To my clickbait friends :)

A couple of days ago I was working on my daily routine of mindless scrolling through Twitter, when my attention was grabbed by one particular Tweet that asked an interesting question. It was something like ‘I posted a link to a recent blog post of mine that I found important to share with the world. Nothing happens. No share, no love, no comments. Nothing. What’s going on Twitter? My best work exceeds 280 characters.’ I’m paraphrasing, because I’m too lazy to look up the original tweet. This question, however, has occupied my brain for the past couple of days.

Why do some things work great on Twitter, whereas others do not? I think it is one of the most important questions that you can ask these days. They say the world is all about money, but I think ‘they’ are wrong. I think the world is all about attention. Attention probably is the most valuable currency there is. Obviously, grabbing the audience’s attention is the most important step for selling all kinds of things, from vacuum cleaners to scientific articles. Vast libraries can be filled with all the books that have been written on story-telling and how to grab people’s attention. I have read probably only one or two of them (and I am not so sure if the information stuck in my brain). So what is it that gets attention on Twitter?

I have blogged daily for a couple of months now, so I am starting to accumulate a bit of a dataset on how my posts ‘perform’. There’s of course the total number of reads, the number of ‘likes’, and the cherry on the pie; a share on social media. Even if I mostly write to train the writing muscle, the information is there and I like data and time series, so I look at them (and if you know WordPress, they are kind of ‘in your face’ about these statistics). As an additional layer of performance, I have had some feedback from various people I know that have told me they liked reading my posts. You could say that people are unlikely to share their negative opinions about a person or their work, and this is probably true to some extent, but I am also inclined to believe that people would not compliment you if they don’t mean it, as long as you haven’t asked for their opinion. Dutch people wouldn’t anyway (the Dutch usually don’t do compliments, so if you do get a compliment from a Dutch person, write it down, frame it, and put it on a wall – it means a lot). Germans, on the other hand, give many fake compliments. They turn overly nice, and a couple of days later will ask you for a favour. An interesting observation I made here. But I digress. I have had some Dutch compliments and zero German compliments (nobody needs me anytime soon it seems). I conclude that at least some people appreciate my writing.

So based on the hard statistics. What works?

I thought one important aspect of creating something that works on Twitter, would be timing. The ‘most popular time’ statistic in my WordPress editor has been Tuesday 8 PM pretty much since I started, and it doesn’t seem that this will ever change. However, I have posted most blogs around 8 to 9 PM, including on Tuesdays. That’s when I always write. It is also when many of my buddies on Twitter seem to be active. So the timing should work. Yet, some of my posts, even on Tuesdays, get very few clicks on Twitter, if any at all.

Perhaps, it is all about hashtags. By choosing the right hashtags you might reach the right audience. Yeah right. Fuck that shit. I have never shared anything with a hashtag, and I don’t use them or search for them on Twitter. If you have only 280 characters, any hashtag symbol feels like a waste to me. If this is why people stay away, then so be it. Better stay on Twitter then.

For a while, I thought it would maybe be about pictures. Whenever you include a picture in a post, you get a nice thumbnail attached to the tweet. Better than no thumbnail, right? I’m not so sure about it. Posts with loads of pictures do not necessarily generate better statistics. In fact, some of my recent posts, with some pretty pictures of flowers and nature, generated next to no views.

So, what about titles. I think I’m seeing a pattern here. However, it is not what I would have expected. Literally anything with a non-emotional descriptor gets next to no clicks. Just the odd lost person that accidentally clicked, but certainly did not ‘like’, let alone ‘share’ the post. Even if the title is a bit cryptic, like ‘The user manual‘ or ‘Time will tell‘ it does not generate curiosity. Emotional titles, however, work. And let me tell you this, nobody gives a damn about happiness. Nobody cares about a positive title like ‘Celebrate the victories‘. Nope. Negativity sells. Post titles like ‘I may have to quit‘, ‘I gave up‘ or ‘She made me kill it‘ got great views. People love clickbait titles. The clickbaitier the better! I’m not sure why, all my titles are fairly cryptic anyway. Are people seriously expecting me to quit, give up or even kill? Or do people see me as a saint that would never do any of these things, and therefore have become curious?

To be honest, the true answer to what works on Twitter is ‘I don’t know’. I think it is just sheer luck of posting at a time when ‘accidentally’ many people are active. I think the general person on Twitter is like me, lazy. We mindlessly scroll until the day is again at its end. Maybe we’ll see a nice new meme. Or a good GIF.

So, I will just continue writing and posting my posts, every day somewhere between 8 and 9 PM German time. I think in the long run, what works best is to be honest and be true to yourself… Build a skill, and the rest will follow. Or not. And that is also fine.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

5 thoughts on “To my clickbait friends :)

  1. Agree, blog reads/likes/comments are a strange beast – I tried posting at different times of the day too, but it didn’t seem to make much difference – some of what I think of as my best posts got and still get, very little attention, others are constantly being read, years after publication – it is a bit like my scientific papers – some soldier on accruing citations, other have sunk into obscurity – in fact this post did fine for a few days but is now pretty much unread đŸ™‚


    1. I’m glad to hear that it’s not just me, but also happens to the more seasoned blogs that have been around for years. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Probably it would help to share posts a couple of times a day, but I don’t want to inundate people in what might turn into an ocean of spam-like tweets. Automating things is not for me, certainly not on my personal account.

      Do you post elsewhere? I hardly ever use my Facebook account, and although I use Instagram, I haven’t used it to this end. It might work, provided there’s a good picture with the post…

      Regarding the scientific papers analogy. I’m probably still in the L2 or L3 stage of development. Might take a few years for me to see what works and what doesn’t. Although until now I have had a good couple of years. I have some that I think will never get cited, so it’s going to be fun to track them through the years.

      Liked by 1 person

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