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7 Ways to Write Attention-Grabbing Titles for Social Media Content

April 21, 2011

OK, you just spent spent valuable time creating an excellent blog post, video or audio clip and you want as many people as possible to read, watch or listen to it. But, let’s be honest, if the title fails to grab attention, it can easily get lost in the sea of content that social media users have to choose from each day.

So how do you make your content stand out? Social media users love snazzy titles for the things that they will consume and share. Here are a few ideas to give them just that:

  1. Be conversational. Social media is known for being personal and informal, basically sounding the way that people really talk. Don’t use wonky, jargony or highly technical terms if you don’t have to. Imagine a title that newbies or outsiders to your field (like your parents) would understand. For example, instead of “Coalition of Advocacy Groups Releases Report on the State of Secondary Education and Calls for Immediate Reform“, try “New Report Reveals How Our State is Letting Down High School Students and What We Can Do About It”.
  2. Employ active verbs. It’s difficult to make interesting titles composed of mostly nouns and articles, i.e. “My Summer Vacation“. Instead add an active (not passive) verb: ie. “How my summer vacation rocked!
  3. Use opinionated adjectives. Social media thrives on strong opinions. Don’t be afraid to use adjectives that reflect your feelings on the subject of your content or the quality of the content itself. For example, “Check out this thought-provoking video on composting!” That said, stay away from over-used adjectives like “important”, etc.
  4. Be descriptive but not completely. This is a tricky one in our sound-bite era. I’m pretty sure there are lots of people out there (including yours truly, on occasion) that share content without actually reading, watching or listening to it first. While you want to create an interesting title that folks will want to share, you also want it to be intriguing enough that they will also click through to see what’s there. For example: “Newly Disclosed Documents Reveal How Federal Officials Deliberately Misled Local Police Departments.
  5. Highlight multimedia or non-text content in blog posts. Over the years, bloggers have started following a convention for titling posts that aren’t just written text: If there’s a video in the post, start the title with “Video:” or “Watch:“. If the post is audio-based, start the title with “Audio:” or “Listen:“. Other titles for multimedia posts could include  “Slideshow” or “Infographic“. This practice alerts potential consumers that there’s something extra and multimedia in the blog post. For example: “Video: DREAM Students Engage in Fearless Civil Disobedience in Atlanta”
  6. Optimize your titles for Twitter. If you’ve hooked up the RSS from your blog, video channel or audio host to feed to Twitter, think of ways to title content that saves you time (i.e. not needing to figure out a second title to use in a tweet).
  • The shorter the better (but less than 120 characters). If you want folks to share your content on Twitter, be sure the title is less than 120 characters (including spaces). Why 120? Tweets can only be 140 characters (including spaces) so if you figure in the tweeter’s username, a hashtag and possibly “RT” (re-tweet) or “via”, that leaves roughly 120 characters to play with. For example, use “&” instead of “and” to save space.
  • Create active Twitter links to subjects, sources and/or abbreviations. Lately I’ve been experimenting with using Twitter usernames (or “handle”) and select hashtags in titles to ensure that the subject and/or interest groups see and share the content. Even though titles should be uncluttered and comprehensible, using a Twitter handle and/or a hashtag with commonly used abbreviations can maximize your content’s impact whenever it’s shared. For example, instead of “President Obama says that NAFTA reform is possible“, try using “Pres. @BarackObama says that #NAFTA reform is possible” These active links serve many functions. For President Obama (or whoever is administering the Twitter account), this tweet demonstrates what the public is saying about his policies and easily marks it for the White House’s social media listening. You can also use Twitter handles to praise, call out or shame the subject of your content. Using #NAFTA also alerts people who are following this hashtag on Twitter. But also note: Too many hashtags can be distracting. Try to use only one per title and only with abbreviations (but not real words which are already searchable). On blogs, you can also use Twitter handles to give props to media makers and cite the sources of embedded content, i.e. “Video by @AmericaStories:…

7. Ignore all of the above suggestions and experiment! Take risks: Try questions, word play, equations (i.e. with +, =), puns on popular culture, etc. The point is to give your titles some thought, nearly as much thought and creativity as you put into creating your content.

Let me know that you think of these ideas and recommendations. Tell me your own ideas for creating great titles that grab attention online. Leave a comment below.

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