I thought I was going to catch so much flak over my column last week. Randy Davis called me on Thursday and invited me to be on his radio show on the Monday after it would publish. I told him it might be a hot button piece and that we might get some angry phone calls. We discussed the topic and agreed that I would likely hear about it on social media, but that most people aren’t brave enough to take their nasty vitriol beyond that platform.

Boy, was I surprised when it was total crickets on the RN-T Facebook post! I’ve caught flak before over things like the tennis center, for example. But then I realized, the headline gave no indication of where I was going with the column. In fact, you didn’t really get to the hot button point until the very end and, let’s face it, very few people read that far these days.

I thought the title, “Flying purple people-pleasers,” was pretty clever. I had been thinking for a while about people-pleasers and the ways that I am one, and I kept thinking of the old Sheb Wooley song whenever I thought of the phrase, so I couldn’t resist using the play on the song title as the title of my column. Little did readers know that I would take the idea of the perils of people-pleasing and turn it into a reason to respect the highly-maligned “Squad” of congressional fame, comparing them to the feisty women of the suffrage movement at the turn of the 20th century. If this makes you react, I hope you will go back and read the piece.

Did you know that, typically, 80% of people don’t read past the headline? And when you see people sharing a piece on social media, 60% of them didn’t read past the headline before sharing it. So 8 out of 10 people will just read the headline and form a conclusion, and only 2 will click through to actually read the article. Six out of 10 people will share the piece based on their interest/anger/agreement/sadness triggered by the headline, but will not click through to the story before sharing it with their friends in anticipation of a similar response. This is how a lot of misinformation gets spread.

A company called Conductor, which helps companies maximize their marketing messages, did a study looking at how people react to headlines and the best ways to trigger the click through. What they found is pretty interesting.

They gave the test group five differently categorized versions of a headline. I will use versions of the headline above as an example of each version.

Normal (Why it is important to read past the headline)

Question (Why is it important to read past the headline?)

How to (How to read past the headline)

Number (5 reasons to read past the headline)

Reader-Addressing (Why you should read past the headline)

Not surprisingly, the Numbers headline was the most well-received by the respondents, with Reader-Addressing coming in second. Cosmo had that figured out a long time ago. Women across the country have been roped into buying Cosmopolitan magazine for years by headlines like “5 ways you can satisfy your man in the bedroom” or “10 ways you can heal your broken heart,” etc.

They also found that the number of superlative words would change the way that people react to a headline. Testing the addition of zero up to four superlative words showed that one addition was the most well received, with zero being not far behind. So, adding the word “best” in my headline is the best way to attract people to click through. They also looked at the letter case, and capitalizing the important words as above (called sentence case) was the most popular, and they also looked at clarity of message. I have always thought that being mysterious and clever with words was a more interesting hook. It turns out that people are more likely to click through if they feel they are being told exactly where the content will take them. That makes “Flying purple people-pleasers” a fail as a headline, but I still like it.

Another interesting thing to note is that studies show that millennials are actually more likely to read all the way through and to look for comparative sources. In other words, they are more likely to mistrust taking a single source for gospel, which is the smartest way to handle the bombardment of internet information that we all navigate. There are 500 million tweets generated every day, over 4 million blog posts, and in 2016 the Washington Post alone was publishing a news piece or video once every 2 minutes! Imagine what that extrapolates out to when you add up all the news sources and figure how much it has increased here in 2019. We are inundated with information, some of it true, some of it false, much of it leaning according to the position of the source. That is just the way it is.

So, the 5 best reasons you should read past the headline? The headline might lead you to believe the piece is about something it is not, so you need to read the piece to make sure you are understanding it correctly. Even if the headline is informative, in order to fully process the information inferred, you must get beyond that initial soundbite. If you want to debate the information provided, you need to actually have read it. You might actually learn something about the topic being discussed by reading the content. And lastly, if you want to really understand what’s going on in the world, read on. There is much nuance to discover and we are rarely aware of all of the facts involved, unless we read past the headlines.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.