I love words. Always have. And this week, after reading several articles that use words badly I’ve come to understand why.
Words have clearly discernible meaning when used correctly, while finding meaning in life is often very difficult even in the best of circumstances. When used incorrectly, words lose meaning and that makes me feel a little lost and frustrated.
Brian is high on my list of trustworthy people so whenever he posts something or I find he has written something, I generally read it. Don’t need a lot of hyperbole to encourage me. And Brian doesn’t engage much with hyperbole anyway, which is why the headline bothered me at first, but I read it. The article was about 14 companies with interesting products and services for specific market niches, but there was nothing in any of the companies that I found life-changing for me or pretty much anyone I know. It was a good article and I enjoyed reading it, but that headline…
So I asked Brian about it publicly and we took the discussion offline. That’s when I found out that the original article he wrote was titled:
Here are 14 startups you should know about
That was accurate, clear and engaging to me. But the editorial staff at VentureBeat decided it wasn’t enough so they pumped it up beyond all reason. That’s called click-baiting. You see it all the time from disreputable online publications and in print from publications like the National Enquirer. The practice is designed to get people to click on a link to the article and it works. But here’s what else it does:
It destroys trust in the publication and sucks all meaning out of the words.
I’ve stopped reading sites like Buzz Feed, Gawker, Motley Fool and TechCrunch because of their dependency on hyper headlines. The trustworthiness of the content generally drops the more breathless the headline. And now I guess I need to add VentureBeat to that list.
I would read an article under the headline Brian wrote, even if he didn’t write it because I am interested in learning about new startups. I don’t need to be pushed and I don’t need my expectations set high and then dashed. Most people feel that way, which is the reason Google and Facebook are constantly adjusting their algorithms to keep this crap out of our feeds.
H.L. Mencken once said that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public and that is still true today. Click-bait tends to attract rather stupid people who might actually do business with the company. The intelligent person who is brought in by the headline, generally loses respect and grows distrustful of the source. But it is the former that joins the class action suits.
The question you need to ask yourself is: Do you want stupid people suing you, or intelligent, trusting customers?