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Social media 101: This is no time for clickbait

I’m posting this now because seeing a third Facebook post talking about a major East Coast snowstorm this weekend was the final straw for me.

I think I speak for everyone when I write enough of the clickbait.

I’m in the social media business, so I completely understand the importance of driving traffic to your website. But at what cost? Do you really believe it’s worth driving traffic by posting something that’s completely dishonest or even puts people in danger?

Clickbait, clickbait, clickbait. Too many people do this, and it’s mostly media companies.

scott-kleinberg-social-media-101It is not OK for news organizations to spread fear about a major winter storm hitting 5 days from now when not one single meteorologist knows this for sure. It’s way too far out for even computer models to have a handle on it and accumulation maps aren’t even considered for another two days. Anyone who happens to be “right” made a lucky guess. Media organizations who spread this hype — and I’m already seeing it — are doing a terrible disservice to the people who depend on them for information. They want people to click and don’t care at what cost. A snowstorm for some is a sledding day and a day off of school. For others, it’s serious whether for medical reasons or travel or something else. It’s unfair to spread rumors when you aren’t sure – or at least can make some sort of prediction.

This isn’t a new problem, but it was exacerbated over the weekend by a TV station in New York that often does a poor job on Facebook for this very reason. It’s all about the click and not about the consumer.

Here’s what it posted:

RECALL ALERT: Trader Joe’s — including locations in New York and New Jersey — has recalled this specific lot of raw cashew pieces over concerns of potential salmonella:

This was my comment under that post:

Never, ever make someone click to find out if they could get sick. Ever. In a case of public safety, whether it’s health or weather or any other type of threat, you share the info up front for your readers as a service, not as a way to drive traffic to your website. This isn’t only social media 101, it’s common sense 101. And you shouldn’t need a comment from a social media manager to tell you that. You should know.

scott-kleinberg-snowTruly, this disgusts me. As I stated earlier, I’m in the social media business so I totally get the need to drive traffic. I also know that the old style TV tease from the 1960s and possibly before is still in full swing in 2016 because these companies are unable to think outside the box. You don’t force someone to click to find out if they are going to be sick from salmonella. You just don’t do it. You tell them right in the post so even if they don’t click, they know. Same if you really know that 3 feet of snow is on the way. It’s OK to refer to early computer models but those aren’t meant to be taken seriously this far out. And when the public doesn’t know that and you post it as fact, you are being dishonest.

As long as there’s Donald Trump, there will always be plenty of opportunity to trick readers with clickbait. But we should never do that when the subject has to do with health and public safety. You readers and followers deserve better.

You can see how passionate I am about this, but I would love to hear from you. Tweet me at @scottkleinberg or leave me a comment here.

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