Last week, the world was on fire with amazing news. Earthquakes in Virginia!!! Steve Jobs retires!!! Hurricane Irene is coming!!! HURRICANE IRENE IS HERE!!!
And while the general public obsessed over those stories (or tried to ignore them so they could get some actual work done), a vast swath of social marketers were salivating. Why? Because they’ve been trained to look for angles on breaking news and pop culture stories that can help drag attention toward their own brands and products.
The good news is, you can do it too.
But should you?
Let’s find out.
Steve Jobs: A Man for All Reasons
On Tuesday, the east coast was shaken by a 5.8 tremor. But when Steve Jobs resigned as the CEO of Apple, the whole world trembled in awe at the passing of an era. Jobs is one of the only CEOs in the world who has groupies, much less style groupies. But that makes sense, because during his tenure at the helm, he’s built Apple into a lifestyle brand, rather than a technology company.
This is also why news sources and blogs of all kinds were quick to pounce on the Jobs story and find their own self-serving angle, because they know that Steve Jobs is a traffic magnet. Hence, we’re treated to articles like…
- Steve Jobs Has Transformed Your Life (PC World)
- The Best Keynotes by Steve Jobs (Business Insider)
- Steve Jobs’s Advice for Entrepreneurs (Entrepreneur)
- How Steve Jobs Changed the Art of the Pitch (Ad Week)
- The Steve Jobs Business Formula (and Why It Works) (Read Write Web)
… and so on.
Is this kind of headline-hitching opportunistic? Absolutely.
Does it work?
Probably. But that really depends on your goals.
What [POPULAR SUBJECT] Can Teach You About [A SERVICE WE OFFER]
The above formula is a guaranteed traffic booster, because people are always interested in two things:
- currently (or perpetually) popular headline topics, and
- improving their own skills / knowledge
This is why headlines like “What Osama bin Laden Can Teach Financial Advisers” seem at once ghoulishly tacky and deviously genius, and why we see so many of them online. Because while people may not be searching for you online, if you can hitch your landing page to someone else’s star, you just might reap the benefits.
But this approach really works best when you want to boost your general traffic, rather than attracting highly-targeted leads.
That’s because the “spectacle” aspect of these headlines means they’re going to attract rubberneckers, cultural tourists, and people in desperate need of something to share on their own social media channels. And while some of that traffic may be useful to you, most of it won’t because it’s too imprecise. (Unless you’re in the eyeballs-for-advertisers game, in which case, these headlines will serve you incredibly well.)
And Yet, There’s a Silver Lining!
While these kinds of headlines and posts may grab attention and boost traffic, they also improve audience learning and comprehension. Think of them as the equivalent of a word problem at the end of an algebra lesson: they reframe the basic principles of a statement into something the audience can relate to, while using terminology and anecdotes that are more likely to be remembered in the short (and maybe even the long) run.
So, while we’d never deter anyone from piggybacking the zeitgeist, we’d also caution a balanced approach. Lean too far in the direction of spectacle and your brand starts to shift in a similar direction, and that may not match your ultimate business goals.
However, if you become the world’s greatest headline hitcher and your general traffic explodes as a result, here’s a tip: maybe that’s the business you should really be in.
And if you need help finding traffic that actually wants your products and services, you’re in luck; we do that.