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THE SPIN CYCLE: How to write headlines that could go viral

Todd Smith

Todd Smith

I want to let you in on a secret. The headline of this column alone, with proper placement and social sharing of course, could take this viral. In order to get a well-placed piece in the digital domain, you have to make it SHINE.

KISSmetrics, a digital market research firm, analyzed what makes a good headline, and the results were insightful. The compelling thing about writing is that while clichés will change over time and distance, the basics of communication always remain the same. An intriguing method resulting from this pioneering research is SHINE – Specificity, Helpfulness, Immediacy, Newsworthiness, and Entertainment value. Here are the highlights:

Specificity: Numbers are good, names, places and other details that inspire easily pictured ideas.

Helpfulness: It solved the problem when they clicked to your piece.

Immediacy: The headline should make the audience want to read further right now. People rarely go back to read things they bookmarked for later reading.

Newsworthiness: Say something they haven’t heard before.

Entertainment: Be humorous without being silly or cheesy.

Digital enthusiast Lenka Istvanova came up with a winning formula for the perfect headline as well, Numbers + Adjective + Target Keyword + Rational + Promise. Her example was 10 Bitchin Tips For Writing Irresistible Headlines, another would be 7 Things That Will Improve Your Life TODAY, which also adds the element of immediacy.

The Statistics

In addition to using this checklist when you are crafting a headline, there are some numbers to keep in mind. Roughly eight out of 10 people will read your headline, but only two out of those 10 will read the rest of what you wrote, according to Copyblogger.

People scan headlines just as they scan most text online, something we all know intuitively. They found the first three words and the last three words of a headline are the only ones noticed and remembered, while the rest were mentally discarded. Which means, of course, that a six-word headline is about as optimized as you can get.

Keep in mind that marketing is a subjective science where you can’t go strictly by the numbers or a formula. Creativity and striking a chord personally with someone can shatter all of the rules. Play with your headlines using both a six word limit and no limit, and see which get better results.

Measure Your Audience

All of that advice is a great start to making your headlines sparkle and attract attention, but when it comes to a marketing campaign, it’s important to realize and track results. It has to be quantifiable. To get the best data, you need to be able to cast widely and listen well.

By casting widely, I mean that sharing across numerous networks is a must. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and any other relevant sites should be part of the plan. .

It has been said that 90 percent of good writing is developing catchy titles or pithy headlines, and that’s absolutely the gospel truth. Today’s audiences have scan-through attention spans, bore easily, and they are constantly consuming more content. How do you hook them? First, and foremost, develop a creative, viral-worthy headline. But don’t forget that once you have the reader, only solid, well-written content will keep them tuned-in.

8 Tweets That Generate Audience Engagement

To attract more engagement on Twitter and other social media platforms, you must strive for better, more compelling content. Some of the best content contains tips, lists, rankings, help, solutions for problems and questions. Always make sure to credit the author and use appropriate hashtags. Here’s 8 tips to generate better audience engagement:

1. The Sharing Content Tweet – start basic. Make sure to include the author’s Twitter handle so they get the credit and see you enjoyed their work, plus they may return the favor! Also, add a relevant hashtag to build social exposure – from folks searching for the content or if the author is tracking mentions.

2. The Problem | Solution Tweet – for those having problems or negative results, offering help or a solution is golden. Whether it’s knowledge about a particular area or answering a question, tweet a link to your solution or other content that provides answers. You’ll boost audience engagement.

3. The Question Tweet – since social is a two-way conversation, it’s imperative to ask questions to stimulate interest. Whether asking trivial current event questions or a question linked to an article, trend, topic or debate – you are dialing-up digital dialogue.

4. The Retweet With Comments – avoid simply retweeting other posts by copying the original tweet and adding a short comment. It makes the conversation much more personal, human.

5. Offer Advice – the Twittersphere isn’t all about driving traffic to your website. Tweeting tips, top lists, advice or industry expertise is an optimal way to build credibility and leveraging audience reach.

6. Show Some Love – it’s a good idea to endorse tweets that are beneficial or align with your philosophy. Express your appreciation for the content, and include the Twitter handle so the author sees your acknowledgement. They may turn right around and retweet your post.

7. The Fact | Statistic – Everyone loves facts and stats, much like tips and lists. As much as possible include compelling facts and statistics to engage your audience.

8. The Inspiring Tweet – Daily inspiration tweets are the rage, so jump on the wave. Offer motivational quotes, anecdotes and perspectives to bolster awareness. Make sure to credit the source.

Coke Not It? Despite Flagging Sales, “Share A Coke” Campaign Shines

Coke’s sales are flagging in the U.S. and abroad. And investors aren’t happy, reports The Wall Street Journal. David Winters, chief executive of the major Coke investor Wintergreen Advisers, has even launched a website, www.FixBigSoda.com. Fortunately for Cokes ad folks, its marketing doesn’t seem to be taking the blame — the ubiquitous “Share A Coke” campaign  — which features Coke and Diet Coke cans with names or nicknames on them, has caused sellouts (time for more named cans, gang). Coke executives seem to think if they can push harder on store displays and drive impulse purchases, they’ll be fine. But some of this may be irreversible, particularly as Americans look for healthier diets and rethink how much artificial sweetener we consume. Coke may need to tweak its products more than any messaging or store placement strategy.

Golden Mic | Ebola Doctor Kent Brantley, 

Colleague Nancy Writebol

The bravery of medical professionals treating Ebola patients is as inspiring as that of any other hero. And the peril they face is just as real.

Two gravely ill American medical workers in Liberia who were infected with the Ebola virus have been brought back to the U.S. for treatment at Emory University. Dr. Kent Brantly, and his colleague, Nancy Writebol, are nothing short of heroic. The two were working in an Ebola isolation ward in Liberia to bring hope to hundreds suffering from the deadly disease.

The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 720 people in West Africa and has a mortality rate of at least 60 percent. There is no cure or vaccine, but doctors at Emory say they are “cautiously optimistic” that with proper care and close monitoring they can successfully treat Brantly and Writebol. The Spin Cycle – and the world – wishes a return to health, Godspeed, to these valiant souls. Both are heroes who inspired hope to a deadly crisis, and that’s the perfect prescription for a Golden Mic!

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.



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About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

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