How to Write Effective Social Media Headlines that Drive Traffic [With Examples]

Simply put, social media promotion is all about a headline and a link.

So, what is the number one skill you’ll need to master if you want to get the most “bang for your buck” out of social media?

Crafting a spectacular headline! (Harder than it sounds – so read on…)

The Purpose of the Headline

Caught your attention, right? I’d keep reading! (source)

The only purpose of any headline is to convince the user to read what comes next.

If you’ve got a headline at the top of a long article, like in a newspaper, magazine, or on a website, it should compel the reader to glance downward to be successful; it’s up to the lead sentence to do the rest.

When it comes to social media, the headline has more work to do. In a social media post or feed, the headline stands alone, amid other headlines all competing for the user to take an action — to click the link to the landing page.

So, let’s take a few moments and see what you need to do to make your headlines effective on some of the major social networks.

On Twitter

Now that’s a tweet designed to stand out. Intended or not! The only think missing is a nice link to his arrest photo.

The average active Twitter user has a ton of headlines passing through his feed every time he checks in. Most of these headlines are generic and are easily skipped.

Your Tweetlines (that’s a headline mixed with Twitter – OliTM) will be too if you don’t make them stand out.

In a really fantastic tutorial series called “Magnetic Headlines” the folks over at Copyblogger provided these four simple but profound tips under The Art of Writing Great Twitter Headlines:

  • Be USEFUL to the reader,
  • Provide then with a sense of URGENCY,
  • Convey the idea that the main benefit is somehow UNIQUE; and
  • Do all of the above in an ULTRA-SPECIFIC way.

But, with only 140 characters to work with, and a need to leave space for the retweets, @mentions and a link, you must accomplish all of the above in a tight space. Preferably eight words or less, if you can.

Which brings us back to the old-school, direct marketers and copywriters who didn’t operate much differently; they had to draw in readers and buyers with the limited space of postcards, envelopes and column inches hamstringing their efforts.

Alrighty – let’s look at some examples!

Let’s compare some fictional examples of headlines that don’t work on Twitter with their more effective cousins, and talk about why.

Bad Tweet:

Rock and Roll!

You might catch one or two oldies rock music fans with the pure curiosity factor, and you’ve definitely got the brevity down, but this headline isn’t useful, urgent, unique or ultra-specific.

It’s not going anywhere.

Good Tweet:

Love Rock and Roll? Limited time: Best price ever on collectable golden oldies!

Ah, much better. That one-word addition at the beginning specifies you’re looking for rock and roll music fans, and the “limited time” provides instant urgency. “Best price ever” implies a unique quality most people appreciate, and the offer of “collectable golden oldies” will be useful to your target audience.

This tweet’s going places.

Bad Tweet:

Hilarious cat! You’ve gotta see this!

A little more specific, with a touch of urgency (based on the “gotta see this!”) so it might grab the interest of someone who already knows, likes and trusts you enough to run with you out on a limb, but this headline is not useful or unique at all.

Probably not going to work.

Good Tweet:

Siamese kitten sings the Beatles! You’ve gotta see this!

Being a Beatles fan, I would definitely click on this. It maintains the same sense of urgency, but it adds enough specific details and is as inherently useful as a silly LOLCat can be, which means it’s going to grab many more curious clicks.

Bad Tweet:

If You’re Bald, Read This.

Brief and to the point, with a specific audience in mind (those who are bald,) that also includes an inherent sense of urgency. It’s going to be useful to someone who is bald, if they can get past the fact that it’s not unique and gives them no real reason to read beyond confirming that they are, in fact, bald.

Could definitely be better.

Good Tweet:

Men, you don’t have to stay bald. Read this immediately.

The target audience has been specified to balding men who view this as a problem and are seeking a solution. The inherent sense of urgency has been heightened even more by the addition of “immediately” and the implication made by the combination of the two statements is that this link will be extremely useful to the individual it’s intended to interest.

Clicks are on the way.

Bad Tweet:

Seventeen ways to completely eliminate every piece of pet hair from your persian carpet in no time at all. Please RT!

It’s useful, unique, ultra-specific and urgent (assuming you’ve got your persian-carpet-owning-pet-lover customer persona correct,) but it’s just too darn long for Twitter.

Since there’s no room to do anything with it, it’s not going to go anywhere.

Good Tweet:

Own a Persian Carpet? 17 Ways to Eradicate Pet Hair Forever: Please RT!

By employing simple copy editing techniques, you can shrink a headline down to an equally strong headline that is now Twitter-friendly. In this case, we can specify the audience in a few words, then cut the spelled-out number down to two characters, and remove “completely eliminate every piece of” with the addition of one powerful verb, “eradicate”. “In no time at all” was sacrificed simply because “forever” is an even better promise.

Each of the corrected headlines above is crafted to pique your interest and make you almost need to click on the link, assuming you’re in the target audience. The wider you can cast that net, the more people you’re bound to snare in it.

What About Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn?

All of the principles we’ve already discussed apply, of course, because quality headlines will always be created in the same basic way.

But, there are definitely differences within these communities.

For one thing, each of these sites offer far more space to make your point and get people to click your link. While your headline still needs to grab their eyeballs, you usually also have a picture and one or more sentences of lead to help do the heavy lifting.

Facebook and Google+ are very much about sharing and conversation. So headlines in the form of a question may work far better than on Twitter, Digg or Reddit.

LinkedIn is going to have a more formal, professional tone than the other sites, and that community has less tolerance for flat-out hype like our Persian carpet pet hair headline above.

The real key, as in all social media matters, is to get involved in the community and add value. Stay observant about what headlines and conversations grab your interest, then experiment with variations until you strike on the best formula for each site.

Then keep testing and working to improve. Once you’ve got the basics down and your testing progresses, soon enough you’ll find the combination that sends readers to your landing pages in such numbers that they threaten to cripple your servers! #Warned

— Justin P Lambert

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About Justin P Lambert
Justin P Lambert is a content marketing specialist, freelance copywriter, ghostwriter, speech writer and consultant.
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