Clickhole, a sister site of The Onion, has been sending up social media marketing practices for about 2 years now—lampooning the way we interact and share content and all the while generating impressive profit. For example, they recently posted an article titled “The Time I Spent On A Commercial Whaling Ship Totally Changed My Perspective On The World”.
Once you click on it, the article is the full, unaltered text of Moby Dick. The article was shared hundreds of times on Facebook. What’s interesting about the site (aside from it being hilarious) is that it takes the way we think about social media and content and reflects it back to us—showing some of our irrational tendencies, and even some strategies that are proven to work, no matter how crazy the idea that underlies it. I want to talk about 4 lessons we can all learn from Clickhole, taking the readers through a hilarious and thoughtful consideration of what makes social media content great.
The most interesting thing about Clickhole is that it actually works. What I mean is that, they attract significant monthly uniques. Of course, some of this due to niche-specific interest in internet satire, but largely, the writers behind Clickhole are actually just shrewd content marketers.
And they really know how to write good headlines. According to Slate, one of their biggest articles was “’90s Kids Rejoice! The Spider Eggs They Used to Fill Beanie Babies Are Finally Hatching!” This article shot to the top of people’s Facebook feeds and got 7 million views. It seems crazy, but all the elements for a viral article are there: 90s nostalgia, appealing to millennials; a spin on a popular product; and an article that promises to explain a sensational premise. It’s hokum, but it worked.
Following on the 90s nostalgia, Clickhole really knows that content marketing is all about appealing to niches. Of course, their biggest niche is weirdoes who like making fun of the internet. But it also tailors its content to attract specific groups of people.
For example, their article “An Oral History of the ‘Harry Potter’ Movies” is probably the ultimate troll. The headline seems innocuous enough: a piece of content that has strong appeal for fans of the Potter franchise, and not a lot for anybody else. But the article itself is full of inane madness. As an example, here’s a fake quote from Alan Rickman: “During my audition, I looked the producers right in the eye and said, ‘I want to play a character who has long hair like Kurt Cobain.’ I was so excited when I got Snape”.
This might seem like nonsense, but Clickhole’s numbers beg to differ. What they’re showing is a wider content tendency to attract users by appealing to specific niche interests. Clickhole has carried this principle out to a ridiculous extreme, and even then it works.
One of Clickhole’s first successes was with quizzes, which they continue to post, along with interactive “clickventures”—choose-your-own-adventure-type content—and meaningless badges that users win when they click enough content. An example quiz: “How Loyal Is Your Guitar Teacher?”
Obviously, this is whacky stuff. And yet, this kind of content continues to get views, shares, and a significant cut of Facebook’s newsfeed. The reason, besides it being funny, is that Clickhole knows the importance of engagement. Interactive content tends to strike a more reciprocal relationship with a user base. And once, again, Clickhole is only showing how well this strategy works by embedding in zany nonsense.
This final lesson is ultimately the most important any content marketer can learn. As content marketers, Clickhole’s joke is squarely on us. It points out how vapid some content can be by engaging some of its trends (generation nostalgia, naked pandering, and clickbait generally) and refracting them through the lens of the absurd.
By producing reams of useless content, Clickhole offers a fairly biting commentary on the state of the Internet today: it suggests that ultimately, much of the content on the internet isn’t worth more than a fake article about LAX hiring 500 people to yell at you in the pickup lane.
In the end, this comes back to a cardinal rule of content, which too many marketers seem all-too-willing to break in the name of boosted metrics. Namely, your stuff has to be truly useful. There’s a world of difference, for example, between an article that genuinely addresses a trending topic and some shameless opportunism trying to get leverage through newsjacking. Clickhole is great because it calls content kings to a higher standard: get useful or get out.