It is not uncommon for mainstream media publications to use catchy headlines to grab our attention, this tactic has been used to sell papers and magazines for many years. In the digital era mainstream media outlets are now using clickbait headlines more and more to encourage people to visit their platforms, as clicks lead to shares, increased reach and ultimately to advertising revenue. At a time when the online space has become so crowded, with mainstream media outlets not only having to compete with each other but also with influencers, niche media and micro media platforms the use of clickbait headlines has become more prevalent. Unfortunately sometimes these headlines lead to underwhelming content or even worse, fake news, which is misleading people and causing more harm than good particularly during volatile global political climates. Some readers and social media users are wising up to clickbait tactics, meaning that some people don’t even bother to click and are simply reacting to the body of the tweet which is counter-productive. Those same tactics can easily turn into a PR disaster as Elle Magazine US found out recently when they fell foul by tweeting this message about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West:
Upon clicking the link in the tweet readers were led to a voters registration page – their intentions were clearly good but the execution was in poor taste and the tweet was inevitably deleted after a follow up apology from Elle Magazine. There has been backlash and critique of the original tweet which is understandable, using celebrity gossip in this way is distasteful. But what does it say about Elle’s perception of its core audience and followers if it takes fake celebrity news to encourage people to take something as important as voting seriously?
Did the tweet work? One could argue that the clicks to the voters registration page increased and hopefully people actually registered (I do not have any stats to confirm this) so it worked. But was this the best way to achieve the end goal? Are we becoming a society that will only care about what matters if celebrity gossip is attached? Surely mainstream media outlets like Elle Magazine, which is a brand in and of itself, need to be mindful and more careful about how they are using their online influence and their platforms. In a world where fake news has shaped how people vote, interact with and even view each other the media needs to be more conscious of how it shares its messages. From a PR perspective I understand that there is a sense of urgency during uncertain political times and encouraging people to vote is an important issue but with that urgency media outlets must uphold clarity and above all else accuracy. I encourage people to fact check everything they read but in this fast paced media landscape people are relying on the media to provide them with information not misinformation. We do not want to end up with a society that needs to be misled and duped into doing what is right for all. As our windows to the world, all media platforms have a responsibility to be wiser with how they engage with their audiences – after all even if a tweet can be deleted the internet never forgets.