10 Hooks for Thought Leadership Articles People Will Actually Want to Read
By Tori Telfer
Understatement of the century: there’s a lot of noise on the internet. Sure, a lot of it is useless, misinformed, or downright offensive, but the sheer volume of content out there means that even the most useful, information-driven, wonderful thought leadership articles can sink right to the bottom of the well if they don’t have something to save them from murky oblivion.
That something is a hook. Like an action movie’s pyrotechnics-driven opening scene, or a Top 40 song that starts off with a drumroll, every great thought leadership article has a hook that captures the attention of its audience. The hook is always in the first paragraph or two—sometimes in the first line or two—and its purpose is to get your readers to stick around and hear what you have to say.
Sometimes the right hook magically descends from the ether, artisanally crafted for your piece and your piece alone. But if you’re struggling with finding the right hook, here’s a little industry secret: good hooks can actually be pretty formulaic. All it takes is a tried-and-true formula spruced up, turned on its head, made relevant, or spun in an entirely new way.
1) Latch onto a current event
Linking your thought leadership article to a current news story or a trending topic is an excellent way to get the attention of a constantly distracted audience—not to mention a bunch of clicks from curious people looking to read more about said trending topic. You can wait around for the perfect event to cross your path, but if you’d like to be more proactive, we recommend setting Google Alerts that fit with your areas of expertise, and/or regularly checking Google Trends. That way, the next time something newsworthy happens in or around your industry, you’ll be the first to know.
2) Utilize some shiny new research
This tactic is similar to the above—with an academic twist. Keep an eye on the exciting new work being done in the academic fields that (even loosely) affect your business, like behavioral science, or sociology, or neuroimaging. The next time someone publishes a study on how the future of humanity is predicated on giving robots empathy… or how one out of every ten people wishes their smartphone was less functional… see if there’s a way you can tie it to the argument you’re trying to make. After all, studies are newsworthy, too.
3) Overturn a stereotype
Everybody knows librarians are obsessed with whispering. Everybody knows that the primary cause of global warming is factory farming. Everybody knows that the Illuminati run the world.
But maybe it’s not that simple. Opening your thought leadership article by sketching out a stereotype and then overturning it is a compelling way to snag an audience. And as a thought leader, your expertise puts you in a prime spot to smash such misconceptions. What’s one thing about your industry that people always get wrong? Start with that, then tell us why.
4) Launch us into the future
Here’s where industry expertise really comes in handy. What fascinating new inventions are your coworkers, employees, or industry peers working on? What predictions can you make—and then back up with insider knowledge? Everybody wants to know what the future holds. If you can start off an article by telling us that soon, AI will be doing their dishes… or that hotels on Mars aren’t very far away… or that the movies of the future will be screened on football field-sized screens… we’ll be on the edge of our seats.
5) Identify a pain point
It is a truth universally acknowledged that humans want to feel heard. If you can start off your thought leadership article by identifying a common but rarely talked-about pain point, your audience will immediately be with you in that “oh, you too? I thought I was the only one” way. (Here’s one: why is it so hard to get butter on every piece of movie theater popcorn?)
6) Parody a famous quote from literature
See above. Familiarity famously breeds enjoyment (why else does McDonalds’ breakfast menu always seem so right?), so filching the structure of your opening line from a classic novel will set of a spark of recognition in your reader’s brains. Something like, “It was the best of TSA lines, it was the worst of TSA lines.” Warning: it doesn’t always feel that fresh, but it’s a tool worth keeping in your back pocket.
7) Get controversial
Shock your audience into attention by starting off with a provocative stance. Waiters shouldn’t be tipped 20%. Steve Jobs is too adulated. Gluten-free diets are overdone. Granted, you may have to work extra hard to prove your point, but biology backs you up: humans pay special attention to things that violate their expectations, because that interruptor just might be a threat. Academics call this the expectancy violations theory. We call it a good opener.
8) Go for a third option
Okay, so maybe you’ve read a million articles about how gluten-free diets are good and a million more articles about how gluten-free diets are bad. Yawn. Is there anything new to say about the field? Take what TV Tropes calls a “third option”: a surprising, unexpected pivot from the usual binaries. Talk about the secret dietary killer that all our gluten talk is distracting us from. Write a think piece about how instead of talking about gluten-free diets, we should be talking about—well, we don’t know. You’re the hypothetical gluten expert here, not us.
9) Use a personal anecdote
Humans have always loved stories. (Just ask anyone who’s currently biting their fingernails in anticipation of the next Westworld episode.) And the right personal anecdote can prove the perfect axle for a thought leadership article to center on. Just make sure to highlight what’s universally interesting and relevant about the story—the risk with a personal anecdote is that it can feel too, well, personal. But the right one can make your narrative crackle with life.
10) Ask a crazy question and don’t answer it—yet
Speaking of shows we binge-watch, science has pointed out that we tend to easily remember incomplete stories. Scientists have even come up with a term for it: the Zeigarnik effect. If you want to (nicely) prey on people’s need to know, open your thought leadership article with a provocative question and wait a few paragraphs to answer it—or don’t answer it until the very end of the piece. As an overused quotation once said: always leave them wanting more. (Ugh, please don’t start with that.)
Photo by Andrey Trusov courtesy of Unsplash.