Image - Don't use clickbait headlines for internal communications

Internal communicators: don’t try this at home! Anti-lessons from Clickbait headlines

In a nutshell: “Clickbait” headlines drive ad revenue for websites, but likely work directly against the service orientation of great internal communications.

Image - Don't use clickbait headlines for internal communications

Beware inviting the shiny marketing trend inside

As internal communicators it’s easy for us to co-opt the trends from the marketing world and try them within our organizations. But be careful. Some of those trends, even if they seem incredibly effective, may run counter to what we’re trying to accomplish behind the firewall.

“Clickbait” headlines are the ones designed to trigger a sense of intrigue that readers can only fulfill by clicking the link, seeing the article, and figuring out what that one indispensable truth or wild nude celebrity photo is.

Clickbait headlines have one purpose: Drive site traffic for the sake of online advertising dollars. It’s no secret – those articles aren’t helping readers, besides with distraction and a bit of humor (hey – I love baby sloths as much as the next person).

But clickbait headlines strive solely to bring in eyeballs that their websites’ ad networks can expose to targeted ads. That’s the business model. That’s the communication model.

And that doesn’t work for internal communications.

The difference for internal communications: A service mindset

While internal communicators need very similar skills as marketers (message development, communications campaign strategy and planning, writing, visual communication, audience analysis, etc.) they also carry a powerful orientation towards service.

Internal communicators are trying to help employees get the information they need to do their jobs and help senior organizational leaders drive positive change around specific strategic goals.

Messaging goals of an internal communicator

For the employee audience, internal communicators need to accomplish a few simple things with each message:

  1. Help employees decide if the article/video is worth their time
  2. Help employees get as much information as possible, as quickly as possible
  3. Help drive clear, potent calls to action that lead to needed change

In order to do accomplish these things article headlines need to convey information, not trick employees into clicking. The headline that employees see in a newsletter, on the intranet homepage, or in a messaging app via a chatbot (real thing!) needs to convey enough information so that relevant employees click on the link, and those that don’t need the information move on by it.

3 different approaches to internal news headlines

The headline also needs to convey enough information so that even those who don’t click to read the article know receive the minimal helpful information. Consider the difference between these headlines:

  1. Our Q3 revenue is… going to surprise you!
  2. CFO’s report on Q3 revenue
  3. Q3 revenue above targets, driven by legacy customers upgrading

Option #1 is a clickbait headline. It conveys the message that there is an update about Q3 revenue and that it might not be what you expect. But that’s it. That headline wants you to click on it, but is not designed in service of employees.

Option #2 is a very traditional internal communications message. It’s dry, conveys no actual message, but does help employees know what they’ll get if they click the link.

Option #3 is the good one. This actually conveys a message. Every employee who sees it will understand the core messages; they’ll know 1) that Q3 revenue was good and 2) why. Those who only need that basic information will move on, but they’ll be more knowledgeable about the business for having seen the headline. Those employees who want to know the details will understand exactly what to expect in the article and will click because of that.

Bringing the service mindset (and UX) to life in internal comms

The thing I’ve noticed about great internal communicators is that they tie a passion for communication (written, visual, video, presentation) with an empathetic service mindset. And in order to live out that service to employees and leaders, we need to understand the marketing trends of the day and apply only the ones that help in our mission.