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Blog post
June 25, 2019

5 reasons why a headline goes viral

A headline might be a reader’s first – and only – contact with a brand, and many will keep skimming until they land on something that takes their interest.

If you aren’t into the nitty-gritty of headlines, stop reading now. But if you want to be that content creator who writes the runaway headline, here’s a snapshot of what some of the research has found.

Between 1 March and 10 May 2017, BuzzSumo analysed 100 million of the most shared article headlines on Facebook and Twitter, the platforms dominated by publisher and consumer content. Then in July, it published its analysis of 10 million B2B headlines – those shared on LinkedIn – and found that the best headline phrases, structures, numbers and lengths differed from the B2C results.

1. What works for B2C content

While previous research suggested that the first three and last three words were the important parts of a headline, the BuzzSumo research highlighted linking phrases as key for headlines targeting B2C audiences.

The three-word phrase – or trigram – that led the engagement charge (likes, shares, comments) was ‘will make you’. In fact, on Facebook it had twice as many engagements as the trigram that took second place (‘this is why’), followed by ‘can we guess’, ‘only X in’ and ‘the reason is’.

BuzzSumo determined that the success of the ‘will make you’ phrase was based on it linking content to the emotional impact it will have on the reader – it sets you up to care (‘will make you cry’, ‘will make you smarter’, etc.).

It also found that headlines that provoke curiosity work well when readers are looking to learn something from an article. They are a little like the ‘will make you’ articles, but they tell you what you’ll find out rather than what you’ll feel.

The BuzzSumo research found that the top five phrases starting a B2C headline were:

  1. X reasons why…
  2. X things you…
  3. This is what…
  4. This is the…
  5. This is how…

The top five phrases ending a B2C headline were:

  1. …the world
  2. …X years
  3. …goes viral
  4. …to know
  5. …X days

Admittedly, the second-place holder might not rate as well in Australia, but the five top-performing first words were:

  1. This…
  2. Trump…
  3. How…
  4. 10…
  5. Why…

So, what doesn’t work for B2C audiences? The five worst-performing frequently used phrases were:

  1. control of your
  2. your own business
  3. work for you
  4. the introduction of
  5. what’s new in

Confirming earlier Outbrain research, BuzzSumo found that 12 to 18 words and 80 to 95 characters had the highest engagement on Facebook.

2. What works for B2B content

In BuzzSumo’s analysis of 10 million headlines of articles shared on LinkedIn, the practical and informative nature of how-to and list posts (see #3 below) proved to be strong performers in the top five most popular three-word phrases:

  1. X ways to…
  2. The future of…
  3. X things you…
  4. How to get…
  5. How to make…

There was a clear frontrunner in the top two-word phrases starting headlines – ‘How to…’ was shared almost three times more on average than the second-place holder. The top two-word phrases starting B2B headings were:

  1. How to…
  2. The X…
  3. X things…
  4. X ways…
  5. Top X…

Note that after the ‘How to…’ phrase, the next four most shared phrases were all forms of list posts, which gained more than double the average shares of ‘what’ or ‘why’ posts.

Celebrity brand names also garnered high levels of engagement. It makes sense that companies influencing the business environment and forging technological and business model innovation – like Uber, Google, Apple, Facebook, Tesla and Amazon – will have strong reader appeal. For example, nib’s Ambulance or Uber: Who you gonna call?generated a lot of conversation on its Facebook page due to Uber’s topicality.

At seven to 12 words, the optimum headline length for LinkedIn is much shorter than for Facebook.

3. The ongoing power of the list

In July 2017, CoSchedule founder Garrett Moon published results of an analysis that began with close to one million blog headlines – which were then put through various filters. The top takeaway was that list posts or listicles (headlines that start with a number) are “huge”. Moon wrote they are “the most likely type of post to be shared 1000 or even 100 times”. Interestingly, he also noted that “list posts only made up 5% of the total posts actually written”.

The BuzzSumo research, confirming the power of lists and the list post format, found the six most effective numbers (in descending order) in B2C content are 10, 5, 15, 7, 20 and 6. In B2B content, the most shared numbers that start post headlines are 5, 10, 3, 7, 4 and 6, with 5 and 10 performing equally well. Note that how-to posts outstripped list posts in B2B.

CoSchedule’s results show that list posts that they identified by the words ‘thing’, ‘should’ and ‘reasons’ – ‘5 things you can do…’, ‘4 reasons why you should…’ – do best on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

It’s possible that this is due to a combination of clear promise (‘10 steps’, etc.) and the scannable nature of the post, where you can easily work out which bits you want to read.

4. Emotion is good but beware the bait

While strong emotional headlines and those provoking curiosity may get you results, you need to rein in any urge to overstate.

In May 2017, Facebook announced it would demote “headlines that exaggerate the details of a story with sensational language” and those that aim “to make the story seem like a bigger deal than it really is.”

There may be some debate about what is and isn’t clickbait, but there are two key points to consider. In the first place, the reader needs to feel encouraged to read. And in the second, they need to not be disappointed when they have finished reading.

5. Research, tailor and test

There are no hard and fast rules. You always need to research what works for your audience, your topics and your social platforms, and to test your headlines. Different audiences will require different content and will be accessing it on different platforms. For example, Outbrain works for an editorial-led audience more than a business-specific audience.

In the interests of transparency, this headline isn’t the first that came to mind. It’s the result of trawling through this research.

Maybe we all need to take the advice of Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs: “Spend as much time writing the headline as you do an entire blog post or social post.”

Belinda Henwood, Strategy & Content

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The social trends and audience behind healthy drinking behaviour

While the pandemic and lockdowns made some people more likely to grab an alcoholic drink, audience interest in low alcohol or no alcohol drinks keeps growing online, both globally and in Australia. 

But what events are driving Australians towards the #sobercurious lifestyle? And which brands are piquing their interest?

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According to data from our sister company Pulsar, social conversation and search interest in low-no-alcohol peaked in April '21-Oct '21 as the press announced a $1 million government grant (as part of the Australian Government’s Modern Manufacturing Strategy) was awarded to Modus Operandi Brewery to manufacture a non-alcoholic ale, NORT. The mentions of low/no-alcohol experienced a peak in June, leading to Dry July and Sober October.

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Mention metrics show that health and socialising are major motivational drivers for Australians when choosing a drink of the low/no-alcohol variety. The two are closely related, as prominent tags associated with low/no-alcohol mentions are #mindfuldrinking, #soberissexy, and #soberdating.

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Meanwhile, popular millennial and gen z media outlets like Fashion Journal and Refinery29 are reporting on how-tos and the benefits of sober dating. Young Australians are reading that by avoiding the booze, their anxiety is reduced, and they are setting themselves up for relationship success.

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Mental health improvements associated with the trend aren’t the only benefits being publicised; the physical gains are too. Australian media personality Erin Holland told Women’s Health Magazine that her preparation for the popular reality series SAS Australia involved a strict no-alcohol rule. Rugby union Wallaby player Radiko Samo credited a no-alcohol stance to his improved performance on the field.

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The data also suggests Australians genuinely enjoy the taste of low/no-alcohol beverages followed by ethical reasons. For centuries, abstinence from alcoholic drinking has been tied to ethical beliefs, but open discussion and acknowledgment of Australia’s amoral history keep this motivator current. Aboriginal-owned and led non-alcoholic craft brewers SOBAH advocate for this and aim to break toxic Indigenous stereotypes by providing “healing opportunities outside the reliance on government funding and control."

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Globally, drinks like beer, vodka, and whiskey tend to be more popular, but Australian consumers are hitting the spirits and mixers. Non-alcoholic cocktail bars were springing up across Australian metropolitan areas like Brunswick Aces in Melbourne, giving non-drinkers a chance to socialise without feeling left out. From hotels to online delivery services, hospitality businesses connect with Aussies’ healthier lifestyle choices. In particular, small-batch distilleries and breweries utilising bush tucker flavours are getting covered in widely read hospitality and entertainment sites like Broadsheet. 

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Australian-made distilleries are also proud to represent the small-batch, independent ethos which aligns with the Aussie tendency to support one-of-kind artisanal producers over big-name brands.

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British and Australian brands Seedlip and Lyre’s appear as the most mentioned across media platforms between July-November 21. In the news, Aussie founded Lyres had taken out best non-alcoholic spirit for their Italian spritz at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Seedlip took out two non-alcoholic spirit awards in the Australian Drinks Awards held in November 2021.

While we might expect fitness enthusiasts to be discussing the benefits of lowering alcohol consumption online, a deep dive into the different audiences talking about low alcohol brands reveals this is a popular conversation amongst more niche subcultures.

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Across twitter, discussions of non-alcohol spirits are popular amongst Australian bookworms. Popular non-alcoholic brands like Lyres and Seadrift use old-fashioned or themed storytelling as part of their branding language—an aesthetic that lets  literary lovers know they ”can enjoy the mirth and merriment of a soiree or shindig” without alcohol. This group is also keen to share with their community the book they are currently reading and a matching mocktail.

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This trend continues to grow as Aussies aspire for optimal performance at work, in their social and romantic lives, and for their overall wellness. The data shows Aussies celebrating and sharing their alcohol-free experiences with their digital communities, and with the backing from the government and smaller brands taking out big awards, this trend continues to offer Australians an opportunity to get on the wagon.

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This blog was produced using data from our sister company 
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Thought Leadership
Australia gets on the wagon: what’s driving low and no alcohol trends
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The Philippine presidential candidates have had various strategies for their campaigns since their announcements via mainstream and social media. The public has had varied reactions to their movements.

Isentia, the leading media intelligence and insights solutions provider in the Philippines and Asia-Pacific, has created a report documenting the first 30 days of the Philippine Presidential Election campaigns.

The study seeks to comprehend the themes and sentiment of the media and digital public discussions on the identified candidates since the official campaign period from 8 February 2022 to 9 March 2022.

Fill up the form below to download the whitepaper and read more.

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Whitepaper
ISENTIA PHILIPPINES – The First 30 Days: The Philippine Presidential Race Campaign Period at a Glance

The Philippine presidential candidates have had various strategies for their campaigns since their announcements via mainstream and social media. The public has had varied reactions to their movements. The study seeks to comprehend the themes and sentiment of the media and digital public discussions on the identified candidates since the official campaign period from 8 February 2022 to 9 March 2022. Fill up the form to download the whitepaper and read more.

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IIt was just a week ago when I was asked to travel to Canberra to assist the Isentia Canberra team with the 2022-23 Budget. The team was preparing to provide our clients with a range of Parliamentary Services to support them throughout the Budget announcement and plethora of reactions, resulting in the most significant media day of the year. 

Isentia has an office right in the middle of the Parliamentary press gallery, above the House of Representatives, alongside the ABC, The Conversation, 9 News, 7 News and SBS had my head reeling. We are in the thick of the Budget conversation at Parliament House and have access to the Budget papers during lock-up. I am not going to lie, I would have loved to have gotten my hands and eyes on what lay inside the mass that is the Budget, but I was just as excited to be a part of Isentia’s first live stream of the conga line to deliver immediate stakeholder perspectives.

Lock-up team Whitney and Crystal ready to unpack the 2022 Budget for clients, pictured with Account Executives Melvic (right) and Nikhar (left)

This is my first time in Canberra and walking into Parliament House. It may sound ridiculous to some, but I felt the magnitude of decisions and words within this space as soon as I arrived. This could be due to the physical size of the building, the maze of corridors (I did get lost), or that Greg Hunt, Minister for Health and Aged Care, passes by you, or Laura Tingle, ABC political journo heavyweight, is standing inside the courtyard cafe – no longer just a revered top news journalist on my TV screen. I am tempted to approach her and ask her thoughts on any Budget revelations, but professionalism nips that one in the bud.

The live stream is my main priority and ensuring we capture stakeholder responses as soon as lock-up ends. With the cool, calm, and collected Melvic (Canberra Account Executive) by my side, I felt we were prepared to capture all the opinions and critical commentary on Frydenberg’s latest Budget. But as Melvic had said to me plenty of times over the past couple of days while in Canberra, “you can’t exactly prepare for Budget night.” Speeches can go on for longer, lock-up can be delayed, and elevators can stop working. It was 7.30pm, and we (Melvic and myself) could not get to the second floor, where the press gallery and the conga line were to be. After semi-frantically looking for a way to get there – the elevator wouldn’t go to floor two, and the staircase was blocked off – our prayers were answered in the presence of a former staffer who took pity and showed us to an elevator that could get us there. The doors opened, and we were awkwardly confronted by a crowd of diners enjoying a catered event, but after casually walking by, we were able to get to the gallery and stream the conga line.

I staked my claim on a small footprint of space to set up Isentia’s nimble streaming equipment among tall, solid guys supporting big TV broadcast cameras. As speakers were changing over, we had to pause for one of them to change their camera battery. The speakers were unfazed by the background buzzing of phones, regular triggering of Parliament House clocks and adrenaline-pumped chatter of people in the corridors. I was particularly moved by the words of Carolyn Smith, Aged Care Director at the United Workers Union and a team of aged care workers who felt a lack of respect for what the Budget provided them. I wondered how journalists could keep it together when they were listening to the stories and concerns of people who really feel impacted by the decisions made here. These are comments and opinions that matter to our clients, and providing this service allows them to better inform their operations and objectives. After the last speaker, Melissa Donnelly, National President of the Community & Public Sector Union, had finished, the live stream was done. But the active alerts team weren’t.

Live stream conga line of Carolyn Smith, Aged Care Director, United Workers Union & Aged Care Workers (Curtis, Marina, Shin,Teresa)
Live stream conga line of Carolyn Smith, Aged Care Director, United Workers Union & Aged Care Workers (Curtis, Marina, Shin,Teresa)

The team, rapid-firing live alerts to clients after lock-up release, are able to provide clients near-immediate knowledge of key topics concerning their organisation. This being my crash course introduction to the chaos of a Budget night, I was not expecting the personal understanding and touch that went into the live active alerting process for clients. I pictured images of machines whirring and topics automatically ticking through Budget content, machines that made a detached decision about what was relevant to clients and made blanket sends without consideration. How our Account Executives, Crystal and Whitney, understood the ins and outs of the needs held by our clients does make a real difference to accuracy and content relevancy.

With the speed and focus they applied to this product offering (active alerts), you would have thought they were machines anyway. But a machine is not going to have their ongoing long-term client relationship and understanding of client development.

 It’s a wrap! Budget 2022 Isentia team, (from left) Crystal (Account Executive) Loren (Marketing Executive ANZ), Whitney (Account Executive), Melvic (Account Executive), Nikhar (Account Executive), Russ (Chief Commercial Officer). 

After the last active alert was sent, you could still feel the adrenaline. The pace and unpredictable circumstances that this team worked under were staggering, but we made it in the end. After a justified amount of snacking, we packed up the Isentia Parliament office and found our way to the car park, where everyone there that night was in a state of buzzed debriefing as they crouched into their Ubers home. I doubt anyone there got more than 5 hours of sleep that night, but it was amazing to be a part of how Isentia offers a unique service to clients. We look forward to giving the same level of tailored content to clients during the election coverage.

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Blog
Isentia bringing the 2022-23 Budget to Clients

Our Marketing Executive gets a crash course in Budget night at Isentia. We provide tailored media intelligence offerings. Discover the Isentia difference!

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