.
  3. 3. CLICKBAIT
  4. 4. TRADITIONAL NEWS HEADLINES ● Overview of the main idea in an inverted pyramid-structured news story
  5. 5. FORWARD-REFERENCE HEADLINES ● Create more uncertainty about information in a story compared to traditional headlines
  6. 6. QUESTION-BASED HEADLINES ● Designed to create uncertainty by posing a question about information contained in a news story
  7. 7. YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT WE FOUND! • Question-based headlines lead to more negativity from audience. • Forward-reference headlines do not lead to different reactions. • Types of headlines and policy issues should be paired carefully.
  8. 8. OUTCOME: REACTIONS ● Headline Reactions: (Un)civil, (Un)trustworthy, (Non)partisan, (Un)informative, boring/entertaining, (In)appropriate, confusing/clear, silly/serious, (Not) credible ● Result: Compared to traditional headlines, people had slightly more negative reactions toward the question-based headline.
  9. 9. OUTCOME: EXPECTATIONS ● Article Expectations: Do you expect the article following this headline to be…(Un)civil, (Un)trustworthy, (Non)partisan, (Un)informative, boring/entertaining, (In)appropriate, confusing/clear? ● Result: Slightly more negative expectations of the news articles that would follow question-based headlines compared to articles that would follow traditional headlines.
  10. 10. OUTCOME: ENGAGEMENT ● News Engagement: How likely would you be to…read the article, “Like” or “Favorite” the article via a social media site, comment in the comment section, talk to someone about the article, or pay a small fee for the article? ● Result: Question-based headlines slightly decreased anticipated engagement with the news.
  11. 11. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? 1. People responded more positively overall to traditional headlines compared to question-based headlines. 2. Forward-reference headlines did not change opinions relative to traditional news headlines.
  12. 12. HEADLINES PAIRED WITH POLICY ISSUES To explore whether the effects of the headlines were influenced by the topic of the headline, we tested the headline types across three different topics: - Immigration policy - The economy - The U.S. Congress
  13. 13. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? When the question headline was matched with Congress – which was the most negatively received topic in our study – the combination led to the most negative responses to the headline.
  14. 14. HEADLINES IN ELECTION NEWS 2,941 1,665 0 1,000 2,000 3,000 4,000 Traditional Headline Clickbait Headline PredictedPageViews Headline Type and Predicted Page Views Data from the Engaging News Project and American Press Institute Analysis controls for news organization, word count, federal/state race, issues mentioned, strategy components, and hard news/opinion article • Examining local news coverage of 2016 primary election
  15. 15. HEADLINES IN ELECTION NEWS • Examining local news coverage of 2016 general election 5,713 3,982 0 1,000 2,000 3,000 4,000 5,000 6,000 Traditional Headline Clickbait Headline PredictedPageViews Headline Type and Predicted Page Views Data from the Engaging News Project and American Press Institute Analysis controls for news organization, word count, federal/state race, issues mentioned, strategy components, and hard news/opinion article
  16. 16. TRY THESE HEADLINES INSTEAD Based on our research comparing solutions- focused and non-solutions-focused headlines in regard to popularity, solutions-focused headlines resulted in more clicks.
  17. 17. SOLUTIONS HEADLINES - Including a “mysterious” unnamed location in a headline increases the click-through rate (e.g. “This City Has a Solution to Poverty”). - Adding the word “simple” can affect headline clicks (e.g. “A Simple Way to Address Climate Change”).
  18. 18. SOLUTIONS HEADLINES - Tacking solutions-oriented information onto a headline does not significantly affect the click-through rate (e.g. “This is a Problem. Here’s How to Help”). - Adding the word “you” does not significantly influence the click-through rate (e.g. “Here’s How You Can Help Save The Rainforests”).
  19. 19. CONCLUSION - Headlines styled as questions led to the most negative reactions compared to traditional and forward- reference headlines, especially when paired with a topic the participants found particularly unappealing. - Consider using different types of headlines, such as solutions headlines.
  20. 20. OTHER ENP RESEARCH Comment Sections Engagement Buttons Quizzes
  21. 21. Questions & Comments? /engagingnewsproject engagingnewsproject.org @engagingnews

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