Why headline writing is so important in social media

One of my favorite Twitter follows has to be @darthvader. Granted, the concept is a little played at this point–the premise of someone taking a fictional character and tweeting as if he/she were that character. But, Darth Vader has kept it going for quite a while now. And the tweets are still pretty damn good.

Or, what about the @bpglobalpr account? Serious topic, but pretty funny stuff each day, right?

What do these two Twitter accounts have in common? Their ability to write incredibly funny, engaging and compelling headlines that inspire retweets and shares.

Think about it: On Twitter, what inspires you to RT certain posts?

If you’re browsing through your Google Reader, what stops you in your tracks and makes you click through to the full post?

If you’re browsing your Facebook News Feed, why do you comment on some post versus others?

I’ll tell you why. Headlines.

OK, so maybe headlines aren’t the only reason why you RT, click through and comment, but they play a major role in what and why we share online.

Think about your activity on Twitter for a moment. How many times do you read the headline (tweet) and retweet without ever clicking through to the post? I polled my Twitter community recently and the number of people who take this approach is higher than you might think.

What about your blogging? Chances are, a decent amount of your readership accesses your blog through a reader of some sort. That means they’re most likely sifting through a huge number of posts every day. You need to stop them in their tracks and make them click through to your post. A strong, compelling headline can do that.

Point is, you may have the best blog post idea or tweet in the world, but if you don’t write a good headline, no one will ever know.

So yeah, headline writing is important. And, it takes practice, just like anything else.

Below are a few tips and processes to improve your headline writing on the social networks you’re active on:

* Write 10 headlines for every blog post. This is one I used to do and need to revisit. Writing 10 different headlines for each post forces you to think differently about how to best “sell” your post. Think about SEO and keywords. Think about different ways to position your post–whether it’s a question or a statement. Chances are, in those 10 headlines, you’ll have a winner. And, you’ll get very proficient at writing stellar headlines quickly.

* Stop retweeting–create your own content. I’m not saying you should stop sharing other people’s content. What I’m saying is that instead of a straight retweet (copy and paste), why not add your two cents to the mix by creating your own tweet? By forming your own headline, you’ll have the ability to add your opinion to the tweet and stand out from the crowd. And, it will force you to write headlines–instead of just retweeting a post. Try it for a week and watching how much better your headline writing gets.

* Create unique headlines for LinkedIn. Do you syndicate your blog content on LinkedIn? Instead of just clicking the LinkedIn button on Tweetdeck (or other Twitter app), take a few minutes and create a unique headline, specifically targeted for your LinkedIn audience. Remember, this is a more business-like audience–treat them that way. Again, this will force you to practice your headline writing–in a slightly different way.

I know there are a bunch of writers out there–what other tips would you suggest?

18 comments
Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

Leave it to Mr. Zarrella to study the actual language used in Facebook posts. Wow.

Lucyd
Lucyd

Great post - its so important to pay attention to the details (I really like the tip about writing 10 headlines for blog posts). Have you seen this article? http://danzarrella.com/writing-for-facebook-use... Dan Zarrella has done research on the relationship between parts of speech and Facebook sharing - truly fascinating stuff

Cristin A. McGrath
Cristin A. McGrath

Absolute commandments to live by! @BPGlobalPR is absolutely one of the best examples of creative writing. 140 characters is usually tricky to gain attention with but they do a fantastic job!

Great post though!

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

One of the most popular posts of last year for me (and one of my personal faves) was titled "Everything I learned about social media I learned from Barry Manilow." Tell me that didn't contribute to the pass-along value of that post.

heatherrast
heatherrast

This was a refreshing read, Arik. Headlines are akin to book titles in that the best ones aren't literal descriptions (okay, maybe the sub-head should be a reassuring qualifier) but rather compelling and pithy. Headlines can incorporate metaphors, analogies, and humor. I think a good presentation (the kind with PPT slides) follows this path too. Why use headers like "Business Objectives" (too broad, boring) when you can use one more inspiring like "How We'll Win."

mjkeliher
mjkeliher

"The trick with SEO is you don't want it to drive your titles/content, but you definitely want to write with it in mind."

Yes. In fact, if I were in an argumentative mood, I'd push even further: Forget SEO. If you've built -- or are building -- a solid community around your brand, your organization, or your content, search engines are going to be a tiny piece of the puzzle.

jlbraaten
jlbraaten

I love all three tips, but especially #2. I'm going to start writing my own headlines for the content I share on Twitter. Thanks again!

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

That's a great recommendation--and one my friend Adam Singer turned me onto a while back. So far, it seems to be working. The trick with SEO is you don't want it to drive your titles/content, but you definitely want to write with it in mind.

Missy @ The Marketing Mama
Missy @ The Marketing Mama

Great points, Arik. I like the idea of writing 10 headlines for each post - creative! Quite a bit of my traffic comes from google and so I try to put energy into SEO for nearly every post I write.

Many lifestyle bloggers default to describing an emotion or summarize a post in the title - which may be captivating from a creativity standpoing but will get you nowhere with SEO. I actually cringe when I read these. My best tip is to use google insights to compare title options and sample various key word combinations.

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

The ability to write in short chunks is certainly important. Plus, on Twitter, it's actually a requirement, right?

TimOtis
TimOtis

Great topic, Arik! I'd say the more simple, concise and coherent you make an update or post, the more gravitating it will be. A post in the form of a question drives appeal-- or as Sarah Evans articulated long ago, it's all about being emotive. If we talk human, chances are humans will respond ;). I think a trust agent type of following helps too.

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

The auto-syndication topic is a whole 'nother post by itself, Mike. And, I'm glad you mentioned the "L" word... ;)

mjkeliher
mjkeliher

Good tips. I'd like to people to pay particular attention to that third point, but I'll elaborate on it: This automated write-it-once-and-have-it-Ping.fm'd-all-over-the-world garbage is sad. If you're writing the same thing to your personal Twitter audience, your company's Twitter audience, your Facebook page, your LinkedIn network, etc. -- you're doing a disservice to all of those people and to yourself.

Even if you just change one or two words, that little bit of relevance will be noticed -- even if it's just a subconscious awareness of the increased relevance. Don't be lazy!

Vedo
Vedo

Using hashtags like #HAPPO among other campaigns/initiatives (#Movember, #BAD09, #Tweetsgiving) just seemed to help with traffic. Also, for posts during conferences helped for Retweetability. Just making it easier to have legs. I haven't compared with and without hashtags for similar posts so I'm only going on what I recall from past posts.

I don't do it too much because I think it could start to look weird from an aesthetics perspective.

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

I've seen a lot of headlines over the months/years that go for the clever. My thought: Why not keep the blog post fairly straight-forward and get creative with the promotion via Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn? Makes a lot more sense to me.

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

To be honest, I haven't played with that approach all that much (other than the basic chats and hash tags--#happo for instance). What kind of success has you seen, Richie? Just curious.

valeriesimon
valeriesimon

Good advice Arik. Your point about considering SEO is so important... Sometimes a clever headline is not the best way to get your post in front of the readers who will appreciate it. Of course if you have a large subscription base, or are writing specifically to subscribers, a clever headline can help to distinguish your post from others as you point out above. I think an ideal headline is engaging, keyword driven and short (easily retweetable), and considers/respects the community you have built (not simply linkbait)

Vedo
Vedo

Arik, these are fantastic ideas to put into practice. I especially like the LinkedIn alternate headline idea since it is a bit of a different network.

What do you think about dropping in hashtags within the post headline? I've tried it a few times and was pleasantly surprised that it helped in getting some extra traction. Thanks for the ideas.

- @vedo