Rope 'em in: How to write irresistible headlines in the age of social media

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What You’ll Learn:: 

What? Nobody’s clicking on your headlines, your email subject lines, or your tweets?

Maybe you have a readership of dunderheads who need to be given a good shaking. Then again, maybe your headlines:

  • Put your readers to sleep
  • Don’t sell the benefits
  • Are larded with jargon and acronyms
  • Don’t take risks, and
  • Are neither informative nor fun

No offense.

In “Rope ’em in: How to write irresistible headlines in the age of social media,” learn from three experts in writing headlines that sizzle.

  • Why headlines are the currency in today's social media age
  • The 5 tips for writing sexy headlines
  • How to create art—for free
  • The ideal length for a headline

Start, Ragan says, by asking yourself, “Would I open an email if this headline was a subject line in my inbox?”

Learn how to borrow a page from consumer magazines. The speakers show how consumer magazines offer killer examples of how to write a snappy headline (“Is He Cheating? How to Get Over Him”). Likewise, a diet mag has a cover teaser titled, “10 pounds gone in 10 days!”

Even Psychology Today is offering catching headlines, such as “Shrink rapt: Falling in love with your therapist.” And it works for organizational publications as well: Check out this one from a Boeing: “I took charge of my career!”

Find out why lists are your best tool in writing a headline. Six of the 10 best-read stories on PR Daily on a typical day are lists, Ragan says.

“Our brain craves that kind of organization,” Ylisela adds.

Learn how to be specific, and make your headlines vivid and concrete in a colorful way. As in this one from WGN: “Jim Gaffigan on being a ‘Fat Dad’ and the joys of having 5 kids.”

Learn why crafting headlines is among the few instances where writing by committee actually works. “Headlines are great to collaborate with people on because you can test them on your colleagues,” Ragan says.

Find out why you should agonize over the first five words. Are you using strong verbs and nouns? What are you selling? Hear about the importance of Twitter, and how you can boost clicks by making readers feel that they are learning cool, inside information.

Write for your friends; not your fans—which is why WGN headlined an interview this way: “Morgan Freeman shamelessly flirts with our producer.”

“We are talking in a way that’s how humans talk to each other,” Lennie says.

Learn more here.

June 2013

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Presenter bio: 

Andrew Lennie is a senior producer with WGN-TV in Chicago. He is in charge of developing WGN's social media tactics and strategy, managing several accounts on a variety of social platforms, and working with on-air talent to increase engagement. He also plans and produces on-air and social branding campaigns for WGN-partner brands: the White Sox, Cubs, Bulls, and Blackhawks. A Chicago native, he is an Emmy winner and graduate of Indiana University.

Mark Ragan is CEO of Ragan Communications in Chicago. He arrived at Ragan after working for 15 years as an award-winning political and investigative reporter for newspapers throughout the United States. He ended his career as a journalist in 1992 after covering three presidential elections, including Ronald Reagan's landslide victory over Jimmy Carter in 1980. In addition to overseeing new product development and the day-to-day operations of the company, Mark acts as editor-in-chief for, PR Daily, the MyRagan social network, and Ragan Training, a video education portal.

James Ylisela

James Ylisela Jr. is president and co-owner of Duff Media Partners Inc. He brings 30 years of experience in journalism, teaching and training to help organizations communicate better with constituents, employees, consumers and the media. He has written for newspapers, magazines, and television. He works as an investigative reporter for Crain's Chicago Business. Ylisela has won a dozen awards for investigative reporting. From 1988 to 2001, he taught urban and investigative reporting in the master's program at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. He also served as co-director of the Medill News Service, a graduate school operation serving newspapers in the Chicago region.