Your reader is craving both emotion and reason. Balance both elements to avoid clickbaits and keep your followers coming back.

When you see a clickbait headline, what happens in your brain?

Your curiosity peaks, emotions flare up, prejudices kick in. You can’t wait to find out more, have your intuitions confirmed or feel appalled and shocked by a controversial topic.

Your fingers reach for the click…

When you keep reading, what happens in your brain?

You might get the emotional kick you were searching for. Every now and then, you even learn something new and useful. 

Still, what happens most often when smart readers are tricked to click on a misleading title, is that you start asking yourself questions. 

Is this true? Is this relevant? What does this mean for me and the world?

And finally, why did I click on this in the first place?

Clickbait Feeds One Part of Our Brains

You’re not to blame (entirely, at least) for succumbing to the siren call of empty online articles every now and then.

The real culprit is your brain.

When we are confronted with new information, our brains try to make sense of it as quickly as possible. These first reactions are often emotional and tap into past experience, learnt truths and even prejudices.

Of course, this is not all our brains are capable of. Given a little bit more time and information, they shift to a different mode, start weighing pros and cons of different options and think up long-term strategies. 

The notorious psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman baptised them as System 1 and System 2 thinking in his worldwide bestseller book Thinking Fast and Slow.

These modes of thought exist in parallel and they open up interesting avenues for writers, communicators and anyone building their reputation through content. 

Leverage the Emotional

Of course this understanding of how the human brain works can be applied to some ethically questionable marketing strategies. 

Certain online publications make their living by appealing to our deepest, darkest instincts. Some marketing campaigns rely on the audience not thinking too much about what’s at stake when they click, subscribe or buy.

The quick, emotional and instinctive System 1 thinking is still not only of service for shady and manipulative online spammers. You need to leverage it, too, if you want people to read your blog article, watch your video or comment on your social media post.

We need the emotional element to grab people’s attention in the digital landscape, if we want to advance our missions, get our voices heard and grow our companies. 

A Smart Brand Speaks to Both Brains

The thing is, however, that your followers are smart, educated people. If you only rely on System 1 thinking, you might get their attention once or twice but they’ll soon grow disappointed and wary of your brand’s content. 

They’ll learn to expect disappointment, if there’s nothing more than an emotionally appealing headline. Just like we all know that feeling that hits, when you realise you clicked on a useless clickbait.

This is where System 2 thinking kicks in, and to gain and keep your audience’s trust, you need to feed them more than emotions, instincts and rapid solutions. They’ll need fascinating facts, rational reasoning and compelling calls-to-action to satisfy their logical, deliberate System 2 mode of thought.

To keep people reading, watching, and most importantly, coming back, each piece of content – from a funny Instagram Live to a topical LinkedIn poll – must reward the tenacious and intelligent followers with food for thought. 

Create Content for System 1 Thinking

The key is to find balance between System 1 and System 2 thinking of your audience and include elements that speak to both reason and emotions in your content. 

Here are a few ways to feed System 1:

  • Ensure the first lines or seconds appeal to emotions or pique interest. You need to get people over that first stumbling block and grab their attention. 
  • Tap into the emotional. What are your followers afraid of, worried about, unsure of? Integrate those elements in your content.
  • Go for the personal. Share your own and your clients’ stories. 
  • Capture their curiosity. Questions are a great way to lure people in. “Did you know?” always works, as people just have to find out if they knew.
  • Start with a startling or surprising statement. You’ll want to stay true to your values and your own way of thinking, but you can still stir up some conversation. 
  • Share a surprising or controversial fact, figure or quote to get people engaged. 

Create Content for System 2 Thinking

Once your smart audience is hooked by clever System 1 strategies, it’s time to switch gears and pamper their System 2 mode. Thought-through, well argumented content will reward their attention and nurture loyal bonds. 

Here are some ideas how to do that:

  • Share facts, figures and quotes to offer background information.
  • Explain your thought process: What led you to that particular conclusion? This allows people to evaluate your credibility. 
  • Explore the pros and cons of a topic or situation. Even when you have a tightly defined angle to your piece, you can at least refer to some opposing arguments.
  • Go beyond the obvious. Add your own, personal and unique point of view.
  • When there is not a sure answer to a question, state it openly. Your network doesn’t expect you to have all the answers.
  • Create context by linking to other relevant articles, videos and sources. 

Finding the Balance

Applying these strategies in every piece of content will allow your brand to tap into the emotional brain all while catering to rational thought as well. However, you’ll also want to think about balance beyond any individual post or video. 

Some content formats are naturally funnier, more emotional and controversial, while others lend themselves to in-depth reasoning. On some days and seasons, you’ll probably lead with lighter content, while other times require a more serious approach. 

Work towards finding a long-term balance between different triggers and ways of thinking to get your dream audience’s attention and to keep it and nourish it to make a sustainable, real impact in your community.For more tailored support and a strategy update, reach out to schedule your complimentary Content Strategy Call. Together we’ll evaluate your current strategy and put together a roadmap to the next step.

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