Thumbstoppers

This is a comms agency blog, so the chances are that - unlike the majority of people in the UK - you've sat down and flicked through a printed newspaper in the last week.

Think about that experience. You're looking through a series of stories about a range of news topics (home news, sports, world news, business news etc.). The stories use headlines and images to attract your attention and get you reading. The competition for your attention is limited to ads and other news stories within that media.

Now think about something else you (and the majority of people in the UK) almost certainly did this week, flick through your Facebook newsfeed.

Like the newspaper, there are headlines and images; but there are also videos, family announcements, cat and baby photos, celebrity posts and so much more.

What's more, when you pick up a newspaper you're usually doing so with intent. Facebook scrolling is often more of an absent-minded escapism. If you're looking for something specific online, you'll usually go to Google first. If you're looking to fill a little time, it's Facebook.

Getting your attention on Facebook is much more challenging than a newspaper.

But this is where today's audience is.

As a result publishers - and increasingly brands want to be publishers themselves - are seeking to produce content that stops our thumbs, sometimes with disregard for what that does to their own brand.

These 'thumbstopper' pieces of content can provide invaluable brand engagement and the chance for publishers to re-target the user again with more content on Facebook or via targeted display ads.

The temptation to produce this content is significant.

Analysis from BuzzSumo shows that there are four content types that have a particular propensity to stop thumbs:
  • “Science says” stories
  • Data driven content
  • Strong opinion and political pieces
  • Heart warmers
Here’s how brands can play to these trends:

1. ‘Science says’ stories: the world of PR and comms has long been driven by playing consumer views (accessed through polling), back to consumers. The success of ‘science says’ stories shows the value of expert opinion. In the post-truth world there is an appetite for facts and experts. Take this Samsung campaign used to launch a range of UHD TVs. Samsung worked with Mindlab to show how UHD TVs changed the viewing experience.

2. Data-driven content: we love learning and understanding our world through numbers. Numbers provide some objective evidence onto which we can project subjective interpretations. Take this story from Nielsen analysing the trend towards ‘old music’ over ‘new music’. The growth in value of catalogue music is something we’ve all witnessed through the rise of streaming services. Simple datasets that help illuminate the world around us can be remarkably powerful. The key thing for brands to remember is that the data needs to help explain the world your audience experiences.

3. Strong opinion and political pieces: too often brands steer clear of this territory. Naturally brands err towards opinions that benefit their own ability to achieve corporate objectives – those kinds of opinions don’t count for much with the general public. As a result brands tend toward less strong, and ultimately less interesting, viewpoints. But there is opportunity in opinion. Time reviewing where your brand can take a strong opinion is time well-spent. This model of comms has increasingly been used by film producers looking to help their flicks get an Oscar nod. A great example of this is the campaign led by the team behind The Imitation Game to pardon men prosecuted for being homosexual.

4. Heart-warmers: this has been the easiest place for brands to default to. John Lewis has led the way each Christmas for the last few years. But recently some brands have over-reached. Take McDonalds pulled campaign which was accused of exploiting grief. Brands need to be very sensitive to how this kind of content will be received. That means significant research and alert antennae. Take this video from HSBC in which a Taiwanese employee is supported through her wedding by her employer (including the CEO).

Creating content that performs successfully on Facebook is a difficult balancing act. More and more brands are running into trouble by tearing up the rulebook and diving headfirst into content designed to deliver virality.

Whilst data can help point the way to virality, comms and marketing professionals need to add value by finding the right ways for brands to engage with this new world of media and publishing without selling-out their hard-won credibility.