Why Clickbait Has Taken Over The Internet

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Alternative Nation, and most other news/content websites on the internet these days, take a lot of shit for posting clickbait headlines. The irony is the more Alternative Nation has posted clickbait headlines, the faster the site’s audience has grown. In the last year we have more than doubled our monthly traffic, and our Facebook page is constantly growing.

A big reason I do clickbait headlines is because of Facebook. Facebook has monopolized the internet in the 2010’s, creating a vastly different internet landscape than we saw 10 years ago. A decade ago MySpace was the king of social media, but the site was very limited compared to what Facebook is today. You could upload photos, write some blogs, write on a wall, post a bulletin, and if you were a musician you could upload your songs. Back then if you owned a news/content website (I owned a professional wrestling/MMA website at the time), you would get a lot of people actually visiting the home page of the website every day and clicking articles.

Today Facebook has cornered almost every market, so much so that recently when we had a problem with a Facebook plug in on Alternative Nation for a couple of days, I didn’t bother posting any news. Facebook control instant messaging with Facebook messenger, photo uploading with Facebook’s photo uploading system and Instagram (which they own), message boards (with Facebook groups), live video streaming (Facebook live), viral videos (video uploads, they give more impressions to videos uploaded on Facebook rather than YouTube), content/news intake by liking Facebook pages, and internet marketing by forcing pages to pay if they want people who like their pages to see their posts. I’ve spoken to the lead singer of a great young band called Noiseheads about this subject, and Facebook’s algorithms have made it hard for him to get news on his band to his fans, especially on things that are vital like pre-orders for new releases.

This monopolization hurts everyone from independent artists to an independent news/blog website like Alternative Nation. People don’t bother as much to go to the home page of a news/blog site like Alternative Nation as much as they might have a decade ago, they get most of our stories on Facebook and social media, and Facebook’s algorithms decide what users even get to see. Our Facebook page has over 30,000 Facebook likes, but just because 30,000 people like the page does not mean they see every Facebook post we make. For example, below are 2 Guns N’ Roses stories that reached 19,765 (Slash May ‘Love’ Guns N’ Roses Bandmate Axl Rose) and 16,534 (Ex-Guns N’ Roses Member Talks Reunion Snub: ‘Axl Had To Make A Decision’) respectively on Facebook.

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Slash loves Axl got 26,143 hits, and the Guns N’ Roses reunion snub got 23,515.  The reason these stories received a high number of clicks is because they had eye catching headlines, they featured a famous band (Guns N’ Roses), we had them before most other websites, and there was a real hook to click on it rather than just to ‘like’ the post and move on without clicking on the story.

Below are two stories that got less Facebook impressions.

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The ‘Alternative Nation’s Modern Artists Showcase’ article reached 1,370 of the 30,000 people that like Alternative Nation’s Facebook page, and the Green Day story reached 2,304.  The Modern Artists Showcase article focused on newer bands without any famous names or any clickbait elements, so Facebook didn’t let the post be seen by many people who like the page, and it didn’t receive a lot of user engagement.

While the Green Day story had a famous band, it was a story that was given away in the headline, which means people don’t have an incentive to click.  Not only that, but it’s a story that had already been circulated on all of the other rock websites and on Green Day’s own social media through a press release.  Stories like that, ones that are press release type stories and are on the band’s Facebook page and other websites don’t get any traction because they’re already everywhere else.  I see some people complain in the comments section about Alternative Nation not posting a lot of official press release stories like this, but the reason I don’t is because the posts won’t go to our Facebook audience.

This leads to a lot of headlines I write about famous bands with words like ‘shocking,’ ‘you won’t believe,’ and ‘will melt your heart.’  I do it with a tongue in cheek and a sense of humor, especially with some of the photoshops I make, but the headlines are necessary based on the ADD culture the Facebook/smartphone generation has created.  I could spend 5 hours working on an in-depth editorial, but if the headline isn’t eye catching enough, Facebook won’t let anybody see it, and even if they do, people might just like it and not click because there’s no big hook to.  A lot of people just want to stay on their Facebook news feed and read headlines, they don’t want to leave their Facebook app or page.

I can’t afford to pay Facebook to ‘boost’ Alternative Nation’s posts to be seen by more people, that’s why I have to be creative with headlines and do a lot of self-promoting.  The irony is there is a hatred for me in some Facebook groups for my self-promoting, and this is from fans of bands who had an anti-big business ethos.  They’d rather share posts from a larger outlet like a Rolling Stone or Pitchfork that is owned by a larger conglomerate that can afford to pay to promote their stories, and they hate my fucking guts for going DIY to try to share my articles, many of which are stories I break before the bigger websites.

I’ll admit I post some ridiculous stuff, but this is a business, and it’s what people want. We post incredible longform articles too, especially with ‘Deep Cuts’ articles that Jeff Gorra does.  When it comes to stories that are based on rumors though, in particular with Guns N’ Roses stories, I never present them as fact, I present them as rumors.  Sometimes they come true, like Axl Rose fronting AC/DC (we were the first news site to report it) and Izzy Stradlin having financial disagreements with GNR.  Sometimes they don’t come true, but I see these stories as somewhat similar to going on MLBTradeRumors.com.  It’s fun to read the rumors and then see what ends up actually happening.

I think many stories I post though are the same type of things I would have posted about when this site was called Grunge Report 4 or 5 years ago, the only difference is the headline.  Instead of ‘Slash Likes Twitter Picture About Loving Axl Rose,’ the headline is ‘Slash May Love Axl Rose.’  It’s kind of hyperbole, but it isn’t a lie, he liked a picture about falling in love with Axl Rose, maybe he loves Axl?  Who knows, but it’s a fun dumb story.  When it comes to rumors, if people are stupid enough to think stories I am clearly presenting as rumors are fact, that’s their problem for not taking the time to read 200 words in the article. I also used to post interview recaps on Grunge Report, but now instead of ‘Maynard James Keenan Rolling Stone Interview Summary,’ the headline is ‘Tool’s Maynard James Keenan Talks Almost Fronting Iconic 90’s Band.’ You need a hook to get people to click, otherwise Alternative Nation would have no audience and would be forced to close.

Another reason I have to focus so much on clickbait is music publicists. I won’t get into them too in-depth since I could write a whole article on them, but many publicists perceive Alternative Nation as a smaller outlet, which in many cases I understand. Rolling Stone is going to make them more money, I get it, but in other cases Alternative Nation is the audience for their client, and if I do the interview it will get picked up by other sites like many of our stories do. One notable 90’s band did an interview on a major website earlier this year that got 600-800 listens on SoundCloud, yet my interview request was completely ignored. If I had done an interview with the band it would have gotten significantly more publicity, and more people would have seen it.

Publicists in general can treat Alternative Nation like absolute dog shit because they feel like they can, and this goes beyond just a denial of coverage/an interview, which is totally cool with me if handled professionally, but there are examples that are very frustrating. I did a favor for a publicist of a major band a few months ago, and they promised me an in person interview at an upcoming concert. I now can’t even get a free press ticket to the show, let alone an interview. Unless they fear the business repercussions, you will be treated like a doormat by publicists. We’ve managed to score some huge interviews, which is awesome, and there are definitely some very good publicists out there, those are the ones we will continue to work with, but people wanting Alternative Nation to focus on playing the PR game, it would be a waste of time to try to focus all of the site’s content around it.

During one high profile interview I did in the last few years, the publicist scolded me for not talking about the project that was being promoted, even though I had already asked several questions about it, but knew I also had to ask questions about the artist’s other band because it’s what fans want to read about. They didn’t understand that if I did the same interview that every other journalist and radio station did with their client on that press tour, nobody would care. It displayed a misunderstanding of their client’s fanbase, and on top of that they said something incredibly disrespectful about another artist that would disgust me to reprint here. There are other examples of publicist dealings that Mike Mazzarone (who booked some major interviews for us over the years) and I have had where we were both insulted with profanity that I won’t get into.

Anyways, that’s why I focus on trying to break stories and rumors that other outlets won’t cover or post before us, and why I have to frame the stories in clickbait headlines. I may have just wasted my time writing this though unfortunately due to the reason clickbait exists, which is Facebook. Maybe if I edit in ‘You Won’t Believe,’ ‘Nude,’ ‘Penis,’ and ‘Shocking’ it’ll get some more clicks.