Surprise Engagement: How an Embarrassing Mistake Taught Me the Power of Clickbait

By: Sophie Frankenthal  |  March 13, 2022

Βy Sophie Frankenthal

I realized the danger of the “delete for me” option on Whatsapp on the day I sent a picture of an engagement ring to the SCW Juniors Class Chat. Spoiler Alert: It was an accident. Now, you might be wondering why that’s such a big deal (it wasn’t an explicit image, G-d forbid). The thing is though, amongst young Jewish women (especially SCW students), any reference to engagement or marriage is equally dramatic. I happened to be dating someone pretty seriously at the time but wouldn’t be getting engaged for another month. Still, I guess you could say rings were on my mind. So you can probably understand the dread I experienced upon discovering that the engagement ring inspiration, which I meant to send to my mother, ended up on the Juniors chat instead. 

But it gets worse. Once my friends pointed out my mistake, I dashed for the “delete for everyone” button in a desperate attempt to salvage my dignity. It turns out I pressed “delete for me” instead–oops. As if it isn’t bad enough to mistakenly send something personal to a group chat full of strangers, what’s even worse is knowing that it will remain forever accessible to everyone but yourself. In the moments after clicking the wrong button, I needed a fix, and I needed it fast. 

As you may have noticed, YU Whatsapp chats are pretty much a dumping ground for class project surveys. A brilliant friend of mine recognized this phenomenon and encouraged me to take advantage of it by sending a survey of my own as a coverup. The suggestion happened to come at the perfect time, as I had a statistics assignment due the following week, and therefore had a believable excuse. No one had to know that I was already halfway through with data collection from an online source, and that I would disregard  the data collected from this survey. And so, after 4 minutes of awkward silence, and a few meek attempts at alleviating the palpable discomfort with one of those notorious “imyH [if it’s G-’d will] soon by you”s, I sent out a survey. The survey contained a mere three questions, the first of which asked students to rate the engagement ring they had just seen on the chat. I apologized for the suspense I had caused and asked that students channel their curiosity, anticipation, and attention into filling out my survey for a statistics project.

The response I received was extremely positive and almost instantly alleviated the anxiety I was feeling over my misstep. My classmates were blown away by my tactic for calling attention to my survey in a way that would motivate them to fill it out. In fact, I collected 90 survey responses within 5 minutes of sending out that fake survey, which was shocking. Even more astonishing, was the fact that over 38% of the students who had viewed the survey responded to it within a minute of seeing it. This got me thinking: would the same thing have happened had the survey I sent out not been preceded by the photo of the engagement ring? And so, with my statistics project in mind, I set out to put this question to the test. 

I had a friend send out a second, similarly-structured google form to the Juniors chat the following evening. This time however, the survey was not preempted by any image. Rather, it was sent only with a simple request for students to aid me in my statistical research by filling it out. Incredibly, the response rate for this survey was significantly lower than the first one. Only 22% of the students who noticed the survey took the time to fill it out, leaving me with 29 responses total (a whopping 67% decrease from the survey with the ring)! Using this newly gained information, I focused my statistical analysis on the effectiveness of clickbait. 

Clickbait is an attention-grabbing headline or media file intended to entice individuals to “click on ” or access content in which they wouldn’t have otherwise been interested. The reason clickbait works is because it leaves something to be desired. Good clickbait reveals just enough information to pique one’s curiosity, yet intentionally leaves out the most crucial information so that such an individual will feel that he is missing out on something sensational. Typically, the concept of clickbait carries a negative connotation, as it is a misleading, sly, and even somewhat unethical tactic of luring individuals into engaging with content, solely for the benefit of that content’s creator. However, my WhatsApp mishap, the response it received, and the insightful results it produced provided me with a different perspective on the concept of clickbait and its immense power as an effective marketing strategy. 

Surveys are a popular tool amongst Stern students for the quick and easy collection of data for school research projects. It is especially useful within specific majors such as Psychology and Sociology, given that research is often a required component of the curriculum. However, the extreme difficulty in achieving a significant amount of responses is a shared frustration amongst most. Even 30 responses to a single survey is viewed as an impressive accomplishment. It is no wonder why this is the case. Watching one google form link after another appear on a chat becomes somewhat annoying. Most students are unmotivated to contribute their time or effort to a cause that is completely unrelated to themselves, unless perhaps the survey belongs to a good friend. This leads to incredibly biased and unreliable survey results, and the fact that no one is bothered by that is an entirely separate issue. Perhaps though, my findings on the effective nature of clickbait provide an insight into how  to increase participation in student projects. The best way to gain the attention of our classmates is to play to their psychological thirst for the provocative and the hidden. If we want our friends to respond to our surveys, they need to feel that they are gaining from the experience as well: be it through a legitimate incentive such as entrance into a raffle or even just an opportunity to feed their curiosities. That is the power of effective clickbait. 

In case you were curious, I got an A on my assignment, thankfully. I appreciate everyone’s enthusiastic willingness to respond to a survey that I never even intended to look at. Thank G-d, I am now happily engaged, wearing an entirely different ring than the one I accidentally sent to my class chat, and whose image will remain there for the rest of eternity. Whatsapp, if you’re listening, you have really got to do something about that “delete for me” thing.