This guy was mediocre, what he did to increase his popularity will blow your mind!

You clicked. I knew you would.

But is it fair? Have you clicked because you value my commentary or because the headline delivered an emotional promise? Do you consider this click-bait or will this post actually deliver something?

If you are a B2B marketer I hope this will be of interest, because I want to understand whether the “Upworthy-Style” of headline writing has any place in B2B marketing.

The Upworthy headline has infiltrated almost every corner of the internet and anyone who’s spent time on Facebook will recognise the style. There is no room for debate in the proposition they present. Loaded with hyperbole and superlatives, your emotional reaction to the content is being primed as you read the headline. The post promises that “Your faith in humanity will be restored”, or that it will “Blow your mind”.

Of course, the reality is that you are unlikely to be shocked by what you read. The content probably won’t “blow your mind” and your faith in humanity is more than likely to still be in tatters. But that doesn’t matter because it still works. Upworthy is now the third-most-shared publisher on the Internet and the average Upworthy post attracts 43,446 Facebook shares.

It’s a divisive approach. Personally it annoys me. I don’t like to be told how I should react to a piece of content before I’ve even opened it. However, I acknowledge that this is a very personal opinion and the [Upworthy] traffic statistics speak for themselves. I also acknowledge that what’s going on here is more than just click-baiting. After all, click-bait only gets you to click; the content needs to stack up if it’s to be shared.

Upworthy knows this, it hires staff full time to scour the internet for the most compelling content before applying the Upworthy headline formula to it (a simple mash-up of outrage, mood and mystery).

The Upworthy style isn’t inherently new. It’s classical storytelling. It’s “conflict and resolution”. If we want to understand how the conflict was resolved we must click.

The real question, regardless of your personal opinion is whether this approach is something B2B brands could (or should) be using in their content marketing. Is it time to the classical, descriptive headline?

After all, the conflict and resolution structure of an Upworthy headline translates well into what B2B marketers try to achieve; present the challenge (conflict) and present the solution (resolution). Would a subtle shift in the way the content is packaged positively impact a response rate?

Upworthy’s own data claims that a headline can vary traffic to a piece of content by as much as 500%. It’s not uncommon for them to test dozens of headlines before going live. If you’re not convinced by the power of a headline in generating shares, take the case study of Zach Sobiech.

Diagnosed with a form of bone cancer when he was 17, Sobiech was given a year to live. During that time he recorded a song about how he was dealing with illness and was the subject of a short documentary called “My Last Fays: Meet Zach Sobiech”. In total his story was viewed by less than a 100,000 people globally. That is, until Upworthy repackaged the content after Sobiech’s death in 2013.

Posted under the headline This Amazing Kid Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular”, the story went viral and went on to be viewed several million times (at the time of writing the video has been viewed over 12m times).

Sobiech’s song went on to become No.1 on the Apple iTunes download chart and more than $300,000 was raised for cancer research through a link Upworthy added to the content.

Remember, the content hadn’t changed. Upworthy was simply tuning how it was packaged.

Upworthy’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed by the more traditional publishers. Some have even tried to replicate the style; with mixed results. In January, CNN tweeted a story synopsis, employing the Upworthy style of headline writing.


The reaction was caustic. The was a story about the murder of a child and the obvious click-baiting lent an air of levity to a tragic event.


So, while I’m [personally] keen to experiment with the Upworthy-style with some simple A/B testing on some of our future campaigns, CNN’s experience offers some warnings.

Positive stories only: The enigmatic prose of an Upworthy headlines works best with positive news stories. Like CNN, don’t apply levity to a serious issue that involves human tragedy.

Conflict and Resolution: Remember; the Upworthy style relies on a very basic storytelling principle. Present a challenge (conflict) and deliver a solution (resolution). Don’t explain how you get from the conflict to the resolution in the headline. This is the “curiosity gap” and it’s this that will make targets click. Let’s take an example.

Traditional Style: AcmeTelecom uses sensor technology from the medical industry to improve network performance.

Upworthy style: When customers demanded more speed, AcmeTel found the answer in an unlikely place.

Brand alignment: Not every brand can make this work. Established news outlets (CNN, BBC etc) are unlikely to be able to replicate this style without its audience calling them out for “dumbing down”. Likewise, the Upworthy style is designed to appeal to the masses, so luxury brands, or those with a very small, niche target should avoid such prose.

Good content: A good headline is no substitute for good content. Click-bait headlines that drive targets to misleading or poor content will have a negative impact in the long-term. Brand engagement will reduce and unsubscribes will increase.

Forget viral: Upworthy wants its content to go viral. Its business model relies on advertising and sponsored content. It’s untargeted so achieving the greatest number of shares across a wide consumer base is the priority. In a B2B context, while a viral piece of content is certainly beneficial, it shouldn’t be top-of-mind when packaging a campaign. The same rules of marketing apply; understand and target your audience. With this in mind, the priority for this style of headline is click / engagement rate.

Above all, remember to measure the right thing: I’m not suggesting that the Upworthy style is right for every B2B campaign, but as marketers it’s our job to test, finesse and figure out what works best for our audience. Sometimes we can get wrapped-up tracking things that don’t matter to our organization’s goals. An increased click rate is meaningless if it doesn’t create a sales uplift. Make sure you can track the engagement and that your metrics are aligned to the financial goals of the business.

I’d be fascinated to learn of any B2B case studies that have looked at this style of headline writing. Again, I’m not advocating this as an approach for everyone; but given Upworthy’s traffic stats, it must be worth some exploration. I’d also be fascinated to see if my own Upworthy headline will indeed increse my popularity (traffic stats)!


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