Why do people react to headlines alone?

Something I’ve noticed lately on social media has slightly puzzled me. It happens to me, and I’m sure it happens to others. I always post links to my blog on Facebook – it’s one of the tools available in WordPress, and why not?

The link consists of the first words of the post along with any featured image, if I’ve selected one. And it’s an invitation for people to jump across to the blog post and, hopefully, comment on it or otherwise engage.

Except, I find, sometimes that doesn’t always happen. Readers certainly jump across, and some of them comment on my blog. That’s expected. But sometimes I’ll also get engagement on Facebook. And the nature of the comments, often, makes very clear that the person commenting hasn’t jumped across to read the post. They’re just reacting to the headline and the first few words that they see in front of them.

Not long ago, somebody did this and made a comment so egregiously wrong about the post that I responded and suggested they actually read the thing.

I’m not the only one; a US website I write for has the same issue – engagement on the promotional platform, not the site itself. That happens despite the fact that the site has got comment facility and a whole forum for people to engage and discuss matters of interest.

I’m not sure exactly why this happens. Is it because people are so used to simply allowing things to flow past them on social media that they react purely to what they see in front of them, and move on? What does that tell us about how people engage online?


Copyright © Matthew Wright 2019

8 thoughts on “Why do people react to headlines alone?

  1. Think about how they sold newspapers in the 1920s up to the 80s – it was all front-page headlines that sold the papers, that attracted attention. Most people do skim, a lot of stuff isn’t what they’re interested in. Skimming on hoot-suite or similar gives a few extra lines, but it’s the headline that grabs because it holds meaning on its own.
    Maybe the question should be: how to make the headline a deep connection to the content? Maybe the disconnect comes when the headline attracts the view of a person who’d normally skim?
    I certainly don’t know about FB or WP and what attracts people to comment erroneously, but I do know that FB and WP call the upper part of the post/page the ‘headline’, so things haven’t changed. This is the bit that’s used to attract (the little squares that pop up in the feeds), and by doing that, they’re implying we have to do it right to attract the right eyes.

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    1. Yes, the techniques to pull interest with a teaser headline that triggers some kind of emotional response haven’t shifted. I had long experience in newspapers before blogging and the principles appear to be pretty much identical to me. One of the differences, I think, is that while newspapers have specialist subbies who devise such things, most blogs and other social media doesn’t; and there’s a need to also tailor the blog headline to work with search engines. It’s a challenge. I do wonder, though, whether the nature of social media also plays a part; people stick to a particular site and allow it to flow past them, and don’t want to interrupt the flow by jumping to another place. Phone-browsing might also be part of it. I can open up multiple tabs in a browser on my desktop machine – letting me ‘go with the flow’ and saving what I want to check out otherwise for later. But it’s harder on phones. It’s all interesting; ultimately, I guess, deriving from the way our behaviours are moulded by the frameworks around us, in this case the nature of social media.

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    1. Same thing happens to me. In terms of calls-to-action – I figure they don’t work. I periodically highlight one of my books on this blog, maybe it’s got a new cover or has been released in a new edition, or it’s new anyway. Every time I get multiple ‘congratulations’ style comments and likes, both on the blog and where I promote it. Does anybody actually click on the link to check out the book? Not one. Seriously. Nobody.


  2. Because they feel the need to sound off on everything that their eyeballs behold, whether they know what they’re talking about or not, and they don’t have time to read each and every article they wish to argue with.

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