I’ve just spent the afternoon arguing online instead of writing this post. I didn’t mean for it to happen.
Here, take a look at what I had planned for the day.
~ Go for a walk
~ Write an article
~ Follow up a client
~ Put together an email
~ Finalise some graphics for my assistant
~ Post a request on Facebook
Nothing in there about getting sucked into a fight on social media. Lots of important business tasks to do instead.
So how did I let it happen?
A friend of mine posted on Facebook with an interesting article on female-only train carriages. Without going through the whole discussion again and letting it suck away more of my time, the brief summary version is we agreed that the idea went some way to helping an issue we feel strongly about. She was amusing and smart in her comments.
I was enthusiastic. So far, so normal.
Then in wades a dude, at whom this idea was neither aimed nor of any direct benefit, and launched into a gender debate.
“What about the guys?”
Well, of course, I bite
Though I’ve learned to pick my battles better in recent years and can smell a troll at a hundred paces, sometimes your instant reaction just happens before you catch yourself, doesn’t it? You’d have had to cuff me to the chair to stop my fingers flying to the keyboard to object. And so it went on. I was thinking by the time I got to my second and third exchange, but it was too late. He had me.
I’ve often thought “write engaging web copy” to be the most useless piece of advice you’ll hear from business or marketing consultants and coaches. Because there’s nothing in there about where you might start going about that. It’s most obvious that you need to be engaging to get people to want to read your website or blog, but how does knowing that help you do it in practice?
Here’s where the trolls can help
(Yes, I’m making their madness of service to you.)
Trolls engage you from the very first second and provoke a response by using a technique called a hook. Hooks are key to engaging people from the start of your writing. On social media, they bring people into a conversation. In articles, they keep a reader reading.
Now don’t worry. I’m not about to suggest you insult people to make them notice you. Far from it. Provocation is only one of many types of interesting and intriguing ways you can invite people into your words. We’re going to cover a few handy ones here, so that you don’t have to resort to controversial or downright nasty remarks to reel in the readers. Because, newsflash: people don’t like that.
6 handy hooks to reel in the readers (with integrity)
Ask a question
Questions demand answers, which makes them a perfect hook. The next step in the engagement is taken care of instantly. When a reader reads a question, they answer it in their head. They make up their mind as to whether it’s relevant for them to keep reading and they opt in or out of the article. If they decide it is relevant, they keep reading, because they know you’re going to provide more information or answer that question for them.
As a bonus, you gain trust by knowing their answer to the question you ask, or more accurately by asking a question to which you know their answer. You demonstrate that you know what is important in their life, without being preachy (“you should do xyz”) or unsubstantiated (“just do xyz”), but by being suggestive instead (“have you tried xyz?”).
Quote a famous person
Okay, okay, so there may just be an over-abundance of quotations floating around the internet telling us to be more inspired and live our best lives. And while I am not suggesting you insist on your audience dancing like no-one is watching or keeping calm and… doing pretty much anything, I’d love you to try this hook out.
Quotes are fun because they position you and the article. They give the reader a heads-up on what it’s about, but also on what kind of person you admire. Quotes are also brief so the reader doesn’t know yet what they’re getting, but want to find out how these words that they recognise are going to relate to your upcoming information.
Here’s an example of where a funny quote is used to put across the lightheartedness of the She Takes On The World brand.
Get real with interesting statistics
Oh my gosh, people just loooove statistics. The wackier, the better. You can go on to prove or disprove the statistic. You can use it to illustrate a point or back up an argument. Start with a statistic and people take notice. Why? Because humans just love to make sense of stuff. We are meaning-making beings. A statistic hints that you will go on to analyse and pick something apart. Whether you agree or disagree with the piece of data you’re using, it’s a fab attention-grabber.
If you can’t think of a hook for what you want to write about, I suggest running a Google search for “best…”, “worst…”, “funniest…” etc and seeing what turns up on your topic. You might even learn something yourself.
Rarely is the beginning of a story where the real gold lies! Story-telling, nevertheless, is a must-use hook, but not any old story-telling. I suggest starting anywhere but the start.
Grip the reader by starting with the most interesting, intriguing or obscure bit and then go on to elaborate. Demonstrate your point gradually, but always start from a point that piques the reader’s curiosity. The aim of the game here is to make them feel like they must know where this is going. It works for impatient people like me, who speed through trying to find the juicy bits. (Anyone else read the last page of a book first? Maybe that’s just me!)
In short, don’t give it all away up front and leave them nothing to stick around for. Tease a little.
That’s what I did in this post when I told you I’d spent the afternoon caught in a quarrel. You wanted to know what the argument was about, right? And then I told you. (Don’t feel duped! I wanted you to get this goodness right here. I had to hook ya!)
Surprise your reader
Sometimes you need to shake your audience awake. Keeping your content fresh for long-time readers can be tricky, so why not start with something you might not ordinarily say. They’ll be all like, “Hmm… that’s out of character. I wonder what’s happened.” Start from an unusual viewpoint (for you, for your kind of business or even for society in general) and the reader will want to understand how it unfurls. You could add a twist in somewhere to then disprove the surprising viewpoint, or you could go on to prove how the surprising opinion is actually a good thing.
Another way of surprising people is if you’ve got big news and you just blurt it out right from the beginning, causing them to read on because they need to know how you made this enormous leap!
For instance, here’s how Ruth Ridgeway announced her decision to write a book.
And at last, we come full circle, to the mechanism those lame-ass trolls use to make you react. Controversy. Say something so outlandish, so daring, so crazy that people can’t not read on. Go wildly against the grain. Be bold and passionate to insanity.
It’s a brave woman who tackles this hook, but it can be done with integrity, without clickbaiting and without feeling icky. Again, you could go on to disprove or twist the statement into something else, something softer even. or you could just genuinely believe something out there. The choice is up to you. (Just don’t go trolling. Kindness kinda suits you.)
One of my most controversial (and best-loved) posts is this one on how it’s not all about introverts.