4 Social Media Marketing Headlines Igniting “Attention Conversion”

I am scared to write this article, because so many people think they know what content marketing is, and how to write a headline.

I’m facing a powerful, polarizing bias based on taking sides, content versus marketing….you can’t be both!

As usual, it begins with the headline, not the usual headline.

If content marketing is all about the headline, then why are so many using marketing speak or boring headlines?

Because for many years, we’ve been taught to create content to show ads around. So you either write content, or you write an ad, there’s no middle ground.


 The term “Attention Conversion” came to me 5 years ago, when I was studying how Moms on social media interact. The first point of conversion wasn’t a sale, it was simply getting, and retaining, their attention.

But there is a “middle” way today, it’s the headline, the main reason anyone takes action, or reads what you are sharing.

On social media, the only relationship in the beginning is your headline and their super fast, 9 seconds or less attention span.

To stop that flow, you’ve got to arouse curiosity and invite the reader into the narrative, the who.

Here’s a few example from the leaders, with a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

  • Forget “You”, use “I”.

While there are a few exceptions, the use of the first person is where you can state an opinion, and introduce yourself to the reader.

Tell a story, it’s the narrative the brings attention. Save “you” for your web site and conversions later on, when they know you. This one’s from Buzzfeed:

I’m An Adjunct Who Also Works In A Grocery Store

I can’t make a living as an adjunct professor, so I got a job at a grocery store in my town. A tale of trying to be middle class in today’s America.

  • Repeat words:

See how the headline above repeats “adjunct” and “grocery store”, using odd words together also helps engage that short attention span. Choose a few words to repeat in your headlines and play with them; in the above example, notice how the word “Adjunct” is used in the big headline, not “Adjunct Professor”?

How different is that:

I’m An Adjunct Professor Who Also Works In A Grocery Store

I can’t make a living as an adjunct professor, so I got a job at a grocery store in my town. A tale of  trying to be middle class in today’s America.

By leaving in the unusual word “adjunct” and leaving out “professor”, they escaped an immediate bias, and evoke curiosity (adjunct?).

  • Pose a question that doesn’t have a clear answer (see next);

If the person knows the answer, why would they explore beyond your headline? From Buzzfeed again…

Which Tattoo Style Should You Get, Based On Your Zodiac Sign?

Let your star sign help you decide.


  • Get Your “Engine” running; author Thomas French uses the word “engine” for a question that only the story answers, like this one from Upworthy:

The price is low. The quality is high. So why doesn’t anyone want one of these T-shirts?

Writing your headline and introductory sentences are the critical element of your content being seen and engaged. While you don’t have to engage in Clickbait headlines (headlines that trick people to click, which is the opposite of what you want), the words need to be about your story.

  • The headlines must bring your story, or another’s story, into the stream of stories and content being seen daily


  • Marketing teaches the use of words like new, you, how, and why in headlines.


  • Ask those questions in social media and you’ll likely get crickets, because those words assume an interest, if not a relationship with the reader.

Drop all you learned about marketing headlines, and focus on the emotion, curiosity, and self identification relationship people have with social media.

It’s not about you, it’s about them, and how they feel, and feel about, and with, your stories.

Content marketing doesn’t begin with a problem, it begins with a story.

What’s your story?

Excerpt from:
Culture Sculpture:
Predictive Content Marketing and the Attention Conversion of Crowds

by Declan Dunn (coming June 2015)

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