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.
The Internet is saturated with content.
Content creators should strive to drive virality to emerge from the flood of online content. Viral content is not merely a popular piece, but it garners excessive engagement to outliers.
This paper explores some common factors of viral content.
If you would like more information about monitoring your content, get in touch with us today.
Content Marketing Specialist
Louise is an experienced content marketing professional who translates Isentia’s marketing strategy into impactful and effective marketing campaigns across multiple channels. As the Content Marketing Specialist for Isentia, Louise enjoys creating informative and engaging content for media and communications professionals.
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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.
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:
The top five phrases ending a B2C headline were:
Admittedly, the second-place holder might not rate as well in Australia, but the five top-performing first words were:
So, what doesn't work for B2C audiences? The five worst-performing frequently used phrases were:
Confirming earlier Outbrain research, BuzzSumo found that 12 to 18 words and 80 to 95 characters had the highest engagement on Facebook.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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."
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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.
Is content marketing an art or a science?
It’s not a new debate but an increasingly relevant one. As technology continues to improve, the C-Suite is demanding a clearer measurement into impact. Marketing and communications professionals responsible for curating content are no longer governed by ‘gut feeling’ and instead, are increasingly driven by engagement metrics to demonstrate ROI.
These professionals are well aware how their role requires a mix of art and science thinking. They both draw from the left brain and the right brain, using data and reason to guide the creativity that fuels it.
But this relationship is less rigorously applied to content marketing – an emerging discipline that straddles both marketing and communications objectives.
Marketers and communications professionals have varying levels of social media sophistication – particularly with LinkedIn, which is often a core channel for content. With LinkedIn estimating more than 130, 000 posts are made on its newsfeed every week, organisations are increasingly turning to it as a distribution channel for thought leadership.
Far fewer, however, understand how to draw insight from the platform to ensure their content connects with their target audience.
Marketers and communications practitioners will often speak to me with this challenge solely in mind. Most are able to gauge the success of content on Facebook and Instagram to some level. Plenty of tools exist which measure various social aspects of content marketing, such as ‘likes’ or ‘shares’. But real engagement isn’t buzz. Determining whether content is connecting with a target audience is a key challenge.
Content marketers are struggling to understand whether their current LinkedIn strategy is working – whether it’s reaching the right audience and whether a piece of content is being actively engaged on the platform.
Other times, they will want to target a particular demographic; millennials for example. But they don’t have the understanding of what this group is looking for when they log onto this social networking site.
In short, what content marketers want to do is debunk the myths surrounding their own activity and drill down into strategy to make their dollars work harder.
Data is pivotal. Armed with information, marketers and communications professionals have a window into the opinions, passions and motivations of their audience.
At Isentia we’ve seen this in our own business. The Research & Insights stream has grown by 25 per cent in the last year, as this market recognises the importance of data. I’m often told by clients that they’re just at the start of their measurement journey, but still desperately rely on data to convince the C-Suite to spend money on content marketing.
Research & Insights can be used to help inform content marketing strategy by highlighting what brand-relevant topics an organisation’s audience is engaging with. It can also help content marketers understand where their brand sits against those their competitors, by measuring their share of voice on a particular topic.
But most importantly, data can help marketing and communications practitioners build out content itself. By understanding what type of content receives the most engagement on the platform, they can tailor their content strategies and measure their success at the same time.
Data is the key to debunking the myths of what does or doesn’t work in a content marketing strategy. It gives marketers and communications professionals the opportunity to ensure they understand their audience first and foremost, in order to communicate in a way that connects.
This is where science can help inform the art in content marketing.
Head of Insights, Australia
Video content continues to rise in popularity. We have explored how marketers can connect with their video audience and drive strong engagements.
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Find out the importance of video content in 2019 and how you can connect with your video audience
You’ve probably heard of REDcycle by now - the initiative started by a passionate mum, providing Australian’s with the opportunity to recycle their soft plastics. Its operation helped reduce the amount of landfill in Australia and its sudden halt in operation sent the community into a frenzy.
The pause in the popular REDcycle program presented an opportunity to rethink the model for soft plastics recycling in Australia and find end markets for recycled package content. It also prompted Australians to rethink the way they consume products, rather than just the way they recycle them.
Social media conversations show Australians continue to encourage retailers and large corporations to use their influential power to create impactful change. These conversations are heightened where regression (or progression) is made towards sustainability.
As Australians become more conscience about their soft plastic usage, it raises the question of whether the collapse of the REDcycle program was a blessing in disguise or more of a curse on sustainability?
From the end of October 2022 to the end of March 2023, Australians have consistently felt negative sentiment towards REDcycle’s collapse with spikes when key announcements were made by the organisation. Overall, close to 45% of Aussies felt negatively compared to 18.5% positive.
As people learned the news about REDcycle, there was heightened concern about how soft plastics were going to be recycled. With over 12,000 mainstream media items about REDcycle or soft plastic recycling, it supports the idea that Australia’s broken plastic recycling system is distressing for many and more needs to be done.
The halt in operation brought on more concern for the environment and ignited feelings of anger and distrust after thousands of tonnes of plastic had been stockpiled instead of being recycled.
Media coverage across different channels (social media, search, broadcast and print) shows spikes of coverage on the same days (9 November, 7 February, 27 February) but at varying levels;
Conversations on Twitter represent social media as the preferred option for users in comparison to broadcast, print and search.
As political leaders have the power to influence their supporters on sustainability development, sustainability advocates are pushing Australian leaders to accelerate plastic waste regulations.
Conversations on Reddit rapidly grew on 9 November - the day the REDcycle program paused. Overall sentiment was anger and sadness with many expressing their feelings of disappointment after learning their donated soft plastics were not ending up where promised. Others felt frustrated or angry towards large organisations who were not holding up their end of the deal, especially after taking the time to correctly separate their recyclable waste.
At 40%, political enthusiasts far outweigh any other active community on social media and forums. Their ‘passion’ for Australia can be overshadowed, as they share their beliefs towards the government - ranging from incompetence to over governing. Generation Z are true digital natives and make up 22% of active online communities. This cohort is motivated to make more sustainable choices, if it means it will benefit the environment for the long term.
The REDcycle program illustrated the complexity of soft plastics recycling and the need to build robust systems to close the loop on this common household waste. For years there have been stockpiling issues, dumping, toxic fires and lax regulations, making it challenging to operate.
Australia’s largest supermarkets continue to work towards reducing unnecessary plastics in their stores, and support the development of circular economies through the use of recycled material.
Supermarket chains have moved quickly to find an alternative solution, teaming up with the National Plastics Recycling Scheme (NPRS) with financing from the Federal Government and top food and grocery producers to establish the Roadmap to Restart Taskforce.
23 February 2023, supermarket giants announced the return of soft plastics recycling by late 2023, despite the lack of recyclers. This announcement generated 6 x the amount of ‘supermarket’ Twitter mentions compared to 1 Nov 2022.
Although it’s a promising development, announcements like these are what drive the conversations and force change. This rings true as sustainability advocates push for more substantial action to address soft plastic waste in Australia.
Large organisations are being challenged to rethink how they package their products and how they can be more sustainable, what about the government?
Minister for Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, has been vocal in her response to the soft plastics recycling crisis. Initially, the program's failure was met with calls for urgent action with Ms Plibersek weighing in on the news, saying it was “really concerning” and put the pressure on major supermarkets to come up with an alternative recycling program.
Although it is acknowledged that the government plays a role, it has been made clear the responsibility also lies with manufacturers and packagers.
State and Federal Ministers are actively sharing their opinions and policies online in an effort to make change faster and positively influence their audience. Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews and the Victorian Government are leading the way, banning the selling and supply of single-use plastics in the state.
Commonwealth, State and Territory governments have jointly invested considerable funds into developing local capabilities to recover the challenging recycling stream and have committed to turning around Australia’s lack of progress on its recycling targets, setting new targets for 2025.
Adding another interesting layer of insights on social media from our sister company Pulsar, is that reddit is playing a major role in disseminating sentiment surrounding the REDcycle program. The below chart shows the most recurring keywords grouped by channel. The larger the tile, the more times the topic has appeared in that channel. Conversations involving scientists were notable and finding a solution to plastic pollution was a key narrative.
Trust was also a recurring keyword across all channels, indicating trust needs to be rebuilt. is something that needs to be rebuilt. Australians have begun to lose faith in the recycling industry as there is a lack of transparency into how much actually gets recycled.
The introduction of a new taskforce - the Road to Restart - will work towards rebuilding the public trust in soft plastic recycling. The taskforce also endeavours to ensure supermarkets and the packaging sector will get it right on their own accord.
Conversations through online forums show Australians deeply care about sustainability, stating that ‘unless it can be recycled, it shouldn’t be produced.’
Social media platforms are especially fueled by sustainability advocates who need to share a broader awareness of recycling initiatives and earn potential audiences - conversations are widespread and emotions are elevated. Whereas broadcast and print channels are sharing the facts and the need to know information, directing audiences to use the information they have and to search where they can take their soft plastics. In addition to sustainability advocates, everyday Australians are learning how to pivot, seeking out support and ideas from fellow supporters on Twitter and other social media platforms.
If organisations can work together and policymakers can set clear legislative frameworks, it’s possible to implement necessary changes in both manufacturer and consumer behaviour to create a thriving circular plastics economy.
The pause of REDcycle is certainly on its way to being a good thing for the environment.
If you would like to learn more about discovering how media intelligence can lead to insights across environmental issues or the active communities leading the conversations using audience intelligence, get in touch with us today." ["post_title"]=> string(42) "What's the wrap on soft plastic recycling?" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["ping_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(40) "whats-the-wrap-on-soft-plastic-recycling" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2023-05-30 02:24:19" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2023-05-30 02:24:19" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(32) "https://www.isentia.com/?p=22987" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" }
The circular economy of Australia’s soft plastics recycling system You’ve probably heard of REDcycle by now – the initiative started by a passionate mum, providing Australian’s with the opportunity to recycle their soft plastics. Its operation helped reduce the amount of landfill in Australia and its sudden halt in operation sent the community into a […]
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