Anatomy of a Bulletproof Headline: The Upworthy Model

 In Content, Website

<img src="image.gif" alt="Image of the word Up" />Whether it’s a live-tweeting session or any infinite number of cat videos out there, there are circumstances that make content reach the deepest corners of cyber space.

One of those circumstances is the effectiveness of your headlines, which invite people to enter your world.

Here’s the coolest part about viral content and the headlines that invite people to engage with it…

A Wall Street billionaire, a high school cheerleader, and a sweet grandma might be laughing at the same video at the same time. If that doesn’t reflect a sense of community, I don’t know what does.

Of course, when smart marketers realized that highly shared content made an impact, they took to the drawing board in order to launch Internet-based marketing that got shared, commented on, and talked about.

Many viral campaigns have been remarkably successful. Other companies have accidentally created Internet firestorms that they’ve yet to recover from.

If you take a walk around the Internet graveyard, you’ll find Digg, which was based on shared content, and died a painful death once the conversational element fell to the wayside. Headlines were probably part of what sounded the death knell, but there’s still a question about what killed Digg.

Even though marketers can point their content in the viral direction, it’s ultimately the people who make the call. That’s true: the people (your market) have to open the door. But it’s you who must welcome them in.

Actually, there’s an organization out there that’s made it their business to promote other people’s content. Upworthy.  

If you haven’t heard of Upworthy yet, they built a platform that makes content popular. Whatever the staff finds compelling, they promote. A multitude of videos, infographics, and other content whatnot, has gone “viral” simply because Upworthy decided it should happen.

In fact, chances are much of the content that permeates your Facebook newsfeed comes from Upworthy. When you mix target market attraction with easy shareability, you’ve officially laid the foundation for far-reaching content that people react to.

But like I mentioned earlier, you can have the funniest, most original, most impactful content on the interwebs, but it’s the people that decide what content has the farthest reach.

At the same time, it’s your responsibility to draw those people in. And that, dear reader, is what Upworthy is amazingly good at.

Their weapon: headlines.

Sure the content Upworthy shares has guts, drama, good storytelling, and beauty. In other words, the content evokes the whole spectrum of emotions. But the headlines spark the urge to click.

It doesn’t matter what’s inside the shared link. No matter how jaw-droppingly great the content, the gravity of the headline will be the one factor that gets people taking notice.

So with that model in place, us Internet marketing kids have a great learning opportunity with respect to headlines. Specifically how to use magnetic words that entice your target market to engage with your content, react to it, and take the intended action.


An Experiment: If You Saw Your Wife Or Your Mother In The Street, Homeless, Would You Recognize Her?

Why this headline is so effective:

To begin, the writer uses familiarity to attract the reader. Even if you don’t have a wife or you grew up with a single dad, you immediately understand the situation.

The headline gives you what is familiar to you, and then it removes you from your comfort zone. And that’s what entices people to engage with the content.

So what happens once you click?

This video asks the question “Have the homeless become so invisible that we wouldn’t recognize our own family members on the street?”

Turns out, it’s a fair question. To prove a much-needed point in the most vivid way possible, the New York Rescue Mission conducted a social experiment. Putting mothers, cousins, and wives in raggedy clothing, the video showcases family members walking past.

These “guinea pigs” took no notice of Mom sitting with trash bags on the curb.

Are the homeless invisible? As it turns out, yes. Point proven.

Check out the video here.


A Boy Makes Anti-Muslim Comments In Front Of An American Soldier. The Soldier’s Reply: Priceless.

Why this headline is so effective:

The writer creates a paradigm shift. She puts two archetypes that a handful of loudmouths feel oppose each other. In other words, American soldiers and Muslims coexist quite swimmingly, but a few people would refuse to see it that way.

Golden rule stuff aside, this headline makes the reader curious. What will the American soldier, especially one that fought in the Middle East, have to say when he’s presented with a shining example of intolerance?

The video reveals what the headline promises. The audience’s curiosity thirst is quenched. Take a sip of the curiosity elixir right here.


A Painful Show About Her Life Performed In Front Of The People Responsible For That Pain

Why this headline is so effective:

The writer realizes that people like a show. Yes, when it comes to couples fighting, rollerbladers taking a spill, or anything that happens at the expense of others, many of us scarf popcorn and giggle in delight at others’ misfortunes. (Proof: reality television remains perplexingly popular.)

It’s not that we’re all meanies who spit in the eyes of random passers-by. That’s not a characteristic that the headline caters to.

This headline goes past curiosity or social anthropology; it delves into how our reasoning behind our actions. It’s only human nature to want to see people react to a stimulus. For example, you give your kid a toy to see the look on his face. You give your wife a compliment to see how it makes her feel.

The writer makes us want to see how the people who caused pain will react when they are confronted with their actions. We want to watch them eat a piping hot plate of justice.

That’s not what happens in the video, but it’s not bait-and-switch. See some reactions here.


See Why We Have An Absolutely Ridiculous Standard Of Beauty In Just 37 Seconds

Why this headline is so effective:

We’ve chatted before about how unrealistic timeframes usually equate to false promises. But that’s not what the writer is doing in this headline. This works for people in a time crunch.

Maybe they’re in the last few minutes of their lunch break, or they’re next in the grocery line. Truth is, it doesn’t matter. We like to learn things, and have ourselves validated in one way or another. And we also like for this to happen fairly quickly.

And at the same time, the headline also reaffirms the facts about a conversation many of us are having about how impossible beauty standards create a toxic atmosphere.

You’ll feel better about the planet, and you’ll learn why we get stuck in the turmoil of Photoshop-created beauty, in well under a minute.

Wouldn’t you click on a headline like that?

What content would you like to see go viral? Put some of your favorite videos in the comments below! Or share some of your favorite headlines. Or tell me your favorite pizza topping.

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