How to live forever…and other reasons why ‘clickbait’ is so popular in healthcare.
This week, Apple-a-Day looks at clickbait in a healthcare context - what it means, what it does, and why we can't stop clicking on it...
We’ve all seen them. Those headlines that claim they will BLOW YOUR MIND with a water-skiing dog. Or a sneezing panda. Or promising you that you will not believe how this 70 year old woman manages to have the complexion of a 21 year old. The list goes on. These are the headlines that ‘bait’ you into clicking on them with sensationalised headlines. Whether or not they accurately reflect the article, or if the content actually delivers, is a secondary consideration. They are designed to drive click through, and the popularity of these headlines is proof that they are succeeding. But aside from promises that a banjo playing goat will change your life, many of these headlines have a healthcare and wellbeing angle. It’s hard to go online today and not be bombarded by clickbait headlines that hint at a new found health hack or piece of research that promises a long and healthy life. Some are genuinely reporting interesting new data. Others, not so much. But why do we still click on them?
It’s the implausibility we want to believe in. Sadly, nowadays many of us aren’t happy with the way we are. We want to be thinner, healthier, fitter, younger – and if the Protein World Beach Body adverts are anything to go by, it’s clear that we are constantly reminded of the quest for perfection, whatever that may be. But we’re really busy. We don’t have time to spend two hours in the gym every day. We can’t afford a dietician to come round and prepare every meal for us. Healthy living doesn’t come naturally to everyone. So many of us are searching for a short cut. And clickbait headlines about the new superfood that will keep you alive until 150 or a diet that will help you shift half a stone in a week may be just the trick. They play on our insecurities, and, unfortunately, it works.
As if this wasn’t enough, constant access to huge amounts of medical advice online is providing a whole new aspect of our lives to worry about. Cyberchondria, or the phenomenon of self-diagnosis based on information found online, has been growing increasingly common over the last few years. Basically, we go online to work out why we felt a bit tired and headachy this morning, and try to self-diagnose. This is not a fact that has escaped the creators of clickbait headlines. Few areas are off limits - from miracle cures through to rare and unusual disorders. These headlines feed on our health worries, and tap into the panic many of us feel when we don’t quite know what’s wrong.
If that all sounds a little like healthcare clickbait is walking the fine line between responsible and morally questionable, you may well ask why does it still happen? Well, clickbait really does do what it says on the tin. People click on it, which means more people are clicking through to your website. And the more clickbait articles they find there, the longer they’ll stay on your site. So they have a role to play in encouraging engagement with your content. However, within healthcare, headlines that twist or exaggerate the content to create a sensationalised headline are, at best, annoying. At worst, they’re highly irresponsible. This isn’t to say that there’s no room for using creativity to draft engaging healthcare headlines. It’s just important to remember to accurately reflect the results of a study, or findings from a survey, in a way that remains true. Scientific developments are racing ahead with such ingenuity, that there’s no need for hyberbolic headlines. If you have a great story, and engaging characters to tell that story, it really will blow people’s minds.